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Climate Change Policy

Dáil Éireann Debate, Wednesday - 10 July 2019

Wednesday, 10 July 2019

Questions (13, 14, 15, 16, 17)

Brendan Howlin


13. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the role of his Department in delivering the Climate Action Plan 2019 and his plans for a climate action delivery board. [26283/19]

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Richard Boyd Barrett


14. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the role of his Department in delivering the Climate Action Plan 2019 and his plans for a climate action delivery board. [27845/19]

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Joan Burton


15. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the role of his Department in delivering the Climate Action Plan 2019. [27939/19]

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Micheál Martin


16. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the governance within his Department for ensuring the implementation of the Climate Action Plan 2019. [27978/19]

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Mary Lou McDonald


17. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach the role of his Department in implementing the Climate Action Plan 2019. [28083/19]

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Oral answers (59 contributions) (Question to Taoiseach)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 13, to 17, inclusive, together.

The Climate Action Plan 2019: To Tackle Climate Breakdown, was published on 17 June 2019. The plan contains more than 180 actions that Ireland needs to implement to meet our EU 2030 targets and achieve our longer-term low carbon emission objective.

Delivering such an integrated set of actions and policies will require a deep level of collaboration across Government. The approach adopted will closely follow the recommendations of the Oireachtas Committee and will build on the what was learnt from the success of the Action Plan for Jobs.

The climate action plan outlines significant new governance structures to ensure that climate policy is implemented. These include: a five-year carbon budget and sectoral targets with a detailed plan of actions to deliver them; an independent climate action council to recommend the carbon budget and evaluate policy; strong accountability to an Oireachtas climate action committee; and carbon-proofing all Government decisions and major investments. The governance structure also includes a climate action delivery board to be established within my Department to ensure delivery of the plan. The delivery board will be jointly chaired by the Secretary General of my Department and the Secretary General of the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment. The membership will comprise Secretaries General from Departments responsible for the actions outlined in the plan.

The first meeting of the board is due to take place on 16 July 2019. The board will ensure co-ordinated, timely and effective implementation of the actions in the plan and hold each Department and public body accountable for its delivery and implementation. The delivery board will also discuss and review strategic projects and areas of work in the plan. It will prepare quarterly reports on delivery for the Government, which will be published. It will also contribute to development of an annual update of the plan, starting in early 2020. This will ensure that this plan is a living document, with new actions being added each year and which will take into account technological change as well. This follows the successful approach which was core to delivering the Action Plan for Jobs. My Department is also responsible for a small number of specific actions outlined in the plan and preparations are already under way to ensure these actions are delivered.

How will the structures the Taoiseach plans to create work? How, specifically, does he plan to hold other Departments to account? He has talked about the new climate action delivery board which, we understand from his response, is to be jointly chaired by the Secretaries General of his Department and of the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment. Who else will sit on that committee? Will this House have any input into it?

We are well past the point of questioning the need for an urgent response to climate change. The question is how to do it quickly and, equally important, fairly. A strong commitment to climate justice is required and that was under-emphasised in the climate action plan, specifically, under the Government's plan, high upfront costs for the retrofitting of people's homes, the purchase of electric vehicles, the roll-out of electric charging points and access to micro-generation of electricity, will impact on all households but immeasurably more on households that have meagre incomes. In terms of a just implementation of the climate action plan, how specifically will the Taoiseach ensure that all households can bear the change that needs to be made now? The ESRI's report on climate taxation illustrated that the twin goals of reducing emissions and alleviating economic inequalities can be achieved. Is that the Taoiseach's objective and if so, how will he go about it?

Is the Taoiseach not seriously guilty of climate hypocrisy? I cite for instance the trade deal that he is talking about tweaking and making economic assessments of. Climate change is an international problem, although the Taoiseach often frames it in Irish terms saying, "if we do this or that". That is nonsense. Climate change does not know borders. If fossil fuels keep going into the air, the environment will choke. That is a fact. Unless the Taoiseach has a different view from the scientists, that is indisputable and there is no point in arguing it. How does that fact tally with a massive expansion of trade in cars going to Latin America? Aside from cutting down the rainforest, beef will come from Brazil to Europe and cars will go from Europe to Brazil. That will massively increase emissions. How can we take the Taoiseach or Europe seriously when they are doing trade deals to massively increase trade in areas where we should not be doing it, if we care about the climate.

Similarly, the Taoiseach states the climate emergency measures Bill will make no difference to our emissions. I want the Taoiseach to answer my next question with a straight face: does he honestly believe that the scientists are wrong when they say that to deal with climate change, 80% of known reserves - never mind reserves we do not know about - have to stay in the ground? Are they right or wrong? If they are right, is the Taoiseach seriously suggesting that we could discover gas and oil off the coast of Ireland and that it would just stay in the ground? Is he suggesting that we would issue licences to explore for it but it will not be burnt and will not add to the overall quantum of choking emissions in the global environment, which are leading us towards a climate disaster? Does he expect anybody to take him seriously when he makes arguments like that?

I do not know if the Taoiseach is aware that in the EU, more people die from air pollution than die in road accidents. Does he have an integrated climate action plan which would address the issue of NO2 pollution in Dublin in particular, and in heavily trafficked areas of the city? I draw to his attention the report by the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, which shows that emissions at the testing station in Phoenix Park have been above the recommended level. So also have the emissions in Blanchardstown. I mention them as places the Taoiseach would know well, because they are in our constituency.

The Government is also presiding over a regime of smoky coal.

It does not require a great deal of political courage to end smoky coal because it is killing people. The Taoiseach is a doctor. He knows the number of children suffering from asthma and other respiratory diseases. Together with poor housing conditions, the use of smoky coal means that significant numbers of children and older adults suffer. The health service is trying, not very successfully, to deal with the high prevalence of asthma among the very young and very old. I would love to see a joined-up plan that goes after those issues we can address relatively quickly and that would improve people's quality of life, as well as a broader, larger plan. Let us think of the pall of smoke sitting over Enniscorthy while the Government does nothing.

Last week, Deputy Troy asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the number of vehicles in the State fleet as of 2019 and the number that are fully electric. The reply was that of 6,573 vehicles registered under the State-owned emergency vehicles and rescue vehicles tax classification, only 13 were registered as electric. That says it all. The National Transport Authority, NTA, recently ordered 200 diesel buses. Nine hybrid buses are on trial in Dublin. I raised with the Taoiseach some time ago the need to ban smoky coal, which Professor Sodeau in Cork has said is making Enniscorthy like the New Delhi of Ireland. It speaks to a lack of urgent co-ordination between Departments to deal with climate change.

I was a member of a Cabinet sub-committee on climate change when I was in government, even though I was in foreign affairs. Cross-departmental Cabinet sub-committees matter, because behind each Minister there is a set of officials, and people have to face one another and be accountable for the respective measures in each Department, whether it be that of transport, agriculture or whatever. The Taoiseach has set his face against Cabinet sub-committees and I think his governance model is wrong. That is reflected in health, where there has been only one sub-committee meeting in six months and the health service is in a deep crisis. The housing issue has not been resolved. The Taoiseach has now proposed that the Secretaries General of his Department and of the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment will be essentially without officials. It seems the governance model the Taoiseach prefers is a Minister-less model. It is no wonder that Ministers are detached from the operational details of what goes on around them, and from implementing and delivering commitments and actions.

Most people in the industry and most people I talk to say the 100,000 electric vehicle target is just not obtainable. There is no point producing plans if the Government tells us a dramatically disproportionate number of such vehicles will come on stream at the latter end of the plan. Circumstances have to change very quickly on that front for that to take place.

I raised the following issue earlier but many questions were asked in the previous round and I hope I can get a response on this occasion. People want to embrace climate action and climate change. The vast majority see it as an exciting prospect that there would be a just transition to a zero-carbon economy but they are not fools. As I said earlier, they know that to achieve that, there has to be a clear link between social justice, delivering for citizens, delivering a fair economy and society, and a just transition to climate justice and zero-carbon emissions.

We need to know, and people need to understand, that houses will be built for people to the highest standards. They need to see investment in public transport and, as Deputy Howlin noted, the funding to ensure that electric cars are cheaper and that the infrastructure is there to make the transition happen. If people do not have alternatives, carbon emissions will not be reduced. The Government can talk about carbon taxes, which I acknowledge is only one element of its plan, but people need alternatives, yet all they see coming are punitive measures rather than investment where it needs to be, namely, in public housing, retrofitting people's homes where energy ratings are not what they should be and public transport.

There is no public transport in large parts of rural Ireland. Under the Taoiseach's watch, in some rural towns and villages that had connectivity with Dublin, Expressway bus routes were axed because the State was not prepared to subsidise Bus Éireann and the bus routes. The Government needs to understand that it not only needs to get people excited about the prospect of climate justice but that getting them to embrace it, live it and deliver it means the State has an obligation to deliver. Unfortunately, even if a 2% per annum reduction in carbon emissions is achieved by 2030, as is the target in the Government's published action plan, we will still be 10% behind. There is a great deal of work to be done and much to catch up on.

On Deputy Haughey's question about reaching carbon neutrality by 2050, Ireland and I supported it at the EU summit but a number of countries - the V4 countries - could not sign up to that. They worked together on that, largely because they wanted to see a roadmap as to how it could be achieved, and they were not willing to accept the view that carbon sequestration and carbon storage technologies will be developed in adequate time, although we will continue to press them on it.

On Deputy Howlin's questions about how we hold other governments and bodies to account to implement the plan-----

Other Departments.

Yes, other Departments and other bodies. The model we will use is the same model that was used in the Action Plan for Jobs, with which the Deputy will be familiar. It is almost exactly the same model, which worked well, being used again for climate action with a dedicated unit in my Department to monitor the implementation.

The membership of the delivery board includes the Secretaries General of the Departments of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Transport, Tourism and Sport, Housing, Planning and Local Government, Education and Skills, Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Foreign Affairs and Trade, Rural and Community Development, Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, and Employment Affairs and Social Protection. The secretariat of the board will be provided by my Department and two staff have been allocated to undertake this work, with further staff being assigned shortly.

They are all civil servants.

Yes. As well as that, a Cabinet sub-committee deals with climate action and the delivery board will report to us. There are some robust structures in that regard. I anticipate that the sub-committee will meet at least quarterly.

On climate justice, Deputy Howlin referred to the ESRI report on carbon tax and how, if it is done properly, it can be progressive. It is a very good report and it shows how the use of the dividend model, in particular, can be socially progressive and reduce emissions. The ESRI estimates that carbon tax could reduce emissions by 1% or 2% per year. There are other ways to achieve climate justice, not least by making sure that workers in old industries get decent redundancy packages or retraining packages, and means-tested grants, such as those that exist already, including the warmer homes scheme.

We need to be honest with people when we talk about climate change. It is estimated that it would cost approximately €50 billion to insulate all the homes in Ireland and probably €30 billion or €40 billion to replace all existing vehicles with electric vehicles. No Government, of any hue, would be able to find that kind of money. The Government can help but will not be in a position to fund the insulation of every home or to replace everyone's car, and we need to be honest about that with people.

Deputy Boyd Barrett asked me if I am guilty of climate hypocrisy. I do not accept that charge and I suggest that the reverse might be the case, given that the Deputy supports a total ban on exploration in Irish waters but opposes increases in the carbon tax. We know the science of this. It tells us a total ban on exploration in Irish waters will not reduce greenhouse gas emissions next year, the year after or the year after that-----

No, either here or globally, next year, the year after, or even any year.

The scientists are wrong.

We know from the science, however, that a carbon tax will reduce greenhouse gas emissions-----

There was no carbon tax last year.

-----next year, the year after and the year after that. If this is a climate emergency, which I believe it is, surely the sensible action to take is to support those actions that will produce a result next year and the year after. The Deputy is opposed to actions that will produce a result in the short term, locally and nationally, and proposes instead solutions that will not produce a result, locally or nationally, next year, the year after, or maybe any year.

The Deputy is accusing me of what he is guilty of, and the scientific evidence supports my view in this regard.

The same applies to water metering, for example, which is the best way to conserve water. It was vigorously opposed by the far left. They are very much anti-environment parties in my view.

Why do we have a lower rate of water usage then?

I listened to the Deputy's comments on Mercosur and his position sounds like a general objection to all free trade agreements. By its very nature, free trade between one part of the world and another, one country and another or between different continents requires transport costs.

I spoke about emissions.

I am not sure if I am right but listening to the Deputy's comments, I imagine he was probably against the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement and the Japan and Mexico deals.

Let us not pretend that the objection is to Mercosur, as the far left in Ireland is fundamentally opposed to free international trade. If that policy were to be pursued in this country, hundreds of thousands of workers would lose their jobs and all the others would be much worse off. That is the truth of those policies.

The Taoiseach needs to speak with his Minister, Deputy Creed.

People need to know that socialism is bad for workers and the environment. The Deputy's comments prove this when we listen to them carefully.

The time has expired.

The Taoiseach did not mention air quality.

I answered that in reply to Deputy Eamon Ryan. I can give an answer again.

He did not refer to the smoky coal ban.

What about the smoky coal ban?

What about smoky coal?

One must raise the ire of the Taoiseach to get a response.

The Taoiseach can have another minute if he wishes. I thought he was finished.

I am happy to keep going on the air quality question. This was discussed earlier in response to Deputy Eamon Ryan's question.

We referred to the smoky coal ban.

I am delighted to answer but it is hard to get the answers across if I am interrupted constantly.

We are waiting.

I am in the hands of the House. Interruptions are common enough.

I know and appreciate that.

I was not in the Chair when the Taoiseach was in opposition so I do not know what he was like. We cannot be that sensitive.

As I mentioned earlier with respect to nitrogen dioxide, the requirement to introduce action plans falls to local authorities and it is important that they do so, although they will be supported by central government. The actions taken are the promotion of electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles-----

There are no electric vehicles.

Approximately 15% of those have been bought already this year, and that is an increase on previous years. Deputy Micheál Martin's figures on the number in the State might not be accurate as they may not include the vehicles in An Post and Inland Fisheries Ireland, which have bought quite a lot of electric vehicles.

The information is from the Environmental Protection Agency.

The figures came from the Department. There are 13 of 16,000.

Please, Deputies. The Taoiseach will not continue if there are further interruptions.

The DAA also has some. The figures may be out of date.

On a point of order-----

There are no points of orders during Question Time.

What I read into the record was what the Minister, Deputy Shane Ross, told Deputy Troy last week.

This is not a point of order.

I specified that these were vehicles registered to the State for tax purposes. These are not my figures but those of the Minister. The Taoiseach should not tell me they are out of date.

I fully appreciate that but they may not include the vehicles owned by An Post, Inland Fisheries Ireland and the DAA.

I did not say they did.

The hybridisation of the bus fleet has begun and the first hybrid vehicles have arrived. There are several hundred on order. The rail electrification project is under way and hybrid rail vehicles are now in the procurement phase. There is much investment in greenways and cycling and there is a move away from diesel cars. These are the kinds of actions being taken to improve air quality and they will work.

The issue with smoky fuel was explained before by the Minister, Deputy Bruton. The advice we have is that if we go down the line of a further ban on smoky coal, we would face a legal challenge requiring us also to impose a similar ban on turf or peat because it does the same amount of damage to air quality. We must bear that in mind as nobody in the House is advocating we should do it.

We are banjaxed so.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.