Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Stabilisation of CO2 Emissions.

Trevor Sargent

Ceist:

14 Mr. Sargent asked the Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications the extent of the Government's commitment to reduce Ireland's carbon dioxide emissions to 1990 levels at the very minimum by the year 2000; and if he will give details of the commitment, if any, to the control of CO2 emissions.

Trevor Sargent

Ceist:

74 Mr. Sargent asked the Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications if he will give details of the incentives, if any, such as energy taxes, non-fossil fuel obligation or different pricing structures, which he intends to introduce to control Ireland's carbon dioxide emissions.

I propose taking Questions Nos. 14 and 74 together.

The Government is fully committed to the EC objective of stabilisation of CO2 emissions in the Community as a whole at 1990 levels by the year 2000. In so far as member states such as Ireland, Portugal, Spain and Greece are concerned, there is provision in the EC proposals for differential treatment, in accordance with the concept of equitable burden sharing, having regard to the economic and social development of those countries.

A national carbon dioxide abatement strategy plan has been approved by the Government and it will be published in the near future.

The plan will specify a wide range of measures to be taken to reduce CO2 emissions in all sectors of Irish energy consumption. These measures do not include energy taxes or non-fossil fuel obligation but as the Deputy is aware discussions, in which Ireland is participating, are proceeding within the EC on a possible energy/carbon tax.

Since June 1991 the ESB at the specific request of my Department has been offering an increased price for non-fuel renewable energy supplied to the grid by private producers. While the main beneficiaries are private hydro electricity producers it was also intended by my Department that it would be an incentive for the development of new wind and solar projects. In June 1992 the ESB offered an increased unit price to combined heat and power producers.

My question asked if the Minister would give details of the commitment to reduce Ireland's carbon dioxide emissions. As the Minister has not answered that question will he give details of the widespread commitment into which Ireland has entered? He talked about an equitable burden. Did he take into account that the effects of climatic change and global warming range over the whole earth, not simply over the EC? Will he agree that an equitable burden is something we must consider in a global context, and that Ireland has an extremely high output of CO2? Will he agree that in the questions on the ESB today there was no reference to energy conservation? Perhaps "Electricity Supply Board" is a misnomer. Will he agree that rather than dwelling on renewable energy as a cure-all conservation is far more economical? Finally, will he agree that the effects of climatic changes are more costly than any preventative measures he may consider given coastal erosion, damage to agriculture and flooding, as indicated by the pictures in the newspapers today?

I agree that conservation is an important aspect and should be an important component of our energy policy. Demand site management is important in terms of the ESB reducing its capital requirements in future if we can get better use of the existing electricity grid. The carbon tax issue is one for the Minister for Finance and can be taken up with him on another occasion.

Can the Minister tell us at least one step the Government can take that would be an indication of its sincerity? I suggest that a start might be made by reducing the cubic capacity of State cars, it they are necessary at all, and thus show the public that the Government is sincere about taking action on issues that contribute to global warming.

In the pricing regime for petrol there is a bias in favour of unleaded petrol.

That has nothing to do with global warming.

The Deputy can, if he wishes, table a question on global warming.

I am here to speak about carbon dioxide as mentioned in Question No. 14.

I am here to answer questions about energy taxes, non-fossil fuel obligations and different pricing structures. If the Deputy wants Ireland's position on CO2 and energy tax, I can give him that. So far in negotiations Ireland has had an open-minded position on the proposal. Pressure is now being exerted by the pro-tax member states to agree the tax in principle. This pressure failed to get consensus at a joint Energy-Environment Council last April but it is being remitted in the context of the next ECOFIN Council on 7 June. For economic and social reasons it would be important for us that the carbon energy tax should not apply to peat, including peat for electricity generation. The Commission on Presidency Efforts is seeking to get the four cohesion countries to agree to endorse the principle of the tax by allowing special considerations to apply. The principle of the tax, and the negotiating mandate for the Minister for Finance and ECOFIN to cover our special concerns is scheduled for consideration by the Government shortly. Until the Government decides on this issue it would be premature to discuss our position further.