Climate Change: Statements (Resumed).

I welcome the opportunity to speak in this debate. From 7 December, for two weeks, environment Ministers and officials from around the world will meet in Copenhagen for the 15th UN climate change conference to thrash out a successor to the Kyoto Protocol. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, will represent Ireland at this critical summit where agreement on a new legal framework to tackling global warming from 2013 must be reached.

I pay tribute to the Minister, Deputy Gormley. It is fair to that we have no one better or more committed than he to represent us. He has spent all his political life, if not all his adult life, committed to the environment and we are very lucky to have a Minister like him representing us there.

Today we heard the positive news that India, in common with the other major greenhouse gas emitters, China and the US, is likely to announce its emissions target in advance of next week's conference. This shows real commitment that larger countries are now prepared to tackle the very real challenges of climate change. Over the past decade and beyond, the larger countries did not make any great commitment to reaching their targets.

Last week Ireland witnessed at first hand the devastating effects of climate change. I listened to Mr. Gerald Fleming telling Cathal Mac Coille that in his opinion the unprecedented rainfall we have witnessed is more than just a freak event, rather it is the very real effects of global warming. The awful scenes we have witnessed of families struggling to pick up the pieces of the lives, homes and businesses in which they have invested so much time and commitment drive home the reality that immediate action must be taken to combat the issue of climate change at an international level.

The Government clearly recognises that we must also lead the way at home in Ireland on this issue. A few weeks ago the Joint Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security discussed the committee's report which included outline proposals for a climate change Bill. The report is a valuable input to development of a climate change Bill, the heads of which are now being developed. There is clear all-party support for this legislation and in early December a framework document on the proposed legislation will be published.

The recently reviewed programme for Government also reiterated the Government's commitment to climate change. It stated that a new climate change Bill will give a statutory basis to the annual carbon budget incorporating a target of 3% annual average reductions on greenhouse gas emissions.

There was also a commitment within the programme to introduce a carbon tax in the budget on 9 December along with an adjustment in the ratio of expenditure on new Transport 21 projects. Between public transport and national roads programme, there will be a ratio of 2:1 in favour of public transport. Certainly, that is an achievable objective if we are committed to it.

Likewise, the Government's action plan, Smarter Travel — A Sustainable Transport Future, is a very positive development in the Government's response to the significant challenges presented by Ireland's transport system. The plan recognises the need for a fundamental shift from private transport to more sustainable modes of transport. I am pleased to mention one project, the new DART underground, currently at consultation stage, which on completion will treble the greater Dublin area's rail service capacity from 33 million passenger journeys annually to 100 million passenger journeys annually. Its construction will be of enormous benefit to people and will be critical in assisting the shift from private to public transport.

The action plan also highlights the pivotal role spatial and transport planning will play in tackling Ireland's urban sprawl and, by default, our carbon emissions. The report recommends that the instance of urban generated one-off housing in peri-urban areas must cease and recommends general minimum housing density of between 35 and 50 dwellings per hectare in urban areas of suitable size and population, and requiring substantially higher densities where local circumstances warrant it.

The Green Party Minister has decided all of that today.

On global change, as I stated at the outset, the Minister and the Government are committed and I do not think we could have a better Minister in the environment portfolio.

Deputy Andrews's colleagues would not agree.

While the Minister is away in Copenhagen, I can guarantee that the constituency will be well looked after.

This plan also highlights the need for the promotion of targets which would require a minimum percentage of new residential and mixed-use development to take place on brownfield and existing sites to consolidate urban growth and enable organic development of urban areas from the centre out. Dublin City Council is looking at its development plan and this brings challenges on heights and densities. It is a difficult issue with which to deal.

In the period 2008 to 2012, Ireland is required to meet a challenging greenhouse gas emission reduction target under the Kyoto Protocol. This target is binding in international law. In addition, by 2020 Ireland is committed under the EU climate and energy package agreed in December 2008 to achieve a 20% reduction on 2005 levels of greenhouse gas emissions in the sectors of the economy not covered by the EU emissions trading scheme. This target is binding in EU law, as will be any adjustment to it in light of the outcome to the conference of the parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in Copenhagen next week. Under a new international agreement on climate change, these cuts will become binding on Ireland. I certainly support this Government which is determined in its efforts to tackle climate change on a national level through a climate change Bill and the introduction of a carbon tax. This will lay the groundwork for achieving targets set under a new post-Kyoto international agreement. In April this year, the Minister requested that the National Treasury Management Agency stop buying carbon credits abroad on the basis that Ireland will now meet its targets under the Kyoto Protocol due to the economic slowdown and the reduction in business here. The Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government has asked the NTMA to put its programme of carbon purchasing on hold for the foreseeable future. The Government clearly recognises that we need to move towards a low carbon economy at home and abroad to prevent increased poverty and catastrophic changes to the natural environment.

Like many others, I am a newcomer to the issue of climate change. We can certainly learn from the Green Party and that is why it is a benefit having that party in Government because of that commitment. The Green Party's members have been long-time advocates of making changes at national and international level to improve our position. I fully support the Government's efforts to tackle climate change and believe that we will make huge progress in this regard over the next year.

I thank the Whips for providing additional time for this debate, which is greatly appreciated. The importance of what we are discussing must be stressed, which is the preparation for the UN convention on climate change which will take place in Copenhagen from 7 to 18 December. We should all recognise that climate change is probably the most significant threat to the global environment currently facing humanity. It is being brought about for the most part as a consequence of human activity. Unless we are prepared to face up to this reality, climate change will create a very different living and working environment, especially for those less fortunate people living in the Third World. Anybody with eyes to see can read the documentation and learn that what is happening in the Third World is no accident or temporary change in climate patterns.

International concern about climate change is increasing rapidly, but action to deal with it lags far behind. I sincerely hope the Copenhagen convention will be taken seriously by all 192 countries due to participate in the event. It is hoped that a common plan can be satisfactorily concluded to prevent the world's climate being disrupted by human activity. The convention faces great challenges and will demand great leadership.

In fairness to the European Union, it made the first commitment to take action, which Ireland has bought into. As the previous speaker said, this is not a party political issue. It is one that faces all of us, irrespective of who is in Government. As chairman of the Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security, I can say that it operates on an all-party basis. Any report that the committee produces has all-party agreement. If those who go to Copenhagen adopt a similar attitude, and do not try to throw their weight around, we might reach a satisfactory conclusion.

The EU was first into the field and has committed itself to a 20% reduction on 1990 carbon emission levels by 2020, or up to 30% if there is an international agreement. This contrasts with the United States, which has not yet reached agreement on the relevant legislation currently before the US Senate. Even if agreement is reached there, however, the proposal would amount, at best, to a reduction of approximately 7% below the 1990 levels by 2020. Looking at the problems facing the US, it is clear that their representatives need to cop on very quickly. They should leave aside the vested interests that are persuading many members of the Senate not to support the legislation. It is worrying that no Republican senators are prepared to back the legislation at present. It is quite frightening to see a situation where party politics are playing a major part in preventing the leaders going to Copenhagen to represent the United States from having a sound mandate from the US Senate. One can expect that the US legislation will not be passed before the end of December because they need 60 senators to vote for it from a total of 100.

When one looks at what is happening in the United States, one can see the effects of climate change, including water shortages. The governor of one US state was reported as saying that 100 million trees were dying in one region because warmer winters allowed certain insects to hatch, thus spreading disease in woodlands. That concerns one area, but it demonstrates what can happen as a result of climate change patterns.

In addition, America's national security would be enhanced through a lack of dependence on continuing oil and gas imports. These are small examples of what could happen on a larger scale if climate change is not tackled. It must be faced without people playing politics.

There is a problem between developed and developing countries in the context of the forthcoming Copenhagen conference. EU members states, including Ireland, are part of the developed countries, which have carbon reduction targets to achieve. The developing counties, however, are not expected to reach particular targets, but will qualify for assistance and will give commitments to take steps to reduce CO2 emissions. Unfortunately, the developing country category includes China. Yet China and the United States are together currently producing 40% of all greenhouse gases. On a per capita basis, however, that is still below what Ireland is producing. The developing countries caused the problem because of industrial development over the last 100 years, even though China is now catching up. If one adopts the attitude that China should not be restrained from doing something concrete about the problem, it will give rise to a tricky situation in Copenhagen. It is also part and parcel of the ongoing investment in dealing with the problem of coal being used to produce energy. A lot of investment is going into carbon capture and storage, whereby one can extract CO2 and store it. If that is successful, Ireland should also make provision for the possibility of that technology being developed to the stage where it becomes viable. It is important to commit ourselves to such targets. It is also important there is agreement at Copenhagen that the United Nations will have the authority to carry out the inspections required to see that all of us are living up to the targets we are agreeing to. Having caused the damage, all of us will have to contribute the financial help that will be required by developing countries and the Third World generally. It is expected that we will be part of a pool that will provide $140 billion for adaptation and mitigation by 2020.

This is a subject one could speak on at length. It is important that all of us here take the problem seriously. We should not be frightened about dealing with this issue. There are tremendous investment opportunities in this country if we take on board the whole issue of dealing with climate change and energy security. For example, there is the whole area of ocean energy, where we have the potential to produce sufficient energy without having to import fossil fuels. With inter-connection to Scotland, England and France, we have a tremendous export opportunity, but the ball is at our feet. We have slipped up in terms of wind energy, because Denmark is to the fore in that area. Let us not lose the opportunity to develop wave and tidal power, which is in abundance along our coastline, particularly in the west. We need to use this opportunity and not let it pass because there are jobs go leór to be had.

I welcome the fact that we are having this debate and the work done on it by the Joint Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security in terms of its plans for climate change legislation. A climate change Bill was originally proposed by the Labour Party and the committee has taken the legislation on board. The idea is that mitigating and adapting to climate change should be central to Government policy. The legislation, as proposed, is not prescriptive in any way and neither is it binding in the manner in which the Government, or indeed all of us, might tackle climate change. It is not even binding regarding the reduction of emissions, although it has targets, and it is expected that the Taoiseach would report on these in the event that they are not reached.

Heretofore, climate change has been something of a niche subject. It is very important, however, that it becomes core Government policy and is driven by the Taoiseach. It is something that affects everything we do and, as such, it has implications for policy in every Department. I understand that is the idea behind the legislation as proposed. Most of the prominent world leaders, such as President Obama of the United States, now tend to talk a great deal about climate change and our leaders in Ireland tend to do the same. It is somewhat akin to talking about sustainable development for the future. We should talk about development which will help us mitigate the effects of climate change and adopt initiatives that will help us to adapt to their impacts. We have to rebuild the economy from here on in. In doing that, we must ensure that we do not replicate the cycle we have had until recently where economic growth meant increased carbon emissions. That was going to cost us in the long-run and it is something we need to think about now. The type of growth we have in the future needs to be cleaner and involve fewer carbon emissions, less pollution and so on.

The other side of this is to ensure that everything is influenced by the climate change legislation when it is enacted. In the past we talked a good deal about protecting the environment. However, in order to do so, the issue of climate change must be tackled as well. We have moved away from the values we had heretofore regarding protecting the environment and many of the initiatives that were in place were good. We tend to recycle more, something the Irish are good at, and this helps because if the habitat is protected, this helps to tackle climate change. It is not just the environment. Many of the initiatives needed to protect the environment and mitigate climate change are good in general for society. Public transport infrastructure enables a more sustainable economy and that is good for people's quality of life. It ensures affordable transport and also helps to tackle the problem of carbon emissions.

If steps are taken to promote biodiversity and our habitats, they will become more robust in terms of adapting to climate change. Protecting our habitats and encouraging biodiversity is something that needs to be done in itself. Doing so will also help our habitats to adapt to climate change norms and become more robust in terms of whatever impacts occur.

Regarding climate change adaptation, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government has said there is to be a climate change strategy by the end of this year, and this is very important. There is much talk now about the floods, climate change, etc. I do not necessarily agree there is a link, but, in any event, we will have to deal with the impacts of climate change in the future. There is a good deal of research which indicates that our climate is already changing. There has been significant studies on how climate change will impact on Ireland. Much of it has been carried out by NUI Maynooth and people such as Professor John Sweeney. Some of the impacts of climate change in Ireland will not be that bad. Some areas will do better than others, but many areas of activity will be under threat. Some agricultural activity will be affected and some coastal areas. We need a national plan for adapting to climate change, and this needs to be brought right down to local level. The sooner that is done, the better. It is very important that we do not just have a national climate change strategy and that each local authority, for example, has its own strategy. Some of them do already, although most do not.

We need to bring the impacts of adapting to climate change down to local community level, so that people are involved in doing something in their areas to deal with flooding, coastal erosion or whatever issues may arise from coastal change. Local communities should be given leadership through the national climate change adaptation strategy. In turn, they must prepare their own plans. This needs to be done without delay. Such initiatives have been carried out in places such as Washington State, I believe, and they tend to raise awareness among people about the issue of climate change and make them conscious of the need to reduce their carbon footprints.

For some years we have been talking theoretically about reducing carbon emissions, but we have never really come up with concrete practical proposals which can be put in place at ground level. We tend to talk in exalted terms about the Copenhagen conference and carbon emission targets. There is much in this debate to which people on the ground cannot relate. For example, one could involve children in projects to make schools more sustainable. In so doing, one would educate children, their parents and teachers about the issues on climate change. One could take actions such as making the buildings more energy efficient. Alternatively, a school could have solar panels or save rainwater for subsequent use. There are many things one could do in a school environment that could make a contribution to reducing our carbon emissions and help the awareness of children and the wider community of climate change.

Similarly, one could think small in respect of public transport and achieve a lot simply by investing in more buses. I have made this point many times. While we tend to talk about projects such as the Luas, the metro and so on, I am uncertain of their future, given the current state of the economy. However, buses are the most flexible form of public transport. They are relatively cheap and one is not obliged to dig up roads to deploy additional buses. One could take initiatives such as having cheaper fares in certain areas. Much more could be done to get people out of their cars and into buses.

These examples are a flavour of some of the steps that could be taken. In addition to thinking big in respect of climate change legislation and targets, we should also think small by thinking about the small, practical things that could be done.

While I acknowledge this issue is being considered in the drafting of legislation, it will be important for the future organisation of our society for us to deal with climate change in a way that will protect the poor and the vulnerable. We must bring about greater equality in respect of people's income to help them deal with the issue of climate change. The United Nations' reports have made the point that those who are poor are much more vulnerable to the impact of climate change. Consequently, many of the suggestions made such as having environmentally-friendly cars and so on will be of no help to those who are poor. If one deals with the fact that people are poor, one can help them to tackle better the issue of climate change. This must be an important part of the debate.

First, I welcome the opportunity to speak on this subject. It is appropriate to do so on a day when Members have been debating a Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill, in which much emphasis has been placed on flooding. As this is deemed to be a symptom of climate change, it highlights the importance of this discussion. In addition, today saw the launch of the report, Meeting Ireland's Electricity Needs post-2020. I understand a report on greening the economy was published this morning also. This issue must be considered in the context of something which must be done but which also presents opportunities. After oil became a required energy source and when people in the Gulf states found they had oodles of it, they capitalised on it. On its own, the report launched today on meeting Ireland's electricity needs highlights the country's potential, given its 140,000 square miles of ocean and water. This resource has great potential in the fields of ocean, wind, wave and tidal energy. However, although much research on that capacity and potential has been carried out here, mainly driven by the Marine Institute as regards offshore energy, another country would have tackled the impediments to developing such energy sources. For example, one of the Irish companies which has developed advanced prototypes is going to carry out its final tests in Norway because it cannot secure connection to the grid. We must consider the impediments to developing this raw resource we possess and which has great potential. This must be done if we are to reach the requisite target, an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. In effect, this will be an energy-neutral lifestyle that will be sustainable by virtue of not taking from the planet but by recycling back into it the essentials — food, energy and medicines. I acknowledge that medicines may have less of an impact. The challenge to achieve this should be seen as an opportunity.

I will turn to the first element which is highly relevant. I am a member of both the Joint Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security and the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, as is Deputy Aylward. The emphasis on the agricultural impact on our greenhouse gas emissions per head of population is sometimes misconstrued. Ireland has a high dependence on agriculture. It has high agricultural output because this island of 6 million people is a bread basket that can feed 36 million people. Ireland is one of the most carbon-efficient producers of food. We are far more efficient, per unit of food, than any other country in Europe — New Zealand is probably the only country that can compare with us. However, there are no standards of equivalence for proper comparisons. This should be borne in mind before simply suggesting the number of cows must be cut to reduce Ireland's greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture. Ireland does not have heavy industry. It lacks major coal and steel plants, iron ore plants or heavy industrial plants such as those that can be found on the River Rhine, for instance. Consequently, this must be borne in mind. Ireland has never had such industries and to return to 1990 emissions levels, we must reduce our emissions by 13%. As the economy then was a fraction of its current level, we must think about how we can retain our current levels of economic development while meeting these targets. This presents us with both a challenge and a great opportunity.

As for research and development, if there is to be a carbon tax, the money should be recycled into stimuli that will reduce Ireland's carbon footprint, create jobs in the process and keep people at work. If it can be ring-fenced to do this, it will save money, rather than pulling in money as a tax take, by putting people to work and keeping them there. We should consider the issue in that context as there are great opportunities. The all-party Joint Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security produced the heads of a Bill. The committee which is chaired by Deputy Barrett has worked in a non-confrontational all-party consensual manner since its inception and I implore those in power to bear this in mind when the committee produces reports.

Earlier this year most people living in the counties now affected by serious flooding would have paid little attention to a person talking about climate change. However, in recent months the effects of flooding have made people realise that change is happening. I disagree vehemently with Deputy Tuffy who suggested climate change had little, if anything, to do with the flooding in many parts of the country. As for the flooding and the climate change with which it definitely is associated, people may state this climatic cycle has only lasted for 200 years. This raises the question of what will happen in parts of County Galway during the next 200 years. The Stern report was produced in the context of the introduction of legislation in the United Kingdom on climate change. It included one extremely important and striking statement to the effect that the cost of inaction was far greater than the cost of taking action now. While this comment was made in a British context, it appears as though the Government and various Ministers have ignored such statements and warnings. The Government would do well to take on board the point that investment is necessary now. In Ireland reports are produced and then ignored.

As for the flooding in County Galway, I note that €1.2 million was spent on the famous Peach report. Every possible aspect of the environment in the south County Galway area, including the physical, social and wildlife environments, was investigated in great detail. A cost-benefit analysis stated these were unimportant issues which would not affect justifying the expenditure involved. Ten years later, massive flooding occurred again. The cost of this flooding to the Government is an indication of the truth in that statement. Galway was promised funds by various Deputies coming up to elections for action to alleviate the problem of flooding there. However, it was forgotten soon afterwards.

The ESB frustrates and stifles connectivity to the national grid for many potential wind energy producers which could increase the percentage of renewable energy used in the country. The situation with regard to Gate 3 national grid connectivity projects is a classic example of how the ESB stifles these producers. With the ESB and Airtricity in control, those wanting to invest in the provision of wind energy are forced to wait indefinitely until it suits these two players to allow them on the national grid. I hope the Government will change the criteria under which the ESB allows connections to the national grid in the interest of climate change. The opportunities in other areas of renewable energy production should not be postponed because of a repetition of such actions.

Diversification in agriculture, such as the growing of bio-fuel crops, can also assist in reducing the effects of climate change. Miscantis, for example, has huge potential as this country has very favourable growing conditions for it. However, if we had 1,000 hectares of it tomorrow, we would not have the capacity to process it to our advantage. Likewise, some years ago there was a run on rapeseed oil but Ireland had no capacity to process it to its advantage to reduce carbon emissions. With a negative attitude in Government thinking, we will continue to lose out in time and opportunities in these areas.

To reduce one's carbon footprint and tackle climate change means one must change the way one lives. The first issue in this is about sustainable living, where we live and how we get to work. It is about how our cities and towns are planned for sustainable development. The Government needs to have more decisive thinking in planning legislation as to what is sustainable development. There needs to be joined-up thinking for public transport, park-and-ride facilities on the outskirts of our cities and railway timetables. The Acting Chairman, Deputy Kennedy, knows as well as I do of the problems with the new Iarnród Éireann timetable for the northern commuter line. It now takes longer to get to work for commuters on this line than it did 30 years ago. If one wants to attract more users to public modes of transport, they must be good and enjoyable experiences. Iarnród Éireann has good rolling stock but its timetables leave something to be desired.

When developing our future towns and cities, we need to examine higher intensity rather than high rise development. This does not mean where once there were two-storey houses, there should be 17-storey blocks. Instead, we should be examining triplexes with zones moving from a city centre of lesser intensity but higher density development. These should be developments which allow people to live with proper recreational spaces and facilities and travel to work on efficient public transport networks which are open to competitive choice.

We cannot have a repeat of the awful urban sprawl of the Celtic tiger. Vast areas of the country have been left with large housing estates with no schools, transport infrastructure or support services. It means people need to use their car to commute, shop and travel. In turn, their carbon emissions are high and they do not have a sustainable lifestyle.

When it comes to choosing a house and getting to and from work, the order should be, first, by foot, second, by bike, third, by public transport and, fourth and last, by car. Unfortunately, this has been the other way around in Ireland. Some changes are being made to city transport. I welcome the idea of bus-gates and pedestrianisation of town and city centres. We must, however, continue to change people's mindsets to acknowledge they cannot drive their cars everywhere as it is simply unsustainable.

I am critical of the Green Party's recent stance on nuclear energy. In 2001, I marched with the great and the good, including the current Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, against the Sellafield plant. We marched in the darkness of early morning and stayed there all day to protest against the facility's treatment of nuclear waste. Deputy Gormley may remember when his mobile telephone gave out that I gave him mine so he could do an interview with RTE. We stood firm that day and resolutely opposed to nuclear energy.

I regret, however, that last week in the Dáil, having refused to answer my questions, the Minister chose to say he had an open mind on nuclear energy and he might change his mind, the futurum esse. For a Green Minister to be about to change his mind on this matter is unacceptable. The key problem with nuclear energy is that in the long run it is wasteful of our environment. Other issues are nuclear terrorism and that the waste must be stored for 250,000 years until it is safe. For example, the UK stores much of its nuclear waste underground in the Irish Sea. Any tectonic activity over the next 250,000 years which may release that waste would have a direct impact on Ireland.

While the Minister, Deputy Gormley, may not object to the necklace of nuclear plants facing Dublin and the east coast from the United Kingdom, I certainly do. I challenge him to answer these charges in here, man to man. How can one argue nuclear energy is sustainable when one considers the risks to life and the thousands of years of pollution it poses? The carbon footprint cost in terms of the construction, manufacture and after-work required, including the decommissioning costs, is massive and in this regard the Minister's sums do not add up.

Our energy future is in wind and wave energy and in research and development. Deputy Coveney on behalf of Fine Gael has produced an important and costed programme in regard to our future energy needs and how we should deal with this issue. The programme is also carbon friendly. The key point is that we must change the way we think about our energy use, how we live and how we travel. Hard questions must be asked. I put the following idea for debate. Other countries are examining the issue of road pricing. If I drive my car from A to B, I burn up fuel, which does not reduce my carbon footprint. There is a case to be made in respect of arterial routes in some countries, namely, motorways in France, for motorists to pay as they go whenever they enter a motorway. In other words, the amount one pays in terms of road pricing is directly proportional to the distance travelled. I believe there is equity in that proposal which should be considered. Obviously, this is not a panacea for all ills. I am not suggesting this be enforced on rural or regional roads. If we are investing heavily in vehicular transport we must ensure motorists pay as they go in terms of carbon footprint. I merely throw out this issue for discussion.

What we need in our county councils are people charged specifically with achieving reductions in carbon footprints. There should be in our councils a designated official who would advise schools, hospitals, industry and households on how they can reduce their carbon footprint. We should have in place an information office whom people could contact to obtain advice in regard to changing how they live. We have all the thinking in terms of Sustainable Energy Ireland, SEI, and so on but we need to bring this down to ground level where people live and work. I believe the county councils have a particularly important and influential role to play in terms of providing an energy officer to advise constituents on how to reduce their carbon footprint.

As the Minister, Deputy Gormley, stated at the outset, the Copenhagen conference is one of the most widely anticipated peace time events. This anticipation reflects the seriousness of the threat presented by climate change and the urgency of reaching agreement on an effective global response. I believe it is timely and useful to hear the views from both sides of the House and I welcome the strong support voiced for a positive outcome to the Copenhagen conference.

In summary, we need and must press to reach agreement on a global and comprehensive legally binding treaty to succeed the Kyoto Protocol with effect from 2013. There can be no gap in the international response to climate change and all parties, countries and elements must play their part. Deputy Barrett referred to the fact that international action lags behind. I believe everybody in the House agrees with him. If we do not underpin the need for a new treaty that broadens the scope and effectiveness of the international response to climate change in the post-2012 period, we will not have served the needs of mankind at this time.

It must be acknowledged that Ireland has fully and consistently supported the EU proactively and in its leadership in the international climate change process. That position stands and we will play our part in seeking to influence a positive and effective outcome at Copenhagen. A fully fledged legally binding agreement may not be possible. It may take a little longer to get that result but the parties must take a significant incremental step towards that end.

It has been interesting to hear the debate on all sides, informed to some extent by the effects of the flooding in recent weeks, initially more severe in the west and south and more recently in Kildare and surrounding counties. People have been quick to point to some of the deficiencies that have led to the difficulties that have arisen. It is important to point out that in virtually all of the areas which were badly affected, the level of rainfall was considerably higher than previous levels in those areas, in some instances dramatically higher, and not always over a wide area. It is interesting that in County Clare we generally look to the weather results from Shannon. Even though Ennis is only 15 miles from Shannon, the level of rainfall there was approximately 50% higher than in Shannon. This was a factor in the difficulties which hit Ennis. Subsequently, a much larger catchment along the Shannon basin right up to the northern end, including Leitrim to Limerick city, was affected. All kinds of challenges are posed arising from this. There is almost universal agreement that the extraordinary high levels of rainfall are an element of climate change. This has occurred much sooner than many of us might have anticipated and is certainly much more dramatic than people were prepared for.

On the other hand, it is true to say that the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and various Ministers down through the years, back to pre-Kyoto times, have been considering ways to address the threats posed by climate change. Many people who have considered the strategy put forward by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government seven or eight years ago are impressed by how well placed it was in terms of predicting what we needed to do. Heretofore, the emphasis has tended to be on coastal communities and the likelihood that the melting of the polar ice-caps would raise sea levels. There seems to be an indication that an interim problem is arising much sooner in terms of increased levels of rainfall. Of course, what is impossible to predict is whether this incidence is likely to recur at long intervals, say, 60, 70 or 100 years or a new pattern that is likely to be repeated more frequently at, say, five, six, seven or ten-year intervals. In either case, there is a particular challenge facing us.

Many Deputies pointed to the level of building on flood plains. There is no doubt that houses have been built in places previously flooded. At the same time, on this particular occasion floods occurred in parts of the west never before flooded. This must be taken into account in terms of future planning. The type of flooding that occurs is very much influenced by the topography of an area and by geology. In the Burren, because of the underground systems of drainage, one cannot see where the rivers are. It is difficult to know where the swallow holes and other geographical features are and, as such, it is difficult to predict where water may come up through the ground. There are changing patterns in this regard as seen in the Ardrahan area of south Galway during the past week when seven or eight days after the heavy rainfall had stopped, flood levels rose dramatically in one particular area. While these can drop off fairly quickly, winter water levels in the turloughs are likely to remain for several months, an issue which we must consider carefully. Thankfully we have people who have a great deal of expertise in this area, including hydrologists and others, who have been of enormous assistance.

The role played by the emergency services has been, in my experience, extraordinary. People have worked 24 hours a day for several days to achieve a successful outcome to the challenge posed.

Tomorrow I will be taking in the House the Foreshore and Dumping at Sea (Amendment) Bill 2009 which seeks to transfer responsibility for foreshore in respect of major projects to the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. That legislation brings together the planning function on land with planning functions on the foreshore. This is an important precursor to addressing many of the issues we will face in terms of maritime and seaside defences, in particular in built-up areas which may be a lot nearer to many of us than we think.

Deputy Ulick Burke, whose constituency was badly affected by the flooding, outlined the concerns people have and the received wisdom that places the blame for the flooding, to some extent, on planning decisions. However, the level of rainfall was an enormous factor and there should be a general acknowledgement among the population that this is a function of climate change occurring more quickly than has been the case heretofore. The mitigation measures outlined in the climate change strategy published by the Department some years ago showed a degree of foresight. It is the type of strategy that is needed to address that area.

Deputy Fergus O'Dowd concentrated on transport. When one sees the levels of emissions from transport one must admit there is considerable urgency about dealing with that issue. It seems likely that the resolution for the transport issue lies in two directions. One, which the Deputy outlined in some detail, is public transport. That is an important element, but in the backs of our minds we all hold the suspicion that western society, and particularly Irish society, has become wedded to the motor car. According to the best current scientific knowledge, the way to enable that to continue in the future is to concentrate on electrically powered cars.

There will still be congestion.

Of course, a number of other issues will remain, particularly if the number of vehicles we currently use is maintained and there was a complete transfer to that. The failure to put in place a strong public transport system would exacerbate the difficult situation with congestion, parking and other issues. Notwithstanding that, however, a high proportion of the population is rurally based. Even in the Acting Chairman, Deputy Michael Kennedy's, constituency, which is very near the city, there is a substantial rural area with small towns populated by people whose transport requirements are diverse. They sometimes require their own transport. In that situation it might be an enormous mistake to assume that our requirements for the provision of electricity will remain what they currently are. One of the interesting aspects of our current requirement for electricity is that the requirement on the lowest electricity usage day in mid-July is just about 50% of the requirement on the day of the highest usage. That is another challenge. It means one must provide twice as much electricity at a particular time.

The question of electricity generation is central to how we deal with climate change and our carbon emissions. It is something we must examine carefully not only with regard to electricity usage for domestic, industrial and commercial purposes but also with regard to the burden that may arise in the provision of transport. That is an immediate challenge which we must deal with very quickly.

I am delighted the programme for Government has put such strong emphasis on the forestry sector. It is a sector in which this country has enormous advantages. We have, perhaps, a double advantage because our level of afforestation was relatively low in 1992 when Kyoto was agreed. It has increased dramatically since then and, as a result, our capability for carbon sequestration is increased. We had planting levels of approximately 20,000 hectares per annum ten years ago but it is down to approximately 6,000 hectares per annum now. The programme for Government commits us to trying to increase it to above 10,000 hectares per annum. If we reach our target by 2020 of having 17% of the country afforested, it would be necessary to plant 25,000 hectares per annum. There is a strong case for arguing that it would be far better to invest resources in planting forestry, which has a carbon sequestration capability, than to spend it on carbon credits. In so far as possible, the country's aim should be to minimise the amount expended on purchasing carbon credits and to try to provide by whatever means necessary for self-sufficiency in that regard. Forestry is a very important element in that.

We also tend to forget that there have been some very successful campaigns. The Power of One campaign a few years ago, which was launched at a relatively early stage in people's consciousness of the impact of climate change, was driven by the Government and had a positive impact. It showed it is possible to have successful campaigns of this nature. I commend the Minister, Deputy Gormley, on his initiative on lightbulbs. It was instructive to see some of the responses, which were extraordinarily negative and not based on the facts.

I am also interested in the proposals coming from the Spirit of Ireland Group and its ideas, particularly for the generation of electricity. The group has done a huge amount of work. There are issues with access to the grid in some of the areas which have the most promising prospects. Deputy Ring will be aware that some of them are in his constituency. Fortunately, some of them are in mine and as there is a long history of electricity generation in Clare, there are very strong grid connections in the area, historically because of Ardnacrusha and more recently because of Moneypoint. There are strong proposals for the creation of pump storage facilities.

As Deputy O'Dowd said, there are many opportunities with regard to wind, wave and tidal energy. There is much experimenting taking place and we are trying to stay to the forefront in that regard. There are some great opportunities. Sometimes we view climate change as an entirely negative story but there are some very positive elements and good prospects for people who are first with developments. We are trying to develop that.

The Minister will have to sort out the foreshore licences. We have already lost a development because of that.

That is not the case. There are 420 wind——

One development went to Portugal because of foreshore licences.

That is not the case. We will deal with that tomorrow. It is one of the fallacies being floated. It makes it very difficult to advance the agenda on issues relating to climate change when people are so ill-informed they do not know 420 wind turbines have been licensed for five or six years but only seven of them have been built, the last one five years ago.

In this debate, being well informed and to the fore in development gives us advantages. I welcome this debate and the submissions and the considerations put forward by participants——

Get the foreshore licences sorted out. It is holding up development everywhere.

Unfortunately, sometimes debates are marred by people who have a particular view because they have an interest in advancing the financial interests of a particular promoter or for whatever reason.

There is no particular case.

Allow the Minister to finish.

No, I want him to withdraw that. I am not like Fianna Fáil; I have no vested interest. I do not go to the tent in Galway like its members.

In those cases, they refuse to accept that there are 420 licences but only seven have been built. There are many other considerations——

There is a bunch of foreshore licences in the Department.

There are 420 with foreshore licences and all types of approvals but they are not built. Seven have been built, the last one five years ago. That is a very important point because unless we address the engineering, port facility and connectivity to grid issues, and if we continue to throw out unfounded and ill-conceived ideas, we will not progress this issue. The debate in the House, in general, was marked by a willingness to engage with climate change issues, a capacity to understand what the threats to this country are and a capacity to see that there are opportunities.