I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
Molaim An Bille um Pobail Inchothaithe 2004, the Sustainable Communities Bill 2004. I will speak for ten minutes and will share time with Deputies Gogarty and Cuffe, who will have five minutes each, Deputy Crowe, ten minutes, Deputy Cowley, four minutes and Deputies Gregory and Finian McGrath, three minutes.
I recall in the last Dáil as a member of a joint committee visiting Gort in County Galway to observe the damage from a particularly bad incidence of flooding on the Shannon and meeting a number of local authority engineers and management. I asked one official about measures which the local authority in question was taking to address, or at least not exacerbate, the trend of climate change related to heavier rainfall patterns. I was referring specifically to research that had been carried out by people such as Dr. Tim Osborn in the climate research unit at the University of East Anglia. This clearly states that in the 1960s about 7% of the rainfall in this part of the world generally fell as "heavy rain" whereas in the 1990s the statistic for heavy rainfall had risen to 15%. The same pattern is to be seen in the United States, Europe in general, South Africa, north-east Brazil, parts of the former USSR and generally in mid-latitudes which have wetter climates due to rising atmosphere temperature. The flooding on the Shannon, which is becoming more frequent, is part of that overall pattern.
The reply from the local authority official contained a salient lesson for Members of this House. He stated that the local authority had no remit to think about climate change or related issues. These were matters for Dáil Éireann or the Earth Summit, or some other far-away or remote authority, from his viewpoint.
Local authorities have to play their part in dealing with the effects of climate change. Dublin City Council, for example, is looking for €150 million for coastal defences directly related to the problems associated with climate change. The reality is that the national climate change strategy, NCCS, will not be effective unless communities are involved. They must be involved in reducing fossil fuel use, promoting greater use of solar panels and more cycle ways, encouraging clean industry, waste minimisation, planting more trees, having more reed bed sewage treatment and local facilities and playgrounds to reduce the need for travel undertaken by parents to find facilities for children and, indeed, schools.
This Bill is much needed to facilitate the changes we need. Hence it reminds all of us, especially local authorities and communities, that Ireland cannot become sustainable unless all of us are purposefully involved in devising and implementing local sustainability strategies. That is what the Bill is promoting. Had the UN's Local Agenda 21 been seriously implemented after the Earth Summit of 1992, these strategies could well be in place by now. Features of a sustainable community strategy, for example, would include the provision of local services and amenities, such as green spaces and children's parks; the procurement and sourcing of goods which are either produced or grown locally; the growth and marketing of organic forms of food production and local food economies; increasing the number of locally generated jobs to reduce commuting, for example; increasing the quantity of sustainable products produced in the regions where they are consumed; increasing measures to reduce the level of road traffic and promote public local transport as well as measures to decrease the amount of product miles; and boosting social inclusion, including an increase in the involvement of citizens in local democracy.
The Bill also provides for indicators to evaluate the progress being made to implement parts of a sustainable community strategy. Indicators are intended to answer a simple question, how might we know objectively whether matters are getting better or worse. In this country we have indicators such as GNP and GDP, but they do not tell us how we are doing as regards sustainability, and they can be misleading in that regard. One of the advantages of local community-based indicators is that we can move away from pure statistical data. Community icons or motifs may be used to symbolise the data.
In Sustainable Seattle's 1992 work, for instance, the indicator for water quality is the number of wild salmon that return to rivers and streams each year. It could have measured turbidity, temperature, percentages of oxygen, chemical composition or any number of other scientific measures. People do not get emotional about things like parts per billion. In the Pacific north-west region, people get emotional when major cultural and economic resources, such as salmon, are in decline, just as they are in Ireland. People throughout the world who face vastly different economic, political, social and environmental circumstances are experimenting with ways and means of developing indicators for their neighbourhoods, communities and regions.
I wish to sum up before I ask my colleagues to contribute. It is important that we examine matters such as energy, transport, the geo-politics of transport and oil dependency. I mentioned during Taoiseach's Question Time that Ireland's dependency on imported energy grew from 65% in 1990 to 87% in 2001. The Irish level significantly exceeds the average dependency of 50% for the European Union as a whole. The matter is more urgent in Ireland than it is in many EU member states. If we are to bring about change in that regard, we need to develop sustainable communities and sustainable community strategies.
The transport sector, in which we have an overall dependency rate of 98% on imported fuel, is potentially more vulnerable to a disruption of supply. The most predictable and effective response we can make, to enhance security of supply, is to manage our demand for oil in the domestic sphere. Such management is also necessary if we are to control the economic impact of future geo-political upheaval, for example resulting from the war in Iraq and the continuing stalemate in respect of Palestine.
Having read the EPA reports, we know we have a great deal to do to protect surplus water and groundwater. Such matters also have an impact on our fisheries. As a native of Donegal, the Minister of State, Deputy Gallagher, will be aware that 25 of the 56 commercially targeted marine fish stocks in Irish waters are over-exploited and in decline. Issues of that type are documented in the EPA's reports, such as Ireland's Environment 2004, which makes fascinating reading. Four matters are cited in the report as key challenges — waste, acidification, greenhouse gases and eutrophication. Such areas have particular poignancy and relevance to communities and local authorities.
It is important that the Government endorse this Private Members' Bill and ensure that local authorities have clear guidelines and templates to provide for sustainability in local communities. There is a great deal of evidence from all parts of the world to suggest that the type of Bill being proposed by the Green Party is working. Such legislation has been proposed in one form or another in the UK and other countries. I have a copy of Towards Sustainable Communities: Resources for Citizens and Their Governments, which points out that actions are being taken in Washington state. The commute trip reduction law was introduced there, requiring large companies with more than 100 employees to initiate trip reduction programmes. Measures such as parking fees and transit subsidies have been introduced to encourage people to use public transport. Similar provisions have been made in Germany, New York state and Nevada.
The Bill before the House is not new or novel — it is working in other countries. It is needed more than ever in this country because we are becoming less and less sustainable as the years go by.