That Dáil Éireann approves the terms of the Paris Agreement, done at Paris on 12th December 2015, a copy of which was laid before Dáil Éireann on 18th October 2016.
Today has the potential to be a turning point which, in hindsight, will be seen as the advent of major cultural, political and technological change in our country. I use the word "potential" purposely. Agreements may be the prelude to actions, but they are not deeds in themselves. The Paris Agreement on the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change has the potential to build on progress. It is the basis for doing more and allowing communities here, in concert with countries around the world, to take decisive actions which ultimately will safeguard our shared future on this planet.
The word "global" in the term "global warming" accurately summarises the incontrovertible science underlying the threat facing the planet. It is also, in its vastness, potentially daunting, even discouraging. How can any one country, especially a small one, make a difference? How can any one of us meaningfully contribute? It is the task of politics, one to which I intend to apply myself in order to bridge the chasm between global challenge and national responsibility and Ireland's obligation and the responsibilities of every citizen. The saying "one cannot change the world" may be tired. On climate change, it is a pressing fact that the world will not change without you. On the international stage, the response is evident within the European Union and the United Nations. Ireland has been and pledges to remain a highly active participant within both arenas. The Paris Agreement was adopted last December. It was the result of unprecedented engagement by governments around the world. It sets out a global action plan to put the planet on track to avoid dangerous climate change by limiting global warming to well below 2° Celsius. It is not just a blueprint for the future; it is also the best hope for any future. If that sounds apocalyptic, it is a fact.
Climate change is decades-old. Its causes are deeply embedded in our way of life. Sustaining what we know is familiar against the detrimental change that has begun and that is wreaking a cost in Ireland already requires that we change before climate change changes everything irrevocably. As the first Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, although not the first to be deeply concerned about the issue, I acknowledge the drive and political will in the run-up to the Paris summit in 2015 that enabled 195 countries to reach the first ever legally binding global climate agreement. Given the complexities and challenges, the agreement is a significant step forward. The fact that I am here today, less than one year after the agreement was negotiated, to present it for ratification by Dáil Éireann in accordance with the Constitution, is evidence of the Government's ambition. It is evidence, too, of my determination as Minister to drive the process forward at home. The world cannot meaningfully address climate change without leadership and the participation of the European Union and the European Union cannot lead or deliver without the full participation of its member states. Ireland, as a member state, cannot meet its obligations without the participation and commitment of all its people and every sector of society. They will not be forthcoming, nor can they be organised, without effective political leadership. That leadership must begin with the Government and me, as Minister. The leadership required in a task as life-changing and life-enhancing as this is broader. On climate change, it is a fact that the world will not change without you and neither will Ireland.
The ambition and commitment of the Paris Agreement is, I hope, soon to be affirmed by its formal ratification in Dáil Éireann. We will then have irrevocably embraced commitments in principle to act in concert with our fellow members of the European Union to deliver on specific targets to be agreed in detail.
The European Union has agreed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40% by 2030. Our contribution, yet to be agreed, will, undoubtedly, present significant challenges. For Ireland, however, I stress that, despite such challenges, we are committed to playing our role. This is the turning point of which I spoke. Major cultural, political and technological advances are required to tackle climate change. A Programme for a Partnership Government recognises the importance of meeting these challenges. As Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, I am fully committed to prioritising climate change as a policy area in which radical and ambitious action is required. In budget 2017 a significant start has been made and more than €100 million will be invested in energy projects that will save over 116,000 tonnes in carbon emissions every year. This will support around 3,000 jobs and reduce our overall dependence on imported fossil fuels. A total of €7 million is being allocated to kick start a renewable heat incentive and the biomass industry. More energy efficient homes mean people spend less money on energy, enjoy a more comfortable lifestyle in their own homes and gain improved health benefits which, in turn, takes pressure off health services.
A national dialogue on climate change will be the basis for concerted action and, I hope, consensus on the major cultural, political and technological advances required to tackle climate change. Nothing already in train provides a simple answer, but what is planned will underpin the political commitment about which I spoke. Now, our challenge is to do more. In Ireland we might be inclined to think we are immune, but make no mistake, Ireland’s climate is changing, too. Winters will become wetter and summers, drier. We may see milder winter temperatures which may benefit some sections of the community, but this will be offset by the potential for heatwaves during the summer. Rising seas will also increase the risk of coastal inundation. Storm surge events may increase in frequency and there are likely to be increased flows to river catchments, with obvious consequences in terms of flooding. I know that no one in this House requires reminding of the consequences. Let us be clear that the potential impacts for Ireland are serious and have partially arrived.
Energy and climate action are inextricably linked. Using less energy and using it more efficiently are the most cost effective and accessible ways for us all to take action on climate change. In Ireland people in Cork are leading the way. According to the last census, there are nearly 200,000 households across Cork city and county, almost one in four of which has received the benefit of a Government-supported energy efficiency upgrade. Global issues almost too huge to grasp can be distributed as opportunities and as obligations - one household, one business, one country at a time - across the world. That is the political action required. This is the obligation to which the Paris Agreement will bind us when brought into force on 4 November. The agreement reflects our prioritisation in tackling the negative effects of climate change through our national policy position adopted in 2014 and the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act 2015. These policy and legislative structures are driving the significant increases in expenditure on the climate change measures I have outlined and which extend to health, energy management in the public sector and low carbon measures in the agriculture sector.
The scale of global activity to bring the Paris Agreement into force has been hugely impressive. The United States, China and India have all ratified the agreement. The European Union and ten of its member states are also across the line, with others soon to follow. I will travel to Marrakesh shortly as head of the Irish delegation. With the goodwill of the House, I hope to be in a position to add one more country to that list. What is happening today is not a conclusion; it is the beginning. It is the beginning of new obligations and new opportunities.