Carbon Budget: Statements

It is a privilege to present the fourth annual carbon budget to the House. Since this annual carbon budgetary process began three years ago, it has continued to evolve, increasing interest and awareness in both the challenges and opportunities of a low-carbon future, and embedding the national climate agenda at the heart of budgetary policy and decision making. Today, I want to take the national climate policy agenda one step further by laying down clear and ambitious plans for how we deal with the challenges of climate change in the future.

That is my key message today. Our success as an economy and as a society in the low-carbon world of tomorrow depends on the preparations, commitment and effort that we make in responding to climate change. Tackling climate change is about putting measures in place, not for the short or even medium term, but for the long term. The future of our economy and society depends on it.

We are now reaping the bitter harvest of the failure in this country to plan. We see the consequences of poor regulation and short-term thinking in our banking, property and finance sectors. In the future, the failure to take measures to tackle climate change now will be judged with the same harshness, as businesses, families and society face enormous costs if we do not take them.

The disappointing outcome to the Copenhagen climate conference last year put the international climate change process, rather than the international agenda, in the spotlight. As I said recently in a statement to the Select Committee on the Environment Heritage and Local Government, the international process under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change is the right way forward. There is no realistic alternative and the parties to the convention must make every possible effort to underpin it with a powerful global consensus built on partnership and determination.

The positive outcome of this year's climate conference in Cancun is both welcome and encouraging. While progress on the wide range of issues that constitute the agenda was modest by any standard, the process under the convention is back on track. We now look, with renewed confidence, to substantive progress towards agreement on a comprehensive new international climate change treaty at next year's conference in South Africa.

Ireland continues to play a full part in the international agenda, constructively supporting efforts to forge consensus on an effective global response to climate change. We had hoped that a proposed work programme on agriculture and climate change would have been adopted as part of the incremental step taken at this year's conference in Cancun. As well as being an important agenda item for Ireland, the way forward on agriculture is a key concern for many developing countries, including partner countries which we support through our programme of overseas development assistance.

We will continue in our efforts to get a decision on the agriculture work programme adopted as soon as possible.

The positive outcome at the Cancun conference will, I believe, provide confidence within the EU to strengthen its ambition on climate change policy and to move to a 30% greenhouse gas emissions reduction target for 2020. A strategy for completing the transition to a low-carbon EU economy by 2050, which the European Commission will present next spring, will provide a platform for both further progress and a return to EU leadership at a wider international level. Of course, the climate agenda, whether at national, EU or wider international level, cannot be progressed in isolation of other priorities that create demands on our time and resources.

The global economic downturn has created enormous difficulties for many countries, including Ireland. The extent to which it is dominating our attention inevitably means it would be all too easy to overlook or defer our response to climate change. That would be a mistake — a trap into which we must not fall. We must never fail to remind ourselves that climate change is the greatest threat to the people of this world, and that urgent and decisive action is required if we are to avert its worst impacts.

It is now widely recognised that sustainable economic growth is growth that is sustainable in both economic and environmental terms. This is why I believe that, in dealing with the economic downturn, we must not fail to look beyond it. We must plan now to ensure our return to economic growth is environmentally sustainable in terms of carbon intensity, resource efficiency and climate resilience. If we fail to look ahead and to anticipate the inevitable global transition to a low-carbon future, we stand to lose out badly, not just in regard to new opportunities in areas such as green technologies but also in regard to the viability of our current economic sectors.

A recent report on the carbon disclosure project highlighted that nine out of ten of the companies surveyed, including some of the biggest companies in the world, identified significant commercial opportunity arising from the global response to climate change. At the heart of all this is an opportunity to respond to the most pressing priority in people's daily lives today — job creation. Taking the EU's ambitious renewable energy target as just one example, the European Commission estimates that delivering on the 20% renewable energy agenda will involve some €130 billion of investment and create some 700,000 jobs.

We must work to emerge from the current economic downturn as a resource efficient and climate resilient country, and establish ourselves as a re-invented society focused on smart, clean technologies and a high quality of life for all our people. We have made good progress in recent years. Our greenhouse gas emissions have significantly reduced and we are on course to comply with our emissions target for the purposes of the Kyoto Protocol.

Preliminary outturn figures from the Environmental Protection Agency for 2009 signal a real possibility that we will meet our Kyoto target without having to buy further carbon allowances or credits. The suspension of our carbon purchasing programme in 2009 has led to significant savings for the Exchequer, estimated in the order of €170 million over the five year period. Total national greenhouse gas emissions in 2009 fell by 7.9% or 5.36 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent when compared to 2008. As well as the magnitude of the drop, one of the most notable aspects of the 2009 figures is that it was the first time in the 20 years that emission reductions occurred in every sector across the board.

The 20% reduction in emissions from the industry and commercial sector is a hard reflection of the impact of the economic downturn. However, the substantial fall of 10.7% in emissions from the energy sector reflects not only a reduction in economic activity but also the increasing impact of renewable energy. The contribution of renewables such as wind in electricity consumption increased to 14.1% in 2009, up from 11.7% in 2008. This is real progress that will serve us well, not just for Kyoto Protocol compliance purposes but also in the longer term. The challenge now is to underpin a return to economic growth without a corresponding growth in greenhouse gas emissions. We must balance economic and environmental sustainability if we are to establish ourselves as a responsible and successful society.

Looking ahead to the post-Kyoto period, Ireland has a challenging greenhouse gas reduction target under the climate and energy package adopted by the EU in December 2008. Our requirement to achieve a 20% reduction, compared to 2005, in emissions from the sectors of the economy not covered by the EU emissions trading scheme is one of the most stringent targets in the overall package. The recent energy and environment review from the ESRI concludes that Ireland will not be able to achieve this target without having to purchase carbon credits from other EU member states. Its analysis is fair but it is based on its perspective rather than mine. The flexibilities within the package are an important safeguard measure for all member states but hardly progressive in terms of an early and effective transition to a low carbon future. Let us leave the safeguard where it is meant to be at this stage, namely, in the background for use by member states if required.

I want to turn now to the table which follows my statement. Column E of the table demonstrates that we are on course to meet our greenhouse gas emissions reduction target for the purposes of the Kyoto Protocol. Looking beyond the Kyoto Protocol period, columns F, G and H are new and present an overview of projected greenhouse gas emissions to 2020. While the downward projection in gross emissions is welcome, we still have a long way to go in terms of complying with the target to which we are already committed under EU law. Further progress in reducing emissions in the period 2013 to 2020 is now the most immediate priority.

The effect of measures in budget 2011 and the national recovery plan that make further inroads towards the 2020 target are reflected in column G. Two key elements are the extension of the carbon tax over the next three years and other complementary tax measures that will increase the cost of fossil fuels. Price mechanisms are widely acknowledged as the most efficient way to change behaviour; they send clear and strong messages to producers and consumers on the importance of considering the full impact of their choices, including the carbon emissions associated with fossil fuels.

The increase in the carbon tax from €15 per tonne in 2010 to €25 in 2012 and €30 in 2014, which was announced in the national recovery plan, will contribute a saving of 300,000 tonnes CO2 equivalent per year. The plan also commits to a review of vehicle registration and motor tax bands to ensure the scheme continues to reward only the best performing vehicles in the fleet.

The increase in excise duty on petrol and diesel by 4 cent and 2 cent respectively will also encourage motorists to consider the running costs when purchasing new cars. There are already very encouraging signs that this is happening, and 56% of new cars registered since implementation of the new VRT scheme were in bands A and B up to the end of 2009. Combining the new VRT regime with the effects of the scrappage scheme led to an increase in that rate to 77% in the first six months of 2010. The combined impact of these changes to vehicle and fuel tax will be of the order of 150,000 tonnes of CO2 equivalent per year.

The Minister for Finance last week announced the extension of the accelerated capital allowances for purchases of energy efficient equipment for a further three years. He has also indicated that a tax credit will be put in place for households who invest in energy efficiency improvements to their homes. The increase in the standard rate of VAT proposed, while unfortunate but necessary in these times, will have a positive effect on emissions. In a full year, these other measures have the potential to reduce emissions by a further 210,000 tonnes of CO2 equivalent per annum. In spite of the difficult economic and fiscal circumstances in which we find ourselves, these measures represent important incremental progress on greenhouse gas emissions.

Since entering Government, the Green Party has made considerable, real and lasting progress in dealing with climate change. When we arrived in Government in 2007, Ireland was ranked 44th, or close to the bottom, in an international league on action on climate change. This year, for the first time ever, Ireland is in the top 20. In a recent climate policy tracker report by the World Wildlife Fund, Ireland ranked the best in Europe alongside Denmark and Germany in terms of the measures introduced to tackle climate change.

It is worth mentioning a number of these measures, including the re-balancing of motor tax and VRT, which has led to a fundamental shift in the types of cars people are buying in Ireland.

It has made low emission vehicles up to €5,000 cheaper to buy and saves upwards of €300 a year in road tax. We introduced strict new low energy standards for housing, alongside an energy rating system to provide consumers with information when buying or renting a home. We have spent more than €150 million since 2009 on retrofitting homes throughout the country, providing thousands of jobs in the construction sector. Significant sums have been set aside for this purpose this year and next year. We introduced taxation measures to assist companies in the purchase of energy efficient equipment. A new tariff system for renewable energy was also introduced and this has underpinned the increase in renewable energy generation in Ireland.

The introduction of a carbon tax is already established as a fundamental element of national climate change policy. The tax has already been successfully applied to the use of petrol and diesel for transport and to gas and oil for residential use. Application to coal and commercial peat used in the residential sector was announced by the Minister for Finance in last year's budget and is subject to a commencement order. This order is to be triggered with the finalisation of a robust mechanism to counter the sourcing of coal and peat from Northern Ireland, where lower environmental standards apply. Work on the development of this robust mechanism is well advanced and I am confident it will be completed to allow for the application of the tax to solid fuels at the end of the heating season.

As I stated at the outset, I am keen to take a significant step forward on national climate change policy. Global transition to a low-carbon future is both essential and inevitable. As it gains greater political and economic momentum in the coming years, I foresee considerable pressure on developed countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, on both environmental and competitiveness grounds. Failure to act is not an option for any responsible society. Through the introduction of the climate change Bill, we will provide the political leadership necessary to enable Ireland to engage successfully in the resource efficient and climate resilient world of tomorrow. Yesterday, the Government agreed the provisions of the Bill and I expect the full text to be formally approved at its meeting next week. I further expect the Bill to be published next week. It will come before the House next month and I trust that the parties on the Opposition benches which have supported the case for legislation will facilitate its early enactment.

I have invested substantial time in developing the Bill because it is a matter of the greatest importance to get the structure and proposed provisions absolutely right. Our approach must be balanced yet effective, ambitious yet realistic. I am keen to ensure that our legislation will not only enshrine the policies and principles to reflect the core national objective of playing a real and progressive role in the global fight against climate change, but will act as a driver towards achieving a more sustainable future throughout all sectors of society in Ireland as well. Although targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions are important indicators of our progress, let us not lose sight of the big picture and the long-term vision of where we wish to be. This is a significant and necessary change in our approach to climate change policy. Transition is fundamental such that we need a clear and strong focus on the ultimate objective — a future that is economically and environmentally sustainable — if we are to map out a progressive and successful future for our country.

The Bill is novel and sets a new national priority on transition which will complement other national priorities, such as the health and well-being of all of our people, the competitiveness of our economy and the protection of natural resources for the benefit of future generations. In providing a legislative underpinning for a proactive transition, it presents the people as an informed and progressive society pursuing a smart economy in the truest sense of the term, that is, an economy which is highly productive, competitive, resource-efficient and environmentally sustainable. The Bill is innovative and inspirational and I look forward to a frank and honest public debate when it is published.

The structure of the Bill provides a strong legislative framework for a core objective on transition to a low-carbon, climate-resilient and environmentally sustainable society; a short-term target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by an average of 2.5% per year by 2020 compared to 2008 emissions; a medium-term target to reduce emissions by 40% by 2030 and a long-term target of 80% by 2050 compared to 1990 emissions; the 2020, 2030 and 2050 targets to act as milestones along the transition pathway; and climate policy objectives and obligations to be integrated into sectoral policy areas and sectoral mitigation and adaptation plans will be required for relevant sectors. A national mitigation plan will set out Government policies and measures in respect of mitigation while a national adaptation plan will set out Government policies and measures in respect of adaptation. An annual transition statement will provide accountability to the Oireachtas in respect of progress towards the transition goal, the targets and the implementation of the national mitigation and adaptation plans and an expert advisory body will advise Ministers and the Government on the functions of the Bill, including national mitigation and adaptation plans and the annual transition statements.

I am loth to interrupt you but there has been some over-run on time. With the agreement of the House, will other Members cede some time to the Minister? Agreed.

I will come to a close shortly in any case. It is best if the Deputies opposite know a little of what is in the legislation. The expert advisory body will also advise on any developments in the international climate change situation. Public consultation will occur on the various processes, which will be provided for in the Bill. Obligations will be placed on public bodies with regard to climate mitigation and adaptation. Further provisions on several issues are being considered by the Government with a view to their introduction during the Bill's passage through the Oireachtas. The Bill is relatively short but it represents a milestone and a step forward for climate policy in Ireland. The balance and clarity of the policy and its progressiveness will make it easily accessible and highly effective. I appreciate some people will have concerns about the Bill but I believe they have nothing to fear from this legislation.

With regard to the economy, a series of provisions are contained in the Bill to ensure that commercial issues, competitiveness and economic growth are central to the consideration of measures to tackle climate change. I am acutely aware of particular concerns in the agricultural sector but I believe the Bill poses absolutely no threat to the sustainable future of agriculture in Ireland. Strong laws on climate change can and will sit well with the competitive, high-quality agriculture sector this country has developed. We should note that agriculture has already delivered substantial reductions in emissions without impacting on the profitability or dynamism which currently marks the sector.

I believe the checks and balances in the Bill, combined with the work of Ireland's negotiators and scientific advisers, will ensure that Ireland can meet the commitments contained in the Bill, while ensuring Ireland's agriculture sector can continue to thrive and deliver high quality, sustainable food. During European and international negotiations, Ireland has been to the fore in pressing, with a considerable degree of success, to ensure adequate consideration of agriculture issues. Ireland has been highlighting the issue of the threat of carbon leakage to ensure that food production using sustainable agricultural practices in such countries as Ireland is not replaced by food production using less sustainable and more environmentally damaging methods elsewhere. A substantial amount of Government funding has been put into research at various Irish institutions, including Teagasc, to develop farming practices and technology which help reduce emissions from agriculture.

I reiterate the point that global transition is both essential and inevitable but how we approach it is entirely a matter for ourselves. I believe we must embrace the required change and reinforce the position we have created for ourselves among the leaders rather than the followers. The climate change Bill will create the basis for a thorough debate of the issues and I look forward to presenting the Bill to the House very shortly. I thank everyone involved in the production of the climate change Bill, including all my colleagues. My colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Ciarán Cuffe, who was in Cancún, will sum up later on.

Sector

A 1990

B 2007

C 2008

D 2009 (prov)

E 2008-12 Projection

F 2020 Projection

G Budget & National Recovery Plan Adjustments

H 2020 Revised Projection

Energy

11.370

14.593

14.692

13.119

14.877

10.10

10.10

Transport

5.135

14.292

14.208

13.120

13.662

15.98

.41

15.57

Residential

7.456

6.963

7.567

7.498

7.308

6.03

.22

5.81

Industry/Commercial/Services

9.567

12.104

11.558

9.251

9.779

9.41

.01

9.40

Agriculture

19.956

18.599

18.403

18.130

18.298

17.51

.02

17.49

Waste

1.302

1.331

1.253

1.200

1.109

1.03

1.03

Gross Emissions

54.786

67.882

67.680

62.318

65.032

60.06

59.40

Carbon Sinks

2.757

2.319

2.722

4.78

4.78

Net Emissions

64.923

60.079

62.310

55.28

54.62

KYOTO TARGET

62.837

62.837

62.837

Climate Change Bill Target

47.91

47.91

Data for 1990, 2007 and 2008 is consistent with EPA provisional data published in October 2010. These figures may be subject to minor amendment prior to submission to the EC and UNFCCC.

EPA projections published April 28th 2010 for Kyoto period (average of 2008-2012) for the ‘With Additional Measures' scenario — predates availability of provisional data for 2009.

The figures in this row refer to sinks eligible for accounting under Kyoto Protocol rules, which represents net afforestation since 1990. Methodologies for calculation of sinks are still evolving and these numbers may require adjustment before finalisation for 2008-2012. Figures are only quoted for the years during the Kyoto Protocol first commitment period. The Climate Change Bill target uses these rules for inclusion of sinks in calculations.

Compliance with the Kyoto Protocol commitment is measured against a "base year" which consists of emissions in 1990 for all Kyoto Protocol controlled greenhouse gas other than F-Gases, for which 1995 is used as the base year. Ireland's base year amount for the purposes of setting the target was 55.607mt. Historical emissions can change due to new methodologies or data but the actual target cannot — the target therefore is based on an old version of the inventory data for the base years. When account is taken of Ireland's allowed increase of 13% on base year, a Kyoto limit of an average of 62.836mt per annum can be calculated for the 2008-2012 period.

Calculated based on data in EPA Provisional Inventories Publication data for 2008. Subject to revision upon resubmission of Inventory Data.

On a point of order, I do not have the table to which the Minister referred in his statement.

I will get it for the Deputy immediately.

Statements on the carbon budget allows Parliament to reflect on the progress, or otherwise, being made in various sectors in meeting the target to reduce carbon emissions by 3% annually as set out in the programme for Government three and a half years ago. Some progress has been made but some of it was probably due to the circumstances of the economic downturn.

I agree with the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government that global transition is essential and inevitable. Fine Gael supports the principles outlined by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources at the Joint Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security to achieve certain objectives in this regard. We have no option but to proceed in implementing various changes in policy that will assist meeting our climate change targets.

Some time ago, Fine Gael published its policy document, NewERA, which will contribute substantially to this debate. We want to make the big change in policy so that we can fundamentally change the nature of the economy to a competitive low-carbon one. Fine Gael has embraced the revolution in the green technology sector with its NewERA document. While the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government was originally critical of some of its proposals, I note some of them found their way into the EU-IMF programme such as a single utility company for water supply. It is interesting outsiders appreciated this more than insiders.

NewERA's proposals are finding resonance not just in meeting national objectives such as a good quality water supply or broadband network, but also as solutions in assisting economic recovery and tackling fiscal deficit. The detailed plans contained in the NewERA policy document would create a substantial number of jobs in the economy. The investment in the new green technology would see significant State intervention with the semi-State sector investing rapidly in vital arteries of the economy that badly need investment. This, in turn, would have a major impact in reducing carbon emissions in areas of energy and communications. NewERA provides the kick-start and incentivisation needed for the citizen in order to create employment and meet climate change objectives. It will also help in restructuring the semi-State sector.

Fine Gael is committed to government leading the way by using domestically produced biomass to heat and power public buildings which currently use €300 million worth of imported fossil fuels every year. Irish broadband speeds remain far behind our economic competitors and urgent investment to roll out fibre optic broadband is necessary if we are to develop a clean knowledge economy.

As a former member of the climate change committee, the Minister of State, Deputy Ciaran Cuffe, will be aware it produced a draft climate change Bill under the chairmanship of Deputy Seán Barrett 18 months ago. The legislation highlighted to the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government that an all-party approach could be taken on this issue. I acknowledge that after three and a half years in government, the Green Party has made a major contribution to the climate change debate. Next week, the Green Party Ministers will announce a climate change Bill which is excellent progress. I know it was not easy for the Ministers to pursue this matter through Cabinet because it is an area with many vested and conflicting interests. Fine Gael will be as a constructive as always in the climate change committee when the Bill comes before it. The bona fides in this regard of Deputy Coveney, Fine Gael's main spokesperson on the committee, were best exemplified with his publication of a report on electric cars for the committee.

Recent reductions in emissions were only achieved because of the massive reduction in economic output. There has, however, been little improvement in energy consumption patterns. Government policies have not made a dent in the €6 billion worth of fossil fuels imported every year to feed our cars, homes and electricity grid. This is an area in which more progress could easily be made. It is not economically and environmentally sustainable to continue along this particular path. We will face significant problems with energy security if we do not tackle these imports.

While there are often mixed views about economists' reports and the Minister has had occasion to chastise the ESRI on some of its, they do provide a policy discussion opportunity. Its report on the energy and environment published this week presented a current state of play and reductions on the Government's carbon budget process and policy. It stated Ireland will likely meet its Kyoto targets only because of the severe recession and not because of any change in policy. I accept that is somewhat harsh. Some policy changes have made a contribution to emissions reduction. However, there will be other challenges in transport and agriculture, which the Minister highlighted, which will provide an opportunity for more detailed debate on what the ESRI and others are thinking in this regard.

We are out of step trying to meet our 2020 targets with the result we will have to purchase carbon permits abroad at great expense to the taxpayer. Why not implement policy changes to ensure we do not have to do this, particularly when we have a ten-year lead in and the Government is under enough financial pressure as it is?

Fine Gael will continue to be constructive on this policy matter. Obviously, it must wait for the publication of the climate change Bill but it already has a plan to reduce the national carbon footprint. Notwithstanding people's concerns that certain aspects of a reduction programme may be difficult to implement, the national policy priority that will be encompassed in the forthcoming climate change Bill will get a fair hearing in the House.

Today's statements come from the agreement in the original programme for Government that there would be a carbon budget. Originally, the carbon budget was contained and announced in the Budget Statement and then followed up by a statement by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the following day. This process has been watered down over the years to where it is now just statements long after the headline issues of the Budget Statement have been dealt with.

One of the Minister's first announcements when he took office was that he was going to ban energy inefficient light bulbs in a year. I accept some progress was made by the Minister in this respect. I do not think what has been done to phase out light bulbs has achieved that much in terms of reducing emissions. It is a small part of the overall picture, but at the time of announcement it was dramatic and was given a significance that never transpired. The carbon reductions are largely due to the recession and this is reflected in the Minister's statement.

When we think about climate change we tend to speak in terms of playing our part in shouldering the burden. We have figures for the reductions in emissions but this has resulted from the recession which is causing people a great deal of pain and hardship. If we see the reductions in emission as a cloud, the silver lining is that we will no longer need to purchase carbon credits.

I agree that we need to create clean jobs. In the course of his statement, the Minister refers to the bubble economy, but we must be careful that we do not create a green bubble. Concerns have been expressed about the number of wind farms and while we need to explore the proposals for wind energy, it is important that we do not build wind farms in the wrong place. The profit motive is very important for private companies, and there is always a possibility that we will have a green bubble in the way we had a housing bubble. We need a framework for green jobs to ensure that does not happen. The Labour Party sets out its proposals for green jobs in the document The Energy Revolution. The term green jobs can cover many different areas, for example the role of technology in reducing our emissions and, even in the office, technology has a role in sustainable developments.

The Minister outlines the arguments for price mechanisms as the most efficient way to change behaviour. That might be true, but only if it is done correctly. An example of a change in people's behaviour was very evident following the introduction of a plastic bag levy. I am not sure that putting an additional 4 cent on a litre of petrol will change behaviour, as this increase is not unlike an excise duty. We have had increases in the price of petrol, one year the increase is the result of an increase in excise duty and the next year it is called carbon taxes and it could be called excise duties the year following that. I have noticed that I need to fill my car more often and that it is costing me more but people need an alternative way to get to work. Such an option is not always available. I am not sure carbon taxes always change behaviour, to change behaviour we need to implement the correct carbon taxes. Using a pricing mechanism to change how people use water or energy can also exacerbate inequality in terms of income inequality. I have made the point about equality in society. The authors of the book The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always do Better highlight evidence that more equal societies do better. They have looked at evidence from different countries and from different states in the US over a 30 year period, comparing countries with income equality with those with less income equality. They have found that countries with a smaller gap between rich and poor do better on a range of indicators, one of which is their environmental performance. Countries with greater income equality such as Sweden have a better record on environmental protection and recycling. There is more solidarity in these societies and there is less focus on competition through consumption of goods.

One of the problems I have with people who lobby for climate change is that they ignore the issue of equality. Lobby groups such as Stop Climate Chaos lobby for carbon taxes but do not lobby for more income equality. As far as I can make out countries with greater social democracy have a better record in dealing with climate change. It is very important to do things fairly. The way we approach the reduction in carbon emissions by implementing carbon taxes is likely to exacerbate inequality in Irish society.

The publication of the climate change Bill is welcome. The Labour Party has been to the fore in seeking a climate change Bill. Senator Ivana Batik introduced a Bill on climate change in the Seanad a couple of years ago. Deputy Liz McManus has been very proactive on this issue and will no doubt comment on it.

The carbon budget was a very different creature when the Green Party entered Government. When the Minister for Finance referred to it in a paragraph of his Budget Statement, it was a highlight for the party. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government made a statement the following day outlining the detail and the table. I did not get that table and I still have not got that table.

I have it and the Deputy is welcome to it now.

Thank you Minister. It is important to have the table before responding, however, I will not be able to analyse it very well now. Climate change has dropped down the agenda. The Green Party has responded and its members do not talk about climate change as much as they used to. They have become more low key. I do not lay blame for that because other priorities have come to the fore. People are losing their jobs. The picture has changed. Our emissions will reduce as a consequence.

My understanding of the Green Party before it entered Government is that it focused on the protection of the environment. It is only in recent years that it has focused on the issue of climate change. I believe the focus should be on the environment. If one looks after the environment, one will simultaneously do the things one needs to do about climate change. Irish people have always wanted to protect their environment. I recall when I was young, clothes were passed on from cousins, people collected water in a barrel in the garden, milk bottles were returned. People were always environmentally conscious in Ireland. A great many of the climate change lobby groups act as if everybody else is ignorant of the issues to do with climate change and the environment and that people need to be dragged kicking and screaming to do their bit for the environment. That is not the case. Irish people have been always conscious of the need to do things to protect the environment and to save energy. Sight of that may have been lost in our Celtic tiger years but it is very much present now. Some years ago in an OECD study of 15 year olds in 30 countries, Irish students came top for environmental awareness. That awareness is in the Irish psychology and in our way of looking at things as voters, citizens and members of communities.

Our focus should be on the environment. Much of the climate change debate has been remote and concerned with targets and carbon credits. Its language is extremely remote and does not engage people. We need to go back to protecting our environment, making our quality of life better and promoting communities, social solidarity and equality.

If protecting the environment and achieving climate change targets are linked, why is the Minister standing over a 48% cutback in the budget of the Heritage Council? I will raise this matter on the Adjournment of the House today. The Heritage Council looks after our heritage and environment and facilitates work in local communities to protect our environment and increase environmental awareness in local communities. Similarly, the budget for the National Parks and Wildlife Service has been cut by, I think, 56%. The work of the NPWS is extremely important in relation to climate change. Its responsibilities include the protection of habitats and wetlands. Ireland has signed up to the EU ecological network, Natura 2000. Its purpose is to protect our biodiversity and make our habitats more resilient to the impacts of climate change. If the NPWS budget is cut, how will it do that work? Protecting the budget of the NPWS must be a key Green Party policy. Apart from our national considerations we have responsibilities in terms of EU directives.

We need to get back to being concerned about the environment. That is the key issue.

I welcome many of the comments made by Deputies Hogan and Tuffy. There is a clear consensus in the House that we need to tackle climate change. We may disagree on the methods and the detail of the measures needed but there is a consensus. Five years ago, when the Green Party, in Opposition, published its first climate change Bill we were ridiculed on Opposition and Government benches. Today, the debate has moved on and I am heartened by the buy-in on all sides of the House to tackling climate change. I pay tribute to the work of the Joint Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security, which we insisted on establishing in our first programme for Government to ensure that all parties were speaking the language of transition and of tackling climate change. Much of that work is enshrined in what is before the House today.

Deputy Tuffy seems to suggest that we have moved beyond a key concern with environmental issues to talking more — or maybe not talking more — about climate change. I ask Deputy Tuffy to look back two decades to when my colleague and party leader, the Minister, Deputy John Gormley, published The Green Guide for Ireland in 1990. The key chapter in that publication on climate change was written by the Minister. It is disingenuous to suggest that he has only recently discovered climate change. It was a core issue for me, even at the time of me joining the Green Party 28 years ago. The science and ideas have moved on, and into the mainstream, but it would be disingenuous to suggest that the Green Party has a newly found interest in climate change. I wish to put that suggestion to bed.

Transition — in the building sector, agriculture, transport, energy and planning — is at the heart of the budget. All of these are areas where we can make a positive move towards reducing our carbon footprint. In construction, warmer homes that are cheaper to heat are already being built. That is because we racked up building regulations by 40% in our first year in office. We will bring this to 60% by the end of this year. That is what I call transition. There have been radical changes in building regulations. The warmer homes and greener homes schemes mean that people in existing buildings can get assistance to improve their homes. This help is not merely available to people who have a significant income. If one does not have an income coming into the house, the State is there to help through the schemes that are in place.

There is a good news story in agriculture. Irish agriculture is one of the most carbon efficient in the world. Keeping cattle on grass for the best part of the year is a good news story. We can hold our heads high in terms of the carbon required to produce a kilogramme of beef on Irish soil on Irish family farms, compared to what one might see in other parts of the world that have extremes of temperature and less rainfall. The work Bord Bia is doing with the Carbon Trust in the United Kingdom will sell the good news story that Irish farms have to tell.

It is not just about beef. There is a bright future in horticulture, fruit, vegetables and other aspects of farming, and in the move away from the narrower aspects of farming into other areas where we can make a profit for Irish family farms. There is a future in energy crops, wind energy and forestry. All of these are areas where we see a bonus coming to the Irish farmer by diversifying into other areas. Through the agri-environmemt scheme, Europe is asking how we can move towards more sustainable farm practices and give assistance in doing so. That is a good news story. We are leading the way in many aspects of what we do.

Deputy Tuffy mentioned fuel poverty. We increased the fuel allowance in this year's budget to tackle the kind of disadvantage The Spirit Level addresses. It is important that we provide for that kind of movement in the right direction.

Today is one of the most important days in the current Dáil term and one of the most rewarding for the Green Party in Government. We have debated climate change issues many times but today we are laying the foundations for elevating climate policy to the level of a key national priority. That is a milestone for the future well-being and prosperity of the people of this country.

In his carbon Budget Statement, the Minister said: "Our success as an economy and as a society in the low-carbon world of tomorrow will be determined by the preparations, commitment and effort we are prepared to invest in underpinning our response to climate change." We are now on course to ensure that all new policies introduced across the economy will be both economically and environmentally sustainable in the long term.

I was heartened by the buy-in I saw in Cancun last week from 191 countries around the world including the Holy See, the United States of America, Japan and the Maldives, which face very different challenges and concerns with regard to climate change. There was a key difference between this year in Cancun and last year in Copenhagen. Last year, we did not get an agreement because many countries felt we were trying to go too far. This year in Mexico, one country — Bolivia — dissented because it felt we were not going far enough. That is the key issue.

The comprehensive agreement reached last week is extremely positive in nature. This is particularly the case because, under its provisions, a green climate fund from which €100 billion will be available by the year 2020 is to be established. We must assist countries in the developing world in meeting these low carbon goals. The agreement reached at Cancún has provided both an impetus and a belief on the part of developing and developed countries regarding the need to bring carbon use to a peak and thereafter allow it to decline. I am pleased with the move towards contraction and convergence that I witnessed last week.

In my speech to COP 16, I quoted the Russian poet, Yevgeny Yevtushenko, who some 40 or 50 years ago stated: "The young ... will not forgive in us what we forgave." That is why, as the Minister, Deputy Gormley, outlined, the Green Party in government is taking strong action in respect of addressing climate change. It is crucial, for the future prosperity of our country, that we continue to transition to a low-carbon, climate-resistant, environmentally-sustainable economy. The latter is already happening.

People often complain about the amount of hot air emanating from Leinster House. However, I must point out to Deputy Tuffy that in the past year a biomass boiler which provides much of the heat required within buildings occupied by the Oireachtas was put in place within the Leinster House complex. I am pleased that the Houses of the Oireachtas is leading the way with regard to the transition to a low-carbon economy. We are leading not just in terms of the actions we have taken in respect of our own accommodation, but also in the context of putting in place the building blocks of legislation that will set Ireland on the course to a low-carbon future.

Sitting suspended at 2.50 p.m. and resumed at 3.30 p.m.