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Climate Action Plan

Dáil Éireann Debate, Thursday - 4 November 2021

Thursday, 4 November 2021

Questions (13)

Alan Farrell


13. Deputy Alan Farrell asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications the status of the implementation of the Climate Action Plan; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53533/21]

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Oral answers (8 contributions) (Question to Environment)

My question may seem premature considering that the climate action plan is being published today but we have an opportunity to talk about bringing people with us in the context of the plan. I am conscious of the Minister of State's response to earlier questions.

I am sorry that this discussion is taking place hours before the climate action plan is published. On bringing people with us, I am not deluded and I do not think the Government and the Dáil can just impose things on people. We rule with the consent of the public and we cannot make changes that people do not feel are fair and reasonable. People will make huge changes, as we saw in the pandemic. They can alter their lives if they understand that it is essential to do so to protect each other or for society as a whole. I am heartened that those changes are possible. If people could make such sudden and dramatic changes to their lifestyle to protect the elder generations, I believe they will do the same to protect their grandchildren and their children in the future. They can make those changes, even if the immediate risk and the number of people dying is not going to be reported on tomorrow's news. People know this stuff is happening and change is necessary but we must bring them with us.

I am finalising an ambitious set of climate actions, through a new climate action plan, that will position us to meet the targets the Oireachtas has now set through the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Act 2021, namely, to have a 51% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030 and a climate-neutral economy not later than 2050. Under the new legislation, the Department will update the climate action plan every year so that our actions keep step with the trajectory required to achieve our targets. In addition, a national long-term climate action strategy will be prepared at least every five years.

Progress reports on the implementation of the existing climate action plan are prepared on a quarterly basis by the Department of the Taoiseach. The reports are considered and approved by government and published online to ensure accountability and transparency. Implementation rates under the climate action plan 2019 have fluctuated on a quarter-by-quarter basis. The overall implementation rate to the end of quarter 4 2020 was 78%, with 391 measures completed out of a total of 500 measures due. The reports can be found on the climate action section of Challenges to implementation have been highlighted throughout the quarterly progress reports. These include issues of capacity, resourcing and expertise across government, and the complexity of work and extensive stakeholder consultation often required for meaningful climate action.

The Minister of State has already spent significant time this morning going through this issue. Will he comment on the flexibility built into the unpublished carbon action plan to acknowledge the technological advances that may be presented in the coming years in terms of mitigating measures across certain Departments? What level of flexibility will be contained in the climate action plan? I am thinking of transport, specifically aviation and shipping. Given our island status, these two critical sectors for our economy are extremely difficult to deal with in the context of significant carbon reductions and, indeed, carbon eradication by 2050. There is a potential slate of information that could be made available to the House.

Technology is the solution to many issues but not everything. We cannot count on technologies that have not been delivered yet or have only worked in a test phase. Our experience is that huge technological advances are possible. What we cannot do is choose not do anything and wait for a technological miracle to deliver things in the future, so we will have business as usual. We must change the way we do things. Sometimes the answer is not technology, for example, a flying car, but something else, such as working from home. Aviation and shipping clearly present a real challenge. This is being looked at with various possible outcomes, whether biomethane, hydrogen or something else that will power this transport in the future. We have to find an answer. That will be of direct relevance and interest to many people who work and live in Deputy Farrell's constituency. We are an island and we are not abandoning aviation. We have to find a solution and a way of doing this cleanly.

The Minister of State is right that we cannot abandon aviation. It is a crucial part of our economy and society, given our diaspora across the world. I am heartened by the Minister of State's response to an earlier question on the development of hydrogen. I know there are options in that regard for that sector. My question was related to the adaptation of the plan and its recognition that, as technology emerges, it will be sufficiently flexible to be able to adapt to those changes rather than, as the Minister of State rightly pointed out, the assumption that technology is the solution when changing the way we do business as a society is the answer.

In regard to the climate action plan, I raise the issue of heavy industry, particularly mining and its high carbon impact on society. This week, while COP26 is taking place, we are issuing licences for mining exploration in Leitrim. These licences are for gold, of all things, which is very much a luxury metal that is not necessary for the advancement of mankind. Most people in my constituency are alarmed and concerned about this. In the context of the climate action plan and the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Act, will the Government abandon its policy of encouraging mining companies to come to Ireland to exploit minerals in this way, which involves very high use of carbon and very poor use of resources in the context of the country trying to move to low carbon?

Deputy Farrell asked if the climate action plan can evolve and adapt. It can but the target does not change. We have to reach the 51% target. Every quarter we reassess the climate action plan's progress, as I said, and every year we do a new climate action plan. We are changing the plan all the time, with regard to the implementation steps, but not the goal.

On mining, we are trying to move from a society based on taking things out of the ground, building things with them and then disposing of those things afterwards towards a circular economy. However, we are not there yet. We are dependent on mobile phones, laptops and other such products, many of which use rare earth metals.

We need to ensure those valuable products are not being disposed of and we can retain the rare metals they use without having to extract them again. I understand the Deputy is referring to prospecting licences rather than extraction licences, which are a very different thing.

There are just two minutes left. We are working off two different clocks and several Deputies are not present for their questions. We will move to Question No. 17. We will have time for Deputy Durkan to put his question and get a reply.

Question No. 14 replied to with Written Answers.
Question No. 15 answered with Question No. 12.
Question No. 16 replied to with Written Answers.