I call the Minister, Deputy Richard Bruton, to make his statement under Standing Order 45. He has ten minutes.
Climate Action Plan to Tackle Climate Breakdown: Statements
I thank the House and, in particular, the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Climate Action for the huge effort put into helping to develop this proposal. We are talking about massive change in our society. We have learned from other big changes we have managed to make in Ireland in recent years, such as the changes in our Constitution, that the first and most important element is to ensure there is an understanding of the issues and that we build on a broadly shared consensus or common ground about the importance of making change and why we are seeking to make it. That is why it was particularly important the Oireachtas first asked the Citizens' Assembly to assess this issue, and it was ambitious in the types of changes it put to us as policymakers in the Oireachtas. The Oireachtas committee took that on and put in many long hours of work and evaluation and hearing from witnesses to bring forward a really comprehensive report. We are now at the final stage where the Government is laying on top of that work an action plan that is committed to start this journey and achieve the targets we have set for ourselves.
It is important, in discussing why we are doing that, that we do not become bogged down in targets and then find we are off course and the bad boys in the class. This is really about ourselves. This is about us making a decision that we want our society to be resilient in the face of a perilous menace that is coming in our direction. Global warming is having a massive impact on the globe and on our society. We have seen that in a tangible way. The world will have to react and change the way we do things. The choice for Irish people is whether we want to be ahead of that change so that we are resilient in the face of the types of the policy changes and impacts this will bring. It is important to think in those terms. The successful farm in 2030, 2040 and 2050 will be the one that has made decisions that are appropriate now in order for it to be competitive in an environment when there will be increasingly more emphasis on the environmental sourcing of products and so on. The successful enterprise will be the one that has recognised it can do things in smarter ways and it can be a part of the new technologies that will transform the world in a decarbonised economy. The successful home will be the one that has anticipated this and is making sure that the building fabric used, the heating systems installed, and the way in which the family members conduct their travel and other day-to-day activities are resilient in the face of these changes that are coming in our direction. It is important for Irish people to see it in that sense, namely, that this something about us not only being responsible in a global sense, which is important, but future proofing our own activities and making sure we can pass on the globe and our country to the next generation in a better state, more resilient in the face of what is a clear change.
What we have done in this plan is to seek to pick the items that are the most sensible thing to do on a pathway ultimately to achieving the ambition of net zero carbon by 2050. That is a major challenge but it must be bitten off in chunks. What we have done is identified the technologies. It is the first time we have had a comprehensive look at what are the technologies that, at least burden for the Irish people, can deliver the changes we need and that create the most opportunity. That is why there is a shift in this plan, for example, towards taking on more electric vehicles. That is a technology that is not only fast improving but it will be cheaper in the long term for the people who make those decisions. Similarly, with decisions to retrofit, the decision to change the fabric of one's home or to change the heating system in turn will prove to be the correct ones to have made. It is important to see it in that light.
I am also conscious that a number of Deputies and commentators had said this is too big a burden for people to contemplate. There is a risk of over-stating the scale of the burden. Ultimately, three quarters of what we are asking people to do would be the right things to do even if there was no climate crisis.
These are about doing things in our lives, whether it be the way we handle waste, how we plan our travel or how we heat our home, which would make absolute sense even if there was not a looming climate crisis, but in the face of a climate crisis make dramatically more sense.
The other aspect is the scale. This is a gradual pathway. Many have talked of the thought of 500,000 home retrofits as a big step up. It is a step up. We are only doing a little over 30,000 per year at present. We need to get up to 50,000. On the other hand, at the end of the period, we will have retrofitted approximately 30% of existing houses. This should not be seen as an obligation being imposed on people suddenly. This is a pathway that we need to take together and we, as a Government, have to seek to make that as easy as possible for people, knowing that we cannot pay for it all but still making the changes. That is why it is so important that we rethink the way in which we deliver retrofits. Deputy Dooley recognises the value of moving away from the one-off model that we now have to aggregating and scaling up. Doing things in a more aggregated way, one can get better value for money, one can give people access to information in a more co-ordinated way, one can develop smart finance to underpin it and one can develop easier pay mechanisms. One can do many things that make that journey easier for people, and we recognise that. However, one must also have a target. One must recognise that things need to be done and we cannot wait and hope they will be done. We must have accountability.
The same is true in the electric vehicle area. People have balked at the idea, with 2.7 million vehicles now on the road, that by 2030 we would have somewhat over one third of the vehicles as electric or plug-in hybrid electrical vehicles. One must bear in mind that every year we freshly license 280,000 vehicles. Over the coming decade, we will be freshly licensing more than 3 million in this country and we need to make sure that 1 million of those are electric vehicles in order to deliver our objective. That is also a challenge but the Members will see that, as the cost of batteries comes down and as the technology develops, this will be cost-effective.
It is important in undertaking this that we make sure that we keep our community together. There is a real risk that people start to pit rural areas versus urban areas or agriculture versus industry. If we allow that split to develop, we will signally fail to achieve what the younger generation is demanding of us. We must take careful steps to ensure rural areas have the supports. I come from a farming background and I have been on many trade missions. The future for Irish agriculture is in enhancing our credentials as sustainable providers of food. That is the direction for high-margin farming that will underpin family farm income into the future. We must help, through the CAP and other mechanisms, people to make the changes on their farms that Teagasc has outlined and that are well known so that they can sell Ireland as being that high-quality strong environmental agriculture. Similarly, we need to ensure that those who are most exposed or least equipped to manage this change are supported in that work and the significance of a just transition team advising Government and the implement group is really important.
Lastly, as time is limited, I believe the governance model, which was designed by the Oireachtas and which has been fully implemented in this plan, is absolutely the right approach. We must have accountability, not at a high level but in each sector. Each Minister with responsibility for sectors is looking just as much at how he or she stays within a carbon budget in his or her sector as how he or she stays within a financial budget. Of course, we are providing €30 billion to help build the infrastructure but it will take much more than that State investment to see the change realised. This accountability and the model that we used successfully in the Action Plan for Jobs of driving that accountability from the centre of Government, from the office of the Taoiseach, is really important to achieving our targets.
I thank so many people who have been a part of designing this strategy. It is a strategy that will continuously consult, adapt and change in the light of experience. This weekend, I will visit Cork where ordinary people will express their views now that the plan is out, although we held a great deal of consultation before we put it together. I hope that we can work together. In the same way as the Oireachtas committee has worked together, we can work together in implementing this plan and keeping our community together in working for something on which no doubt we will be judged on in ten, 15 or 20 years' time in terms of whether we realised those objectives and that when we faced them squarely in the eye, we were willing and able to make the changes to allow those targets to become a reality.
Fianna Fáil gives a guarded welcome to this new climate action plan. We welcome the momentum it provides following the declaration of a climate and biodiversity emergency in May. We welcome that after eight years of knowing inaction and deliberate delay in some respects, we have some sort of indication that the Government may be about to treat the climate breakdown with the seriousness it deserves. That is largely down to the work the Minister has done in the relatively short period he has been in office.
However, this is no climate revolution. I think we accept that. Students and young people will not and, indeed, should not stop their calls for real action. The State has not become a leader on climate change overnight. Indeed, it is fair to say that this Government, far from being led, has followed.
The House should first express, as the Minister has done, its gratitude to the Citizens' Assembly for its extensive deliberations and comprehensive proposals on how climate action must be prioritised across all sectors. The Joint Oireachtas Committee on Climate Action undertook an extensive examination of these proposals leading to a landmark cross-party report in March which included 42 separate recommendations. There was some difference of opinion, particularly on the taxation matter, but we largely agreed on the kind of work that has to be done to achieve the preservation and protection of the globe, as the Minister rightly identified. I thank the other members of the committee for their commitment. It is appropriate that work be recognised.
Thanks to input from a considerable range of experts, the committee members have a good overview of Government policy on climate change, but some background may also be useful for this House. The other day, it was interesting to see the Taoiseach and Ministers take one of the three hybrid buses in operation. I am not sure all of them would have been aware that the Government has now three climate-related plans in operation. The first, the national mitigation plan, was produced in 2017, as the Minister will be aware. We had the national development plan in 2018. It now seems these previous two plans may have been left behind in the other two hybrid buses because we have moved on. The national mitigation plan was strongly criticised by national and international authorities for failing to tackle our rapidly rising emissions, which led to Ireland's climate laggard reputation. The Government was then quick to highlight increased investment in climate action under the subsequent national development plan but neglected to mention that these proposed investments did not include any analysis of their climate impact. Unsurprisingly, this latest strategy clarifies that the Government's national development plan will not achieve the reduction in polluting emissions that is required. It remains the case that Ireland is not on track to meet its 2020 or 2030 commitments and the fear is that there are those in government who appear to support paying millions of euro in non-compliance costs rather than spending the millions on actions that will benefits citizens in due course.
This new climate plan is also to be welcomed in that it has adopted the recommendations of the Oireachtas joint committee to introduce mechanisms to hold the Government and relevant Departments to account for their climate obligations, including an enhanced climate action council, a new standing committee on climate action and the introduction of five-yearly carbon budgets. Thanks to the committee, this House will have the opportunity to instil discipline and end years of haphazard planning at State level. It is noted in the new climate plan that a delivery report on progress will be produced each quarter. Can the Minister say when the first quarterly report be published? He might come back to us on that. He might also clarify the additional support and use of State resources that will be provided to the new council.
Will the Minister confirm that the climate action (amendment) Bill noted in the plan will be prioritised and enacted in 2019 and not merely published in 2019? We would like to get moving on that.
On the targets, I am somewhat concerned that certain recommendations and timelines from the cross-party Oireachtas committee report have been rejected despite the fact the main Government party supported these measures in the Oireachtas committee's recommendations just three months ago. The Government’s new action plan does not include a net zero target to decarbonise the economy by 2050, stating that further analysis is necessary. How can we claim to support climate justice at international level if we appear to be questioning the need to put a Paris-aligned target in legislation? This target is also needed to send a clear signal to citizens, businesses and investors that there is no wriggle room to get out of the kind of action that is needed. It seems to have been forgotten that the Government produced an energy White Paper in 2015 which included a 2050 objective to reduce Ireland’s energy emissions by up to 95%. The new climate action plant states that it includes "a decarbonisation pathway to 2030 which would be consistent with the adoption of a net zero target in Ireland by 2050". The modelling for the new plan is also based on a net zero target. At EU level, the Government has known for some time that a net zero objective is being strongly supported. The Minister might be clear as to why the Government was unable or unwilling to include this target in legislation. He also noted that further analysis is necessary. He might outline what additional analysis the Government believes is necessary to address this matter.
At Wednesday’s meetings of the Committee on Budgetary Oversight and the Joint Committee on Climate Action on the new plan, Fianna Fáil sought information on the annual costs and savings of implementation of these measures. There also are real costs of delayed action, such as through congestion and air pollution. The Minister might clarify the costs and savings of the actions detailed in the plan. He previously stated that 75% of the measures will not result in a net cost. Can he, therefore, provide specific information on the 25%?
I would welcome further information on the reassessment of expenditure commitments in the national development plan in light of the new climate strategy. Some €14 billion, or 65%, of the €22 billion investment envisaged for climate action in the national development plan is expected to come from non-Exchequer sources. The Minister might clarify how much of the costs of the new climate plan are expected to be met by non-Exchequer sources. I note the introduction of a 70% renewables target in the new climate plan which the committee also recommended. A mix of renewable energy sources will need to be supported in the first round of the new renewable energy support schemes, including community projects. The Minister might elaborate further on this point in due course.
It is particularly important also that the State’s offshore wind resource potential receives support under the new scheme. The Oireachtas committee raised the need for a legislative framework for regulatory and licensing aspects of offshore wind as a matter of priority and recommended that the maritime area and foreshore (amendment) Bill be enacted by end of 2019. It is encouraging that in the new climate plan the Government has committed to completing the necessary analysis in aligning planning procedures and prioritising this Bill in 2019. The Government will certainly receive support from Fianna Fáil in trying to achieve that.
As I stated, Fianna Fáil has given this plan a guarded welcome but it is hugely lacking in certain aspects, particularly in regard to transport. The plan includes no commitments to support rural transport services. The joint committee was clear that we need an assessment of rural travel demand, a target for modal shift and emissions reductions, as well as proposals for an integrated public transport network to include LocalLink, Bus Éireann, private bus operators, and the school bus services. The plan merely notes that a review will take place. There is not even an explanation of this commitment in the text, unlike all other actions. Can the Minister please explain why this is the case and why measures to improve rural public transport were not included?
The report of the joint committee included several recommendations on public transport and active travel and that the current transport infrastructure programmes should be revised to achieve at least 10% expenditure for cycling infrastructure. The Minister stated yesterday that it is not possible to run a bus up every rural laneway and boreen and I get that. He might enlighten the Dáil as to how houses at the end of every laneway and boreen will be able to afford an electric car. It would be useful if the Minister addressed this question. Perhaps we need to have some further discussion with the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport on that issue.
On the specific commitment that Ireland will achieve 950,000 electric vehicles, EVs, by 2030, has the Minister any costings on the necessary infrastructure required? We understand that at the moment there is huge interest in EV grants available through the SEAl and that the SEAl may struggle to meet that demand. Has any analysis been undertaken on the levels of grants and incentives that would need to put in place to achieve the figure the Minister has set out of almost 1 million vehicles?
We also understand the National Transport Authority, NTA, purchased 200 highly polluting diesel buses last year which will be in operation for 20 years and will continue to undermine our public health. Professor John FitzGerald indicated at the Committee on Budgetary Oversight that if the cost of carbon detailed in the updated public expenditure code had been applied to those buses, their purchase would not have been permitted. There is a gap in the thinking there. Were such purchases examined as part of the plan? Will they be cancelled in light of the revised public expenditure code, as well as the climate emergency declared last month?
I also note that no reference is made to the Department’s upcoming clean air strategy, notwithstanding the recent EPA findings on hugely damaging levels of air pollution. Can the Minister provide a specific date for publication of the Department’s new clean air strategy, which we have been waiting for more than a year?
In conclusion, there are many other areas we need to address. Yesterday at the committee, I spoke in particular on the issue of the just transition, so that we are very clear that we do not leave communities behind. If we are to achieve what we are setting out to do in this plan and in others, it will require some communities facing much more change than others in terms of enterprises and employment. The State will have to put in place the task force identified in the Oireachtas report and by the Citizens' Assembly to ensure that we do not end up with situations that have happened in other countries, particularly in the United States, where people in parts of middle America were left behind. People in the rust belt, as it became known, were left behind as it moved away from some of the more traditional industries. We cannot afford for that to happen here because it would have a very significant impact on getting people to change their behaviour in the way that we want. It cannot be done in a way that disenfranchises entire communities.
First, I want to acknowledge that there is a recognition by Government that we have of a climate emergency. We have a huge challenge, however, and it is unfortunate that this State is only getting to grips with its responsibilities from a position of being a laggard compared to our European partners. I welcome the move to put in sectoral targets, which Sinn Féin has long sought, but we must remember that we are starting on the back-foot here. This State's responsibilities have to be all-island because greenhouse gas emissions and pollution do not recognise borders.
While many may be inclined to feel hopeful about the aspiration of the plan, it is important people understand that we will fail spectacularly to meet our 20% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020. Current predictions indicate that we are on course for an actual increase by then. The taxpayer will bear the burden of the onerous fines that this will accrue for past behaviours and we have no choice about that.
Even if, in theory, all of the measures proposed in this plan could be achieved and we attain a 2% per annum reduction by 2030, we will still be 10% behind, and the taxpayer will face fines of €7 billion. The Minister wants people to believe that we will be able to achieve an increased target by 2050 of on average 3% per annum. There is no evidence in the plan that this could be achieved. Our first big challenge is to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels for electricity production and to improve our energy security. The 70% target for renewables use is underwhelming and Sinn Féin has quantified that 80% can be produced from renewables, and that is achievable. The plan also fails to identify where the remaining 30% can be sourced, if fossil fuels are to be eliminated from the mix. This is a critical question in terms of current and future demands for power.
I want to address some other shortcomings which concern ordinary citizens. There are big targets for a switchover to almost 1 million electric vehicles, EVs, by 2030. The purchase of these is far beyond the affordability of most households. There is no indication as to how the extra electricity demand will be met and what percentage of that electricity will be produced by fossil fuels. I would also be concerned about proposals for the scrappage scheme without any analysis of the environmental cost of scrapping perfectly functioning vehicles that have low emissions in favour of new cars.
I also have concern about the consequent job losses in the car maintenance sector. I put it to the Minister that the Government simply cannot announce a policy that renders car mechanics and thousands of people in the motor trade obsolete without putting in place a very clear intervention plan which retrains these workers to work on electric vehicles and in other technologies.
The plan does not provide for a fair transition for these workers. Like many others, I do not want the whole debate to become a reductive discussion on carbon tax, a tactic which sections of the media seem determined to pursue. Having said that, the Government must be compelled to demonstrate clear evidence of the correlation between carbon tax and greenhouse gas emissions reduction. The fact of the matter is that no such evidence exists. We have already collected €3.35 billion in carbon taxes but successive Governments have refused to ring-fence this money for climate mitigation measures. Before we start talking about increases, the existing carbon tax should be ring-fenced.
Similarly, there is a significant focus on home energy incentive schemes. According to the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, SEAI, and Tipperary Energy Agency, the cost of a deep retrofit ranges from €30,000 to €75,000 or more. This is, in effect, a second mortgage on a home. The Taoiseach talks about heat pumps as if they were simply a replacement for an oil or gas boiler. The cost of a top-of-the-range replacement boiler averages around €3,000, whereas the cost of a heat pump starts at €8,000 and could average €12,000. The Taoiseach also fails to mention that heat pumps do not work in single glazed or poorly insulated homes. This will rule out hundreds of thousands of dwellings across the country. While the introduction of these technologies into new builds is welcome, and we fully support that, the aspirations for wholescale deep retrofits do not appear to be viable, sustainable or economically affordable. In terms of a just transition for workers, the plan also fails to specify a pathway for the 3,000 plus registered gas boiler technicians. What will happen to them? Will they be trained in new green technologies?
Not surprisingly, the Government has failed to grasp the nettle on agriculture, which accounts for 33% of our greenhouse gas emissions. We are all committed to protecting Irish agriculture and our food security and food industry, but this sector, like every other sector, must be compelled to make significant changes. It would not be honest of us to say that the industry does not have to change. Its current path is not economically sustainable. It is also disappointing to note that proposals for afforestation fail to distinguish between good and bad forestry. There are no incentives to encourage broadleaf, continuous cover afforestation or to discourage the destructive monoculture plantations that we have.
On transport, the plan falls short on changes which are attainable and implementable. Six out of ten primary school children travel to school by car and only one out of ten travels by bus. However the action plan has no provision for improving school transport. Proposals to introduce hybrid vehicles into the rolling stock of public transport do not acknowledge the fact that hundreds of diesel buses are on order. Lest it be said that Sinn Féin is short on solutions, I should point out that we have put forward eight environmental Bills and proposed policies for more sustainable industry and development. Unfortunately, these have either been delayed, obstructed or voted down. We have moved Bills to address waste reduction, forestry, planning, local authority climate obligations, inland fisheries, water pollution, wind turbine regulation, extreme weather events and microgeneration. I am asking this House to commit to supporting the outstanding Bills and bringing them to fruition. The Government could signal its commitment to this plan by submitting amendments and endorsing the Microgeneration Support Scheme Bill 2017, which I have brought forward. I also call on the Government to desist from using the obstructionist tactic of stating at the last minute that a money message is necessary in order to block Bills.
There are many more attainable measures which can be given a higher priority. Shallow retrofitting of houses is one, specifically roof and attic insulation, which can potentially take hundreds of thousands of tonnes of carbon out of the atmosphere at a low cost. It is regrettable that the plan falls short. We welcome the positive measures in it but the Government must expand its horizons on climate action. We cannot just leave it to the market to decide. The market has not done this to date and in the case of the midlands, as I pointed out yesterday in the committee, power generation and retrofits have to involve the semi-State companies. We need to have a just transition in the midlands for workers who are going to become unemployed. We must retrain and upskill unemployed people and encourage tradespeople back in to work in those industries.
I thank Teachta Stanley for sharing his time with me. I have only a few minutes to speak about the climate action plan. Deputy Stanley has correctly called the plan out as a greenwash. It is very clear that the plan lacks ambition and will not in any way address the substantive issues of pollution, over-consumption and corporate responsibility. It completely lacks ambition when it comes to the role of the State. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the lack of targets or even any reference to the role that the biggest employer in the State can play in reducing carbon emissions, namely, our health service. There is one reference to hospitals in the report and it does not make any reference to the HSE. The health service employs over 100,000 people across the State, who work in a variety of buildings and locations. Surely goals and ambitious targets should have been included on how we would reduce the carbon emissions from our hospitals, or how the health service could work with vendors and suppliers to ensure that all products purchased for the health service, from medical supplies to printer paper, are as environmentally friendly as possible. The report makes no mention of how the HSE emergency service fleet can make the transition to hybrid or electric vehicles. This is really disappointing. The top 50 energy users in the public sector account for 77% of public sector energy consumption. Nearly half of the reported energy consumption in the public sector was accounted for by the top ten consumers, of which the HSE is one. The Minister and his Government have set the bar so low for themselves on climate action that they are in danger of tripping over it. Of course, as we know, they will then have recourse to a claim.
I compliment Deputy Eamon Ryan on the wonderful shirt he is wearing today.
It is tropical issues.
Summer is here.
It is a very tropical issue indeed. In respect of the new plan by the Government, the word "ambitious" is perhaps verbose in the circumstances. It is our view that the plan is less ambitious than the 42 recommendations of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Climate Action, which were made in March. The risks of failing to act are enormous when we consider future generations. We have 12 years left to reduce emissions drastically. If we do not achieve massive and rapid decarbonisation, we are facing climate breakdown with enormous consequences globally for failing to act. We all acknowledge this as a fact at this stage. There is unprecedented scientific consensus on the need to start reducing emissions by between 5% and 10% per annum starting now. However, this plan aims to reduce emissions by just 2% each year from 2021 to 2030 and then by 7% each year after 2030. The worry I have about the Government's plan is that if we kick these targets further down the road and fail to act today, we will miss the 2030 targets by a significant margin.
The plan delays action relative to what we said we would do in the joint committee. This delay is based on a red herring that new technologies will somehow emerge to reduce emissions. We already have the solutions we need; we need the political will and the policies to implement them. We brought in a lot of expertise in the joint committee and worked out how many of these solutions could best be implemented now. It is the view of the Labour Party that the Government's plan takes some of those actions and waters them down. The joint committee agreed that new climate legislation would be enacted by the Oireachtas in 2019 and that it would contain several crucial new governance structures, including emissions reduction targets for 2030 and 2050 and carbon budgets to map out the quantity of emissions allowable in each five-year period. The Government's plan now rolls back on the all-party recommendation and instead says it will publish legislation in March 2020.
This House has already declared a climate emergency. It could be late 2020 before the Government's legislation sees the light of day and is passed by the Oireachtas and another year will have passed.
The joint committee felt strongly that carbon budgets were an excellent way to plan for emissions reductions in a way that is transparent and accountable. We have been pushing for them but the Government's climate action plan departs considerably from the UK plan, on which we kicked the tyres, as it were, in the joint committee. Unlike the UK plan, on which the committee formulated its recommendations for planning and setting carbon budgets up to 2035, the Government plan allows carbon budgets to be changed every five years. The whole point of setting the budgets in law well in advance is to safeguard the process from short-term political horse trading. We need to make sure that carbon budgets are done properly when it comes to laying down the procedure in a new or amended climate Act.
On the role of the Climate Change Advisory Council, the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Climate Action agreed that new functions and powers should be given to the climate council in line with the Citizens' Assembly recommendations. These should include greater capacity and a bigger budget to match the greater demands being placed on this important climate body. The Government's action plan, however, does not allocate the extra capacity or resources that are needed. We need to make sure we are doing things right. I hope this matter will be revisited.
On home energy retrofits, the new Government plan sets a target of upgrading 500,000 homes to a B energy rating by 2030. The joint committee's plan had already agreed to put the measures in place to deliver 800,000 deep energy retrofits by 2030. There is now a gap between the joint committee's ambitious recommendations and targets and the Government's targets. It is our view that the Government plan rows back significantly on what we agreed in March. Instead of showing an urgency to deliver home energy retrofits, it commits to a nominal increase in the existing national target as laid down in the national development plan.
There is huge unmet potential in Ireland for community-owned energy. Community energy is a way to collectively reduce energy demand and achieve renewable energy targets. It does this with local, social and economic benefits. It democratises energy generation and could go a long way towards helping to meet anticipated strong growth in energy demand in the period until 2030. Against all expectations, the Government plan does not do anything more to encourage and support community energy than what was already committed to under the renewable electricity support scheme, RESS. The timeline is no more than what is already required under existing EU targets. Again, we perceive a lack of ambition on the part of the Government plan. We need to remove the barriers to entry for community energy projects and have a ring-fenced pot for community energy in the first RESS auction. These recommendations were in the report of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Climate Action but are not in the Government plan.
Peatlands restoration may offer a nature-based solution to climate change. The joint committee proposed many actions on nature based solutions which are not reflected in this report. We need to use nature to capture carbon and keep it in the ground. This new plan refers to peatland re-wetting but does not contain any targets or specific measures. The joint committee did considerable work on this. The Labour Party sought targets to restore 200,000 ha of natural and cutover peatlands and 50,000 ha of industrially harvested peatlands by 2030. This is not an issue specifically for the line Minister, the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Josepha Madigan. We had some deliberation with the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Richard Bruton, on this matter yesterday. There must be a whole-of-Government response on this issue. We contend that resources must be provided to address the urgent need to start a major re-wetting programme to stop existing emissions from peatlands. This feeds into the just transition issue. While the proposal to establish a just transition review group under the auspices of the National Economic and Social Council, NESC, is welcome, we would also argue that the just transition task force must address or have the capability to address the issues that arise in the midlands.
On forestry, rather than the industrially managed monocultures of Sitka spruce, we need to shift to continuous cover forestry with a better mix of tree species. This type of forestry is far better at capturing carbon, is better for the environment and would provide more higher-value jobs in direct employment and in local industries. The Government plan relies heavily on forestry to soak away carbon but contains nothing about the sustainability and environmental performance of the forestry models to be used. This is a climate issue and needs to be treated as one.
The new plan refers to a climate action delivery board. There must to be further deliberations on this. I welcome the discussions we had with the Minister, Deputy Bruton, in the joint committee yesterday on how the climate action delivery board will work but it remains the view of the joint committee that, in buttressing the powers and resources of the Climate Change Advisory Council, one has an independent council that sits outside of the Government that can put smacht - or manners - on the Government of the day. It becomes an issue if too much of the plan depends on what is happening in the Government and through the individual Departmental silos. Without any proper oversight or real power vested in an independent council, I fear there would be slippage in the targets. Notwithstanding the presence of the Minister, Deputy Bruton, who sought to knock down many of the silos that exist within Government, having been in Government, I recognise that if individual line Departments are protecting their own briefs and edifices, I worry about the danger of the overarching policy or plan becoming bogged down in internecine and interdepartmental wars. For this reason, we need proper oversight of the plan to ensure carbon budgeting is nailed down and has a legislative base, with a statutory carrot and stick to ensure the plan gets delivered.
I would like to see greater dovetailing and interoperability between the plan and the recommendations of the joint committee. We must remember that the recommendations of the joint committee reflected the findings of the Citizens' Assembly. As such, the committee's report came directly from the people. Some work was needed to get 42 distinct and separate voices together to agree, by and large, a set of policies, principles and recommendations. This is why I am hopeful the Government and Minister of the day will lean more towards the report's recommendations because they are radical and take more of them on board as the plan moves through its iterative process.
I will share time with Deputy Paul Murphy.
Is that agreed? Agreed.
The Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Bruton, is not a climate denier but Donald Trump is. With regard to renewable energy, President Trump frequently asks what we should do when the wind does not blow and the sun does not shine. Addressing the Energy Ireland 2019 conference this morning, the Minister referred to the inefficiency of renewable energies right now. I argue that the key issue is not nature, technology or engineering but a political issue. This comes to the fore when one reads the Government climate plan, which starts by targeting ordinary people as being the problem and "those inflicting the damage". It states:
... those inflicting the damage do not pay the cost of the damage they inflict. This is the rationale for charging a carbon price for carbon emissions which reflects the growing damage that they are inflicting. This serves to discourage emissions and to make carbon abatement more profitable.
As such, ordinary people are at fault, rather than the fossil fuel and plastics industries or global food corporations. The targeting of ordinary people in the Government's plan is a massive mistake. It targets people as if their behavioural choices are responsible for the melting of permafrost in the Himalayas, as reported in the newspapers this morning; the shocking scenes we saw in the media recently of huskies running knee-deep through water in an area that should be covered in snow; the possibility that tens of thousands of people will die in India in the worst heatwave the region has ever experienced; or for the inevitability of increased weather extremities here and around the planet.
This plan the Minister has brought in to deal with climate chaos is not a serious one. It does not even acknowledge that there is an emergency. It does not take seriously dozens of reports and repeated warnings coming at us every week.
Never one to waste a good crisis the Minister is using an opportunity to give business wide open access to our natural resources and to plans that they can make to dominate the agenda in this country. An interesting story in The Irish Times on 8 April last told us that Amazon had bought up the output from an entire wind farm in Donegal. It had been objected to for some time but this is in the Minister's plan. He said yesterday that data centres are popping up around the place but his plan aims to encourage and attract more of them. EirGrid told us that data centres will use up to one third of our national potential for electricity production. Those data centres can then create corporate power purchasing agreements to buy up the energy from privatised wind farms and that is exactly what is happening. In five years I have no doubt we will be sitting here saying we failed to reach our emission targets but Amazon will not have failed, nor will Apple or whoever else gets to build the data centres and use our water and natural resources. Sun, wind and waves are our natural resources. Just as in the past when Fianna Fáil privatised our oil and gas, it looks as if Fine Gael is about to privatise the natural resources and renewables that go with them.
Another interesting report went under the radar when the Minister launched his. In the same week, Coillte and the ESB announced plans to set up a new company to build wind farms on 50 sites owned by Coillte - in other words, owned by the people because they are State lands. It might seem like a good start for the State to take a leading role, but once it has set them up and built them, it will sell them off to private companies.
This is a blueprint for the massive privatisation and sell-off of renewable energy throughout the country. Already we can see companies licking their lips and queueing up to get in on the act. The Minister also said today that the Petroleum and Other Minerals Development (Amendment) (Climate Emergency Measures) Bill 2018 was premature. What does the Minister mean by that? When will it be mature? Will it be mature when the level of carbon in the atmosphere is at 500 parts per million instead of 416 parts as it is now? Will it be mature when the temperatures rise 3°C or 4°C above what they should be? Will the Minister please explain what is mature and what is premature about stopping the extraction of fossil fuels?
Our house is on fire. The house next door, to our left, is on fire and the house to our right is on fire - in fact, all the houses in the estate are on fire. We have a plan from the Government to deal with that fire which fundamentally says that if the others start to try to put the fires out in their houses, we will try to put out some of the fire in our house by 2050. That is what the plan represents. For those who say we should give it a guarded welcome, because at least they are talking about trying to put out some of the fire in some of the house by 2050, the point is that our house and all of the homes will be burnt down by that time. Every week we see on the news the haunting image of the polar bears in Norilsk in Northern Siberia forced further south than they have come for 40 years because of the devastation of their sea ice habitat and forced to forage for food on land. We see the story of the permafrost in the Arctic which has thawed 70 years earlier than expected. Then comes this approach, which is completely inadequate because it is trapped within this capitalist system based on production for profit. The attitude to the target for 2050 is exactly parallel to the attitude to dealing with Ireland's status as a corporate tax haven and a race to the bottom in corporate tax rates.
The Government says, correctly, that this is an international problem which needs to be dealt with globally but it uses that as an excuse to hold off on any action until it happens elsewhere. The target of 2050 is completely inadequate. We need a zero-carbon economy by 2030. One of the areas that shows most clearly how the Government is completely trapped in this model of organising society and the economy is transparent. The most ambitious thing it can think of is not to change the model of how people get around, not to challenge the model of individual car usage but to double the number of electric vehicles on the road to 1 million. It is not the answer. If the Minister considered all the problems that come with electric vehicles, the carbon intensive nature of their production, the environmental impact of the mining for the rare earths that go into them, the huge labour and human rights abuses and the child labour in the extraction of those rare earths, he would see this is not the answer. Shifting to public transport on a massive scale is the answer. It is the one thing that the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, ruled out on the day of the plan's launch, saying the Government was definitely not going to go down the free public transport route. Why not? One hundred cities around the world have gone that way. We need significant further investment and to make it free to change the model of how people get around.
The same is true of carbon taxes. All the Government can envisage is taxing ordinary people, regressive taxation that will have no substantial impact on emissions. It will do nothing about the 100 companies responsible for 71% of global emissions since 1988. The idea that we allow society continue to be run in their interests and that they get to treat nature as an externality they do not have to take care of does not make any sense unless the Government is unwilling to break from that capitalist system. They should be taken into public ownership and planned democratically for people and for the planet.
This is true too of agriculture. The Government acknowledges that agriculture is our biggest emitting sector but it has no plan or target to reduce the herd. The herd needs to be substantially reduced. That is unavoidable if the Government is to tackle emissions from Ireland. That can be done only by challenging the drive for private profit by public ownership of the major agri-corporations and by assisting small farmers to ensure they have no loss of income but can move to a sustainable model of agriculture investment in afforestation and so on.
The only conclusion to draw from this is that a government that is committed to the rule of capitalism and profit is not going to deal with this issue. It will continue to block measures such as the Prohibition of Fossil Fuels (Keep it in the Ground) Bill 2017 because they challenge the interests of big oil. The same will come up every single time we attempt to do what is necessary. The movement has to continue to be built. It has to grow, it has to be armed with eco-socialist policies and, ultimately, fight for a socialist government with eco-socialist policies. The next big step towards that will be on Friday, 20 September, which is the next day of climate strike action by school students, but the trade unions need to follow their lead, put their weight and power into action and have action from below to demand change.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on the Climate Action Plan 2019. I welcome its belated production as I do the report of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Climate Action, much of whose work the action plan refers to. Sadly, in the Minister's party there always seems to be a large element of spin when any major step is taken. The Minister and his colleagues arrived in Grangegorman in a hybrid bus which is one of just three that we have, although there are many on order. We also have 200 diesel buses on their way after being recently purchased despite the fact that we have known since the mid-1990s that diesel is a notorious and dangerous pollutant. All those who have served in Government, including the Green Party during that time took no steps whatsoever to take that issue. The 150-page action plan and 88-page annex comprise 183 action points.
Like my colleagues, I regard many of those points as incredibly vague. Given its nature, climate action mitigation is fundamentally different from the Action Plan on Jobs or the action plan the Minister attempted to carry out in education. This is much more far-reaching.
I mentioned a number of caveats in respect of the plan at yesterday's meeting of the Committee on Budgetary Oversight, which was attended by important stakeholders such as Social Justice Ireland, the Nevin Economic Research Institute, NERI, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, ICTU, the Construction Industry Federation, CIF and IBEC. Based on the research of Social Justice Ireland and NERI, I made the point that throughout our history - Deputy Howlin spoke this morning about the centenary of this Parliament - taxation policy has been grossly unfair to the most vulnerable and the lowest income households in society. We have always levied significant carbon taxes. We have substantial consumption taxes and very high excise taxes, which are among the highest in the world. These have been levied on ordinary households and ordinary people.
The constituents I represent are suspicious that this is a plan which the Government, Fianna Fáil and the Green Party will bring forward to impoverish the most vulnerable households. I do not see in this report or the speeches I have heard how those households will be protected. There is nothing in the plan about carbon dividends, basic income, responses in the taxation system and, above all, better wages and salaries and a much higher minimum wage to deliver a living wage. Where are all of those measures?
I welcome the idea of establishing a climate action delivery board and the other matters promised in the section setting out the various actions. I note also that the Government is promising a climate action (amendment) Bill. When will we see that?
Five-year carbon budgets are a serious matter. The Green Party went into government with Fianna Fáil in 2007. That Government wrecked the economy and the Green Party in government did nothing about regulating the banks. The then Green Party Minister, former Deputy John Gormley, came into the House year after year with spurious carbon budgets based on total waffle. Unfortunately, that is the record of the Green Party in this country. Deputy Eamon Ryan and his colleagues did nothing to address the fundamental issues. They should have been left that Government in a flash and helped to topple it but instead they stayed until its last days, cycling in and out to their Government offices. We know the Green Party's record and we do not trust it. That is the basic problem.
If there must be five-year carbon budgets, and I accept they are necessary, at a minimum there must be a full sense of fairness and justice. In recent weeks, we had another Irish Fiscal Advisory Council, IFAC, report and, for the second year running, IFAC has been severely critical of the Minister for Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Donohoe, and the Government in respect of their control of public expenditure and the Government's expenditure ceilings. Is it the case that we need to have full five-year budgets, of which carbon mitigation processes will be an integral part?
The Taoiseach spoke about nudging people into changing their habits. This brings me to my second caveat. The Government did not have a major nudging message for big agri-businesses, developers, retailers or aviation companies. The plan does not seem to provide for anything in that regard, yet our constituents repeatedly tell us they do not want to buy tomatoes or fruit, for example, in plastic bags. The retailers decide to use so much plastic and boxes, yet the Minister does not have a message for them. Why would he given that party represents their interests in this House, as does Fianna Fáil? He has no interest in talking to them.
The Minister has an economics background, as do I, and he is aware of behavioural economics. Richard Thaler and a colleague won a Nobel prize in 2017 for a book called Nudge, which sets out how nudging works. My reading of the book is that when it comes to major changes, the process of nudging will be a game-changer in managing the climate challenges facing the planet. If it is a game-changer, we clearly need to address the major stakeholders in the economy because it is they that have to make the changes. To leave change to ordinary households is a cynical cop-out. Unfortunately, however, it is one that is typical of this Government.
I agree with my Green Party colleague that there is a major lacuna in the plan on public transport. Where are the plans? As people constantly tell us on Twitter, the Spanish were able to roll out metros to beat the band, up and down Spain from Seville to the Basque Country. The Russians did the same and post communism the Poles have built a fine metro network in Warsaw. What did we do? We spent that money on bankers, rather than on public transport infrastructure. Public transport is a major lacuna.
As my colleagues noted, the Minister has dodged the issue of aviation and the fact that big aviation pays no tax on kerosene. Kerosene has been tax-free for the aviation industry for decades. I know we are an island and aviation is important for connectivity and so on but would it not be more realistic to accurately price the cost of aviation for business and for all citizens? The Minister has nothing to say on that. As Deputy Paul Murphy said, the 1 million electric vehicles by 2030 seem to be a chimera and a fantastic pipe dream on the part of Fine Gael.
While the new Luas line to Cabra is obviously welcome, the Government has had opportunities since before the crash in 2007 to give this city, Cork, Limerick and Galway decent public transport systems and it simply did not take them.
The challenges in the production of electricity are obviously grave. I note my colleague, Deputy Bríd Smith, rightly mentioned that these data centres, which are springing up all over our city and country, use massive amounts of electricity of up to 20 MW or 25 MW for a single plant. I noticed the first one in my constituency of Dublin Bay North, which is in Clonshaugh, uses 20 MW. They are constant and massive users of electricity. How will they contribute to mitigation? Again, everything seems to be predicated on offshore renewables and microgeneration but I am not sure the Government's plan addresses the real challenge in electricity.
There has been a total cop-out on agriculture and land use. The sections after action 101 consist of nothing but waffle. The Government is not prepared to tackle agriculture because it is a bedrock of support for 40 Fine Gael Deputies in this House. The Government is not prepared to challenge the sector. Improving nitrogen use and livestock management efficiency is mentioned. What kind of nonsense is that from somebody who has a background in economics? The Minister could not even tell me a few weeks ago how much mitigation is provided on our island by our hedgerow system and general tree cover. He could not give me that information and he has been in that Department for at least a year. That whole section is pathetic and gives us very little.
My key concern is that there is a huge challenge for us and I accept that. We are very fearful that this report indicates that our most vulnerable constituents will have to suffer and that Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael will not put up a challenge to the big vested interests in this country because they are parties that represent those interests. For this reason, the next Government will have to produce a much fairer mitigation programme based on realistic figures and achievements, which involves the whole community and is not just aimed at ordinary citizens.
We are in a climate and biodiversity emergency. There is no doubt about that. As a country, we will rise to the challenge and we will be able to become leaders in our response, rather than the laggards we are at the moment, because this House reflects the will of the Irish people and they want to do it. I believe that the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste, the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and the Environment, Deputy Bruton, the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, and the Fine Gael Party are sincere in their desire to tackle this issue. That belief is partly underpinned by the fact that the people who vote for Fine Gael want us to tackle that issue. The party does not only represent industrial interests; it also represents the people.
From the recent election campaign and previous experience, I know that the people want to do it. I trust that Fianna Fáil has the same instinct. It also represents its voters and its people, who do not want to destroy the future for their children.
I have similar faith in the Labour Party and Sinn Féin. Most of the time I agree with my socialist friends that in making this change we can alter how the whole economy works. It is not just about keeping everything the same and changing around the edges; it is about everything. I also trust Deputy Broughan and the Independent Deputies, even those with whom I fundamentally disagree and who argue that this is the wrong action for us to take because it will bring great fear. I do not refer to Deputy Broughan in that regard but, rather, to some other colleagues we could remember. We should listen to them and answer their fears about making the leap.
We should stand up for the House, which has done good work on this matter in recent years. There is consensus now, as there is among the people, that we want to do this, as has been reflected in the work we have done. We need to organise where we should go from here to show leadership. We should go to the people. We should trust and ask them for help rather than tell them what to do. We must admit it will be difficult and that it is a considerable challenge which will require massive change, but it will be change for the better and we should not be fearful of it. There will not be penury, hardship and disadvantage will not be brought but, instead, a fairer and more successful society and country.
We have to avoid the mistakes made in America, where the issue has become one of division between the left and the right. We must avoid what happened in France, where the gilets jaunes rightly said, "Hold on a second, you have forgotten about us." We must ensure that it is a just transition and that in our response, we will not accentuate or give the sense of a rural-urban divide. It must be good for rural and urban people throughout the country and we can do that. We must avoid the mistakes the UK is making and recognise we must do it in co-operation with every country in the world through the Paris Agreement but especially within Europe, where we can raise the funds to help us make the necessary changes.
I do not doubt the sincerity of all Deputies in their desire to make the leap we must make. While the Government has agreed on the goal, although it has not quite articulated it and must do so clearly, it is slightly frozen, in a conservative way, by the scale of the challenge. Thus far, the solutions that have been offered are technocratic in nature, marginal and are not sufficiently bold. It is not a system change. A reduction in emissions of 2% per annum will not suffice, nor will putting off the issue until the next decade or making decisions today that will make it even more difficult to make changes in subsequent decades. We have to make changes now. We need a vision for how a different system will work.
Let us consider the Minister's action plan. Yesterday, I asked him a question about action No. 110. Let us broaden the debate; let us use the national climate dialogue that is in train but widen it further to everyone with an interest in how our land is managed so that a map will be set out for what we will do. I refer to everyone with an interest in farming, wildlife, bogs or seas. We should tell them that we need to treat everywhere as special, a matter on which I am sure we all agree. We need to restore hedgerows around every field and change the nature of fields in order that biodiversity will be protected, not destroyed. We need to reconsider our sea areas, which are ten times larger than our land areas, and take the advice of E.O. Wilson by setting aside half of it for marine protection whereby, as one of our contributions to climate leadership in the world, we stop fishing and every other activity and measure and monitor what is happening in the north Atlantic Ocean. One of the threats is what is happening in the north Atlantic Ocean. Let us understand that and be world experts in managing it and in the difference that develops in an ecosystem when it starts to be protected rather than destroyed. Benefits may accrue from storing carbon and having stronger, more resilient marine systems.
Let us be honest with the people and tell them that we will eat, or that it will be better for us to eat, less meat. We must also tell them that we will not rely on the current model whereby we just export live cattle and sell them to farmers at less than €5 a head and that we will instead trade on the basis of the Origin Green brand while obtaining a commodity price. We are not serving Irish farming. Let us be honest with the people and tell them that size of the national herd must be reduced. In the gap, however, however, when we do things differently, we will switch on a whole new horticulture sector in society. In every different area, we must consider how we will create a natural forest that is a pleasure and a joy to walk through, rather than planting thousands of hectares of single-crop, quick-rotation, monoculture forestry every year. In our mapping out of a new land use plan, we should ask people in all communities for their views. We should say to the people of counties Leitrim and Roscommon that we hear what they are saying about not being able to keep going with forestry as it is. Let us ask the honest question as to whether the adoption of new forestry methods that would lead to the generate tens of thousands of jobs for young people and create a beautiful local environment in which biodiversity would be restored and from which we would garner a long-term wood supply would work.
We have just elected new councils throughout the country. In the same way, let us ask every council to produce a new development plan that reflects the climate emergency. The councils are declaring climate emergencies as we speak. Roscommon County Council is due to declare a climate emergency next week. Let us start by asking how we could restore life to towns such as Ballinrobe or Boyle. There are stunning towns. The Bianconi hotel, in the centre of a village, sits empty. Could we not introduce brilliant bus services in order that such towns will be restored and use dilapidated, shuttered and closed houses as a solution to the housing crisis by returning people to the core? We should do that in every town and city centre. In Limerick, only 3% of the population lives in the historic core. Could we not flip that and, instead of building massive motorways between Limerick and Cork, build a public transport system in Limerick and Cork now to build the cities up? Could we not bring life back to the centre of Cork and put a tidal barrage at the end of the harbour in order that the city will have a sustainable, long-term future, irrespective of the sea level rise? That level of radical ambition and change is what we need. We can and will do it collaboratively and collectively, and we will do it well.
The Minister is correct that an action plan should be iterative and that we should be willing and open to doing things differently. Retaining the current national development plan, as if that helps us in any way, is not true to that approach. That is the first thing we must willingly admit needs to change. We should respond to climate strikers, who have played a significant role in changing the consciousness. During the election campaign, older people who vote for Fianna Fáil, socialism or Fine Gael responded to me at the doors. They said they were keen to act. We need to listen to what they say because it is true. In the light of the climate emergency, in every school in September, can we start asking how we can create a safe route to every school? It should not be the case that only 20% of children get the required level of exercise every day. We must design a system to allow them to walk, cycle or take the bus to school. That should be seen as part of the response to the climate emergency we face. All our engineers and best people should be put to work on it. It should be set as our first task for a new generation in a 21st century Ireland that is green in every way. It is doable but we need to be brave and ambitious. We need to go beyond the existing plan, which is not good enough, not least in transport and agriculture, the two great failings. There are many energy initiatives but we all know that it will be a massive challenge to make them happen.
We are up to the challenge, however, and we will be good at it. This country is set to become a leader. Let us go out and do it.