Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Thursday, 27 Jun 2019

Vol. 984 No. 4

Climate Action Plan to Tackle Climate Breakdown: Statements (Resumed)

Last week the Government published Ireland's climate action plan. Climate disruption is already having diverse and wide-ranging impacts on Ireland's environment and society, as well as on its economic and natural resources. The climate action plan sets out an ambitious course in the coming years to address this issue. The plan which represents an all-of-government approach to the climate challenge consists of 183 actions. Its focus on renewable energy, for example, includes actions aimed at having 1 million electric vehicles in the State and retrofitting 500,000 homes by 2030.

As my colleague, the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment Deputy Bruton, said when he launched this important document, realising the plan will involve a radical change in the way we do things. The plan will require considerable investment from public and private sector sources of funding. According to some estimates, investment of €50 billion or more will be needed. If we are to meet the plan's objectives, we must harness private capital at home and abroad. This can be achieved by Ireland which was one of the first countries to recognise the importance of green and sustainable finance. The private equity funding stream is unavailable in Ireland as a result of the failure to date to pass through both Houses the investment limited partnership legislation which was published recently. The deployment of capital for the decarbonisation of the economy and our society requires blended finance from Government sources, multilateral banking sources, borrowings and private equity. When the investment limited partnership legislation is passed, all funding streams will be available in Ireland to make it a global centre of sustainable green finance.

Since 2012, the Government has been steadily building a cluster of experts in this area. Several Irish firms are considered to be global leaders in this sector. There is critical mass of expertise in Dublin and Cork. Over €30 billion in green and sustainable funds are managed, listed or domiciled from Ireland. Ten specific green and sustainable finance actions are included in the Ireland for Finance 2025 strategy which was launched by the Department of Finance recently. This shows that activity is increasing at a fast pace. The ESB recently issued a €500 million green bond to support its decarbonisation efforts. At an event jointly co-hosted by the Department of Finance and Sustainable Nation Ireland in May the World Bank issued and listed a €1.5 billion sustainable bond on the Irish Stock Exchange. It was the first World Bank bond in Ireland in 25 years. Both bonds build on last year's Irish sovereign €3 billion green bond. Ireland is just the fourth country in Europe to issue a green bond. On Tuesday of this week the National Treasury Management Agency announced that €1.95 billion of the €3 billion available had already been allocated to eligible green projects. Ireland will build on this by becoming the first country in the world to divest public money from fossil fuel companies and industries when the Fossil Fuel Divestment Bill 2018 is enacted.

I would like to mention some other notable green and sustainable finance achievements in recent months. My colleague, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, has become a member of the global coalition of finance Ministers for climate action. The Central Bank of Ireland has joined more than 30 other central banks as a member of the Network for Greening the Financial System. Since February, the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund has had climate change as one of its five priority investment themes. Late last year Dublin was selected as the European headquarters of the United Nations' environmental and financial sustainability centres. As we seek to build on this momentum and support Irish efforts in this area, we will publish a national sustainable finance roadmap for Ireland later this year. This roadmap which will be a 2019 output of the Department's Ireland for Finance 2025 strategy, will be launched during Ireland's second climate finance week which will take place from 4 to 8 November. Irish capital market participants which have increasing expertise in green and sustainable finance will play a key role under the Government climate action plan by developing new products and services that can unlock capital to meet Irish needs and perhaps do likewise further afield.

The direction of travel is clear. Climate change is a fact. It recognises no borders. As the Minister of State with special responsibility for financial services, I will oversee implementation of the Ireland for Finance 2025 strategy. I look forward to working with my colleagues to achieve successfully our climate targets between now and 2030.

I want to say a few words about this important issue. I am concerned that communities and workers affected by the transition to a low-carbon economy seem to have been forgotten in the Government's new climate action plan. The plan fails to reflect, even in part, the recommendations of the Joint Committee on Climate Action on a just transition. It ignores the committee's recommendation that an independent "Just Transition Task Force be established in 2019 to proactively consider the likely upcoming challenges of the forthcoming rapid transition". The plan merely refers to the establishment of a "Just Transition Review Group" within the National Economic and Social Council which is undertaking research in this area. It is not the appropriate forum to engage communities and workers. The Government's plan also fails to address the central point in the joint committee's recommendations, that the just transition task force will need to apply itself to other industries and sectors, not just to the challenges faced by the midlands. I am sure the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Bruton, is aware of the significant challenges faced in that part of the country.

Last week the European Commission highlighted the same failings in Ireland's draft climate report which was submitted to Brussels last year. We often think the European Union is too rigid in the way it addresses issues in this country. In this instance, it has emphasised that the plan should "integrate just and fair transition aspects better, notably by providing more details on social, employment and skills impacts of planned policies and measures", "address the impact of the transition on the populations living in carbon-intensive regions" and "complement the approach to addressing energy poverty issues with indicative objectives for reducing energy poverty". There is no doubt that we will have energy poverty as a result of the plan. The Joint Committee on Climate Action made precisely the same findings. All members of the committee, including those from the Fine Gael Party, recommended that an independent task force be established to examine "the social and employment impacts of climate policies", address "training and skills development", identify "social protection needs" and develop "local economic diversification plans". Will the Minister clarify the reasons for the categorical failure to take account of these recommendations? Will he commit to amending the plan in accordance with them?

It has been proposed to increase carbon tax between now and 2030. Fianna Fáil has been very clear that prior to any carbon tax increase, the Government must introduce specific measures to protect people who are vulnerable to fuel poverty and ring-fence revenues to assist people who are not in a position to transition from fossil fuels. This is a significant issue in many parts of the country. We welcome the ESRI's recent announcements on the issue and the recent consultation by the Department of Finance. I ask the Minister to update the House in advance of budget 2020 on the introduction of these measures, particularly in the context of the need to combat energy poverty and support vulnerable households that will be affected by these plans.

Last month the House learned of the significant environmental, economic and health impacts of biodiversity loss and the destruction of natural habitats. The joint committee made it clear in its report that the implementation of several of its recommendations would have the double benefit of reducing emissions and supporting biodiversity. There is a need for a new land use plan, new incentives under the Common Agricultural Policy, the protection of hedgerows, forestry management initiatives and the restoration of peatlands. As a result of an amendment proposed by Fianna Fáil, the link between the climate and biodiversity crises was reflected in the declaration by this House in May of a climate and biodiversity emergency. However, the importance of biodiversity is largely absent from the new climate action plan. The Minister seems to believe biodiversity is an entirely separate issue which should be dealt with by the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht. I ask him to confirm that investment in biodiversity protection will be supported, including through the development of a national hedgerow conservation strategy, as recommended in the joint committee's report.

I am sure the Minister will agree that if we are to have this massive change in society - I believe we all agree there must be some aspect of change - he must bring his people with him. If he does not have the people on his side to implement such change, he will not succeed. That is the reason I am putting specific questions to him today because they are very important issues. Regarding electric cars, what the Government is proposing is not implementable; it just cannot happen.

The specific part of the Government’s action plan I wish to address is that related to the built environment, specifically the residential housing sector. As the plan rightly points out, approximately 30% of our emissions come from the urban environment and a very significant portion of those come from our housing stock, which is using approximately 60% more energy than the EU average. That reflects poorly on the quality of that stock. One of the more alarming elements, according to the CSO data on the building energy ratings, is that it is not only our old stock, as the housing stock built between the late 1990s and the mid to late 2000s is some of the poorest in terms of energy efficiency. Alongside that, in the context of the just transition to which the previous Deputy referred, we need to acknowledge also that we have significant rates of fuel poverty. Some estimates, although official figures are hard to come by, suggest that as many 400,000 people are experiencing some form of fuel poverty, which we need to take into account. That means there are two major challenges. I am not convinced by what I have read in the built environment section of the action plan that the Government has yet made up its mind on the specific actions it will take to address both the legacy of inefficient energy buildings and the challenges in terms of planning new building into the future.

I will refer briefly to what I believe is needed and certainly what many people with far more expertise than me or the Minister on these matters believe is urgently needed. With respect to retrofitting, there are three immediate challenges. The first is the social housing stock. While €25 million was made available last year to bring some of the social housing stock to a higher building energy rating, BER, than where it is currently, it is still nowhere near enough in terms of the volume of funds or the energy efficiency improvements. In many cases buildings are being brought from a D rating to a C rating or from an F rating to a D rating, rather than further up the scale. That is not only a problem in terms of energy efficiency in meeting our climate change targets but many of these are the same households experiencing significant levels of fuel poverty. We need to hear from the Government how much extra it will start investing in upgrading the social housing stock.

The second challenge is funding for private homeowners. That is a major challenge. None of us should underestimate the scale of the funds needed but all the experts are telling us we need a blended financing model of grant aid, albeit a reformed grant aid such as that currently provided by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, SEAI, and some form of Government backed low-interest long-term loan, a system which operates in many other European jurisdictions. Whether that is provided through a utility and the cost of repaying the loan is deducted from energy bills, or whether a low-interest loan is provided by Home Building Finance Ireland or some other fund, we need to move to a simple, easy-to-access blended finance model where, depending on one’s income, one would get some level of grant aid and one would get an easy-to-access low-interest loan. That means we need to take the advice both of the Tipperary Energy Agency and the SEAI that accessing both the finance and the works needs to become much easier. Rather than having a single one-stop shop, every local authority in the country should have something like the Tipperary Energy Agency to facilitate precisely that type of work.

We also need to accept the fact that 340,000 residential properties are in the private rental sector, with one in four in Dublin. Finding a way of ensuring all private rental properties meet adequate standards is something that seems to be strangely absent despite the small reference to tackling the issue of what is called the split incentives. Many of the people concerned are low-income earners and the big fear is that many of them would be hit with higher carbon tax charges. As they do not own the property in which they live, they would not be in a position to make the energy efficiency upgrades required. Therefore, that is an issue that urgently requires action.

Another issue concerns new buildings. While new building is not happening anywhere close to what is needed in the public or private sector, it is still increasing year on year. While I welcome the fact there is a proposal to include in the nearly zero energy building, NZEB, standard in the regulations a phase-out date not only for oil boilers but for gas boilers, 2025 is far too late for that. While there are some constraints in terms of skill levels within the sector, the priority should be to bring that forward much earlier in order that we do not have a situation where we are installing gas boilers in properties over the next five years only to have to then seek funding to retrofit to remove those in five or ten years' time. We could be much more ambitious.

We could go even further, particularly in the context of the new city and county development plans, and promote the very good technology and some good building practices among some of the public and private sector in terms of having fully passive buildings. There is simply no reason those standards could not become the norm. I would like to see us exceed rather than only meet the minimum standard with respect to the near zero energy building standard and become a world leader starting first in our public housing stock and then in all new private housing stock, so we get the highest quality new builds alongside a much more ambitious retrofit programme.

The Government is trying to address a gigantic challenge. It is a pity there was not more information in the details, including costings of the plan brought forward by the Government recently in respect of climate change. I have said previously that climate change presents Ireland with a political challenge which is as important as Brexit, as demanding as the peace process and as costly as the financial crisis of the past decade. If we look at climate change in that perspective, it is the biggest challenge. It is one of the reasons younger people are so militant in their approach to wanting sensible and affordable change and change that meets the requirements of the savings we have to make as a society with respect to the reductions in our carbon emissions and putting them forward within a reasonable timeframe. The timeframe the Government has put forward and the level of detail it has offered to the public are not convincing.

Not too long ago, I ran a very well attended public meeting in Dublin 15 in Dublin West about climate change at which one of the speakers was Professor John FitzGerald, together with other experts on climate and climate change. One of the issues that arose was for people who wanted to retrofit their homes and the question of who they would get to do that. As Professor FitzGerald pointed out, we do not have a training system to produce the tradespeople and the small businesses that will be able to do retrofitting on a house-by-house basis for many of the older homes in every other part of Ireland, whether urban or rural. We know already that the training of apprentices in SOLAS for the traditional apprenticeship trades is running at an extremely low ebb, notwithstanding that the building industry is desperately trying to recruit people. What we are doing at present is a repeat of the previous boom of the early 2000s, whereby we are importing huge numbers of tradespeople from other countries to work in Ireland. I agree with Professor FitzGerald that this is a fundamental change. Unless somebody reputable can give householders an estimate of the best way to address the various issues in their homes, they will not be in a position to judge that. We will be left with a situation where a huge amount of piecemeal retrofitting is being done; a bit of this, a bit of that.

The Government has made a number of noises around the potential, for instance, to have credit loan schemes at cheap prices via institutions such as the credit unions in particular or to do it, in some cases, via utility bills.

There is merit in both of these suggestions. However, the Minister must ensure that for those who are not technical experts, they can get serious advice which they can study and examine. They must be able to meet somebody qualified who will not rip them off in telling them that they need to undertake works that will cost €30,000. Instead, they should be given a menu of actions which they can take on an affordable basis over time and in respect of which they can actually claw back the cost.

Another area where the Government can receive a double dividend is maintaining hedgerows. Hedgerows are being cut down at a ferocious rate by farmers who have been encouraged to do so by one side of agricultural policy. The Government must promote the growing of trees in towns and cities. Asthma and other major respiratory health problems affect young and old citizens. If more trees and hedges could be planted in cities and towns, these health difficulties would be massively reduced. That, in turn, would lead to a reduction in the burden on health services of chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases and asthma, diseases which are costing the HSE massive amounts of time and money. The Government could put in place several practical measures for the coming winter. The tree planting season starts in late October and November and continues until March. We could green cities and towns.

As for training apprentices, the academic year starts in September. We could start immediately to ensure we will have qualified and reliable workers who will not rip people off. That is what the public is afraid of.

This is the only planet we have, but we are destroying it. The destruction is being felt more in developing countries because of what we are doing in the developed world and the decisions we are making. In Ireland there is an overall sense that we are not experiencing the destruction and disasters other countries are facing. At times, we would not even know there was a climate emergency. Therefore, it is good that we are talking about it now. However, we have to move on from talking about it to taking action to deal with it. We must accept that it will hurt all of us because we all have to play a part. We cannot put the onus on any one sector, particularly as the international climate change treaties have been ineffective. The UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights warned that the impacts of global heating were likely to undermine not only basic rights to life, water, food and housing for hundreds of millions of people but also democracy and the rule of law.

We can say Ireland’s record on climate change ranges from poor to extremely poor. Granted, we did not have massive dirty industries like coal mining or heavy manufacturing. However, we are more reactive than proactive. That will cost us, both morally and financially, with targets being missed in 2020. It is a case of we must do better.

In the developed world we have a responsibility to tackle climate change head on, not renegotiate targets or view the avoidance of fines as a win. We must not use any loophole and not put profit above sustainability. We must face up to the fact that the planet we will be leaving to future generations will be an adverse and a much less habitable place without that strong resolve. The climate action plan is welcome, but it would have been more welcome in 2009 rather than 2019.

Points were made about the carbon-proofing of budgets. One of the particular actions in the plan is the electrification of transport vehicles and having more electric cars. Recently, I had an experience with electric car infrastructure which proved that we were putting the cart before the horse. I was travelling in an electric car from Dublin to west Cork. Having an electric car means that one has to be super-prepared. On our journey we stopped in Tipperary to charge the car. Fortunately, neither of the two chargers in the garage was being used. Otherwise, we would have had to wait one or two hours. One must be able to do the sums in one's head to work out the remaining charge. Heading into Cork city, we had to calculate the number of kilometres left in the charge and the number of kilometres we still had to travel. The sums indicated that the car needed an extra charge. We located a charger in a hotel, but we had to do two tours of the car park before we located it. When we did find it, somebody else had parked in the bay, although they were not using it. As it was a new car, phone calls had to be made to the ESB to connect to and disconnect from the charger. On the way back, we had to calculate the number of kilometres to the nearest charging station because there was so little charge left. It was slow to charge, at only 2 W. It was at a different hotel and another tour to find the charger. We got to a figure of 25 km after two hours of charging. Granted, it did not cost anything, but it was a stressful journey.

Like many people, I had a petrol car, but I was encouraged to change to a diesel car which at the time was cheaper. We are now being told to move to an electric car, but I am not convinced that we have all of the science just yet. Lithium carbonate which is used in electric car batteries is selling at $11,500 per tonne. Given the global demand for electric cars, there will be a significant increase in that figure. Lithium is found in China, poor parts of Argentina, Chile and the Philippines. It is to be found on lands which belong to indigenous peoples who are losing out. Where is the tie-up if the countryside is being taken over to develop lithium mines to prevent climate change? Chinese companies are buying up mines from Australia to South America and we could all get caught up in trade wars. The annual revenues of two companies involved in this sector went from €100 million to over €1 billion in ten years. The jump to using electric cars might just be a little premature and we might be coming back to search for another plan.

Agriculture is our Achilles heel, but all of the fault does not lie with it. There is a need for more forestry. It is good to see some supermarkets tackling the plastic packaging issue in a proactive way. A report from Repak this morning stated Ireland was doing well in recycling. However, this House could do much better. When I was teaching, my school won numerous green flags and there was far more awareness of how to recycle among teenage girls than there is in this House. We could start to look at ourselves like they do in the Bundestag. If one was to check several bins in this building, one would find the same items in each, even though some of them can be recycled.

A recent article in The Guardian referred to climate apartheid, where the rich pay to escape the heat and the hunger caused by the escalating climate crisis, while the rest of the world suffers.

I am grateful to have the opportunity to speak about this matter. Everyone agrees with the climate action plan when it comes to the better insulation of houses. The more insulation one can use, the better. However, the problem emerges when one looks at the price of insulation which ranges between €30,000 and €50,000 which many in this country cannot afford. They are the people who will not receive grants because they are above the thresholds, have youngsters in school or college and are repaying a big mortgage in what we call middle Ireland.

In agriculture 18% of the stock of cattle which go into the factories are produced in feedlots. However, nobody has examined this issue. It is not natural for cattle not to see daylight. We were brought up in a tradition of farming where cattle were out for the summer and brought in for the winter.

While it is not the Minister's fault as he has only been in the job a short time, the way carbon emissions have been added is a complete fraud. Hedgerows were referred to. As was said, farmers are not taking out hedgerows. In fact, they are sowing them. They did so before under the AEOS, agri-environment options scheme, and the REPS, rural environment protection scheme. Between 6% and 10% of the country is covered in hedgerows. However, we cannot sequester one tonne of carbon through the hedgerow network because it is not allowed for in our emissions calculations. That is the fraud when one is adding the country’s carbon emissions. Once we go over a sequestration figure of 2.94 million tonnes in forestry, we are not allowed any more, even though the climate action plan states we can sow more forests. What seems to be coming from the plan is that rural Ireland will be the sequester of Ireland’s carbon, but, on top of this, its people will have to pay. Nobody has a problem with reducing carbon emissions. Farmers were always prepared to do their bit using traditional farming methods. I am not talking about having big landlords, which is where we are headed in certain parts of the country.

I heard a debate in the Dáil the other day during which the Taoiseach said that we would get smaller lorries. We will not get smaller lorries. The reality is that changing a lorry from diesel to gas costs €18,000. The transport sector needs some help. An electric car is 100% perfect for someone living in a city putting up a few thousand kilometres. People in rural Ireland, from Roscommon or Galway for example, who have to drive 30 or 40 miles every day to get to work and come home were told by a Green Party Minister in 2009 to buy a diesel car. It was promoted as being the best thing since the sliced pan. They are now being told to get rid of it. That Minister knew what he was talking about fairly well.

There is now talk of forestry in rural Ireland. Forestry is crucifying counties such as Leitrim and parts of Roscommon and Galway. If forestry is put in everywhere people will not live in the area.

The carbon tax is another big problem for rural Ireland. Whether we like it or not, under the plan being promoted currently contractors will have to charge farmers an extra euro per bale. This tax will cost farmers €700 to €800. The media has said that a normal family will pay an extra €700 or €800 on diesel for their car and heating their house. People will therefore be paying an extra €1,400 to €1,500 while working in sectors that are on their knees, such as the sheep and beef sectors. At the same time we are promoting feedlots so that the slurry can be taken out and exported to tillage farmers. We are allowing that, which will ensure that more cattle are kept in sheds. That is fairly good planning for the future.

Rural Ireland will not accept the carbon tax that is being talked about. People in rural Ireland will not accept it until a LUAS, an Iarnród Éireann line, or a bus route passes by their doors. One would not see a bus in a month of Sundays in some such places. There is nothing and until there is the Minister should not be talking about crucifying these people, who are doing their bit. They have no problem doing their bit when environmental schemes are brought in for farmers. They have always done their bit. Statistics show that the bee population in the west of Ireland has increased. The amount of ammonia is low in the west of Ireland, which is very good. Despite this, we are being thrown into the same package.

I do not accept the media and politicians blaming people in the agricultural sector. Let us remember that when this country was on its knees it was the agricultural sector that kept it afloat for the five or six years until we were back on the road again. Now that the job market is moving, which we welcome, these people are kicked in the teeth again and let off. We are having trouble bringing young people into farming, yet we are kicking the agricultural sector. We are told that everything needs to be culled. When it comes to traditional farmers and family farms, successive Governments down through the years have promoted the return of landlordism, driving people into the cities. Let us look at where we were and at where we should go.

I sat on the Joint Committee on Climate Action. We deliberated for eight months. We spent many hours going through and teasing out what the Citizens' Assembly said. I will pick up where Deputy Fitzmaurice left off and express my support for the agricultural sector in County Limerick. The county is heavily dependant on the dairy sector. Milking cows was of great help in pulling us out of the recession back in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012. We need to be mindful of that. Agriculture is our natural resource in Ireland. We do not have oil or any other natural resources. Agriculture has been our natural resource and we need to mind it at all costs.

We need to do this in a balanced fashion. I have been speaking to the farming organisations. I spoke to them as part of the work of the committee and farmers are willing to step up to the plate. They understand that there will have to be changes and that a transition will have to take place, but this must be done in a balanced fashion and be phased in over time so that economic hurt is not felt while the transition takes place. That has to be done across all sectors, which leads on to my next point, which is about public consultation.

We see consultation happening and ideas coming forward here in the Dáil. People have spoken about the west of Ireland and I am speaking about Limerick. Deputy Burton mentioned ratings and checklists with regard to retrofitting houses. These are the ideas that are starting to come through that will affect and help people on the ground. Public consultation is paramount. I have said this to the Minister privately as well. I welcome the fact that consultation has started. The Minister, Deputy Creed, is starting a public consultation process, as are the Ministers, Deputy Bruton and Deputy Donohoe. The committee specified that public consultation would be paramount in ensuring the success of our climate actions. It will prevent misunderstandings and misinformation and will allow for peer-to-peer learning and discussions between people on the ground. We need a bottom-up communication process because if we get this wrong and get the public's back up we will set ourselves back ten, 20 or 30 years. That mistake has been made before when dealing with other issues. We do not want to repeat it. Public consultation and education are key to taking politics out of the issue.

As I have said before in the Seanad, we have to avoid parties playing politics with this issue. We must stick to the facts, help people and communicate with people because this affects us all. This issue is not owned by any particular political party or group; it affects us all. It is therefore paramount that we get it right.

With regard to Project Ireland 2040 and transport, I am a big believer in our economic development as well as our climate change policies. I want to see the Cork-Limerick motorway and the N21 Limerick-Foynes route with the Adare bypass. I want to see those projects proceed. There is no reason to stop them or even to moot stopping them. The Minister may correct me if I am wrong, but I understand that the public spending code is to be reformed to include a shadow price of carbon, a hypothetical surcharge on market prices for goods and services that involve significant carbon emissions. This can be done in real time as each project comes up, whether in 2024, 2025, or 2026. It is proposed that the shadow price of carbon will be €32 per tonne in 2020, increasing to €100 per tonne by 2030 and to €265 per tonne by 2050. Each of these projects can be costed in real time as they arise. If, having been costed, they are stopped now, as has been suggested in other quarters, they will have to be costed again in 2024 or 2025. They will have to be costed twice. It totally defeats the purpose.

We need to progress with these projects. They are paramount for our economic development, particularly in County Limerick. The Adare bypass has been needed for years. The Limerick-Foynes route is required to service the deepwater port of Foynes. It is a European tier 1 port. Cork, Dublin and Foynes are our three tier 1 ports. Foynes can be developed because it is not surrounded by a city: it is a small country town. Such development would provide more jobs for the area and the greater mid-west region. It also has a sister airport just across the Shannon. Freight from Kildare is coming to Foynes to avoid the rush-hour bottlenecks in Dublin. It takes an hour and a half or an hour and 40 minutes. If this motorway is put in, the time to move freight will be brought right down. That frees up the whole mid-west, which is important for balanced regional development. It will bring people into rural Ireland. The Cork-Limerick motorway is connected to this issue as well. We can put electric vehicles on the motorway afterwards. That would mitigate its effects in respect of climate change.

A just transition and a lot of public consultation is required. I encourage all parties to work together as we did on the Joint Committee on Climate Action. I started from a position of ignorance before getting where I am today in respect of climate action. I learnt so much from the journey. It is about leading on this issue. How we lead will affect how future generations will perceive us.

I am glad to have an opportunity to speak on this issue. The first thing we should recognise is that everybody has a contribution to make in reducing carbon emissions. We have to face the facts and face reality. To refuse to accept reality is to go in the wrong direction and if we do so we will be liable to really serious carbon charges in the future, which will accelerate much more rapidly than we think.

We must consider the alternatives. The biggest single contribution that can be made to carbon reduction is a change to the means used to generate electricity. There are a variety of ways to do that which are carbon-free including wind, wave, solar and nuclear, although I do not agree with using nuclear energy and have never been in favour of it. There is also biomass and a number of others.

I will go very quickly through them. The best and safest method is wind energy. We have a lot of wind in this country and plenty of places to put wind turbines. Many communities do not accept the sight of wind turbines, but many in other counties do. They are making a reasonable contribution to the generation of electricity at the moment. We frequently hear of the considerable research on wave energy. However, that has gone on for 20 years and we have not yet seen the results to any great extent. However, with wind energy, big results can be achieved in a short time.

Some people have proposed biomass to replace coal burning in Moneypoint, County Clare. That is not a realistic option I am afraid. It would require the planting of biomass in at least half the country and we would need to import the other half just to keep the one station going. In addition, that happens to be the biggest polluting station with 1,000 MW currently. Taking that 1,000 MW out of the system and replacing it with clean generation would mark a serious effort. If that is multiplied by five or six, we are into self-sufficiency.

We need to recognise that various types of trees have a positive contribution to make to carbon sequestration. For example, the unfortunate and much maligned Sitka spruce is the best with up to four times the capacity of an ash, oak or one of the other broadleaf species. We need to interplant between broadleaf and spruce trees to give ourselves the best options.

The next method is simple. I have shifted over and rely heavily on a wood-burning stove, which has significant beneficial effects. However, somebody was happy to produce a report in the past six months or so to the effect that the burning of wood allows particles into the air that cause serious congestion problems for persons with asthmatic conditions and so on. The people who produced that report were not necessarily physicians; they were more likely to be proponents of another type of energy generation.

The use of electric cars will make a major contribution to achieving the results we need. It is where the electricity for that transport is generated that brings it to its most satisfactory conclusion. We need to bring the two issues together - the generation and the use of electric vehicles. Given the bigger and heavier engine requirements in agriculture and construction generally, it will probably need to come from something like hydrogen as an electric engine of 200 or 300 horsepower, which is required in today's modern machinery, is very much in its infancy and I have concerns about the battery for that.

Solar energy is an option. It is not big in generating electricity. Five acres generates 1 MW whereas one wind turbine can generate up to 5 MW of electricity. There is a significant difference in the space taken up.

We need to acknowledge how the farming community has managed the environment over the years. Everything that grows absorbs carbon. Many of the things that grow such as trees are carbon neutral. They only emit what they have absorbed over their growing life. I can speak more on that some other time, but I do not have time today.

I support the Government's plan. In recent years, I have attended incisive meetings in my constituency and others where I heard people with contrary views to mine. The predictions I made ten years ago are coming through faster than I thought and certainly faster than many of my opponents thought.

I welcome the debate, but five minutes is a ridiculously short time for each Member's contribution.

I wish to start with the good stuff the Government is doing in tackling climate change, particularly in the transport area. Public transport in Dublin is being transformed and will continue to be transformed by MetroLink, BusConnects and the DART expansion. I hope they will proceed with the consent of everybody. I acknowledge there are issues regarding MetroLink, which have been addressed by the National Transport Authority, NTA. I praise the NTA for its commitment, research, and capacity to listen and change plans if needs be.

I live in a constituency where an increasing number of people commute. The DART expansion to Drogheda will have a major beneficial effect, planned, as it is, with new hybrid diesel trains. Irish Rail is in the process of ordering up to 500 carriages, which will come to Drogheda well in advance of the electrification of the line.

There is a new sense of urgency in the debate. We all hear and understand the views of young people. I visited a primary school this morning and all the questions were about what I was doing about climate change. I welcome the involvement of young people in changing some of our views, and ensuring our agenda and our priorities change.

One thing that should change quicker than all those transport projects I mentioned is the use of strategic park-and-ride facilities on the approach to cities. For example, a 4,000 space car park-and-ride facility is planned for the Malahide Estuary. It should be fast-tracked so that people can connect from the estuary to the city as their schedule of work demands.

My colleague from Roscommon made an important point regarding rural versus urban interests. We do not need to have this conflict in our society - similar to the yellow vest problems in France - with rural communities up in arms against increases in taxes, which is exactly what Deputy Fitzmaurice was talking about. What is needed is prior notice, consultation, and encouraging and supporting change particularly in rural communities that are adversely impacted but do not have public transport because of the low density of population in them. I welcome the Government's commitment to rural transport links. I do not know about Roscommon, but I believe 40 or 50 community buses run every week in Kerry. They support people in the absence of a commercial or Bus Éireann service to meet those needs.

People living in rural communities who have to come into towns were concerned about Deputy Dooley's commentary as Fianna Fáil spokesperson on transport, when he questioned the veracity of the road network programme planned by the Government, which is needed.

That is untrue.

I did not interrupt the Deputy. If he reads Deputy Dooley's speech, he will see in black and white-----

That is not here.

-----he is questioning the roads programme.

He is. The Deputy may have a Roscommon edition of it-----

The Deputy will get an opportunity.

I am telling the Deputy that he is wrong.

I have The Irish Times edition of it and there is a bit of a difference between the two. I suggest he buys The Irish Times.

Deputy O'Dowd is not the first Fine Gael Deputy to say that.

Deputy O'Dowd without interruption.

I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle. Put that man out and let him go home by public transport-----

The Deputy has made his point.

-----rather than his big diesel-guzzling car.

The Deputy is about the sixth Fine Gael Member who has said that.

Let us be serious. The issue with the new roads programme, which Deputy Dooley when he is Minister will inflict on communities, is the absence of essential road works that are part and part and parcel of reducing our carbon footprint. The east-west and north-south improvements that will arise from the Slane bypass are important for the people who live there. If Deputy Dooley does not build that, it will damn those people forever to the danger and delays they are now experiencing.

The Ardee bypass costing more than €30 million is also in doubt as a result of Deputy Dooley's promise.

Irrespective of whatever deal Fianna Fáil might do with the Green Party or any other party, essential road improvements such as the Julianstown bypass will significantly reduce travel time and reduce our carbon footprint.

I want to make one final point. When the motorway through Gormanston was being built, there were 20,000 cars per day going through the village of Julianstown. It was built to take those cars off the village roads, but guess what? There are still 20,000 cars per day passing through that village from morning to evening. If Fianna Fáil continues to oppose the bypass-----

That is propaganda.

-----it will leave serious problems. The Deputy can put that in his pipe and smoke it.

I first acknowledge Deputy O'Dowd's remark about the large car parking facility in Lissenhall, Swords, near the Malahide Estuary in my constituency. The car park is compliments of the work of very forward-looking councillors some 15 years ago, namely, Councillors Alan Farrell, Darragh O'Brien, Leo Varadkar and Clare Daly, who all supported the zoning of that plan. I thank Deputy O'Dowd for mentioning it.

I am pleased to contribute to this debate on our climate action plan and climate change in general. It is one of the foremost threats facing our country and the globe. For too long, there has been much inaction when it comes to addressing climate change and I am pleased that the Government has brought forward comprehensive plans to fulfil our responsibility to the environment. It is important that we acknowledge collectively the work of the all-party Oireachtas committee. As Deputy Neville mentioned, the committee took eight months to come to this position. I welcome the involvement of the Minister, Deputy Bruton, in the climate action plan, which has been brought forward for debate.

One key finding in the committee's report, and a central part of the climate action plan, is that we continue to work towards the banning of single-use plastics. That is incredibly important. Such a simple change could have a positive impact on how we care for our environment. In the average supermarket selling the usual items, it is astounding just how hard it is to avoid buying plastic and non-degradable fruit trays and packaging. The onus is very much on the citizens of the State to make changes in what they do, how they do it and what they buy. However, it is also incredibly important for our supermarkets, retailers more generally, and manufacturers to re-evaluate how they produce the products they provide us with and whether there is a reasonable level of recycling in this country. We are ahead of target on our green recycling and have been for many yeas, but we clearly need to do more.

Polystyrene should be much more readily recycled. There is often a reluctance to take empty packaging back to the store in which it was bought for recycling, but in most cases the store will take it. However, we have to ask ourselves whether the packaging was really required in the first instance. Often, computer screens and phones will come in polyethylene packaging, which is, I think, called SPI 4 and is not currently recycled in this State. We must take steps either to eradicate these materials from supply chains or to ensure that they are recycled here.

It is very important that we change the source of our energy from the current reliance on oil, gas and peat to more renewable resources. A conversation must take place around wind, wave and solar energy, heat pumps and other sources of electricity and their promotion. Homeowners must be able to generate their own energy and small and medium-sized enterprises should be encouraged to erect electricity generation stations, whether that be turbines or otherwise. I welcome the fact that, separate from this plan, homeowners will be able to feed back into the network the energy that they do not use. In this country there is massive potential to harness renewable energy, particularly given our Atlantic coastline.

My final point is on the retrofit scheme, which I am pleased with. I welcome the Department's announcement that the adaptation and retrofitting grants are being upgraded. However, as I have said privately to the Minister, Deputy Bruton, it is important for this State to recognise the BER standard of a property when considering eligibility for such schemes and not the date when the property was built. Unfortunately, there is a legacy in this country of the implementation of building standards being at best haphazard and at worst bordering on criminal. That is true for work done to a large number of properties well after the closing date for the current grants available to homeowners to upgrade.

It is important that this plan be supported by as many Members of the House as possible, from all parties. We have to have a realistic conversation, among ourselves and with the public, as to how we are going to achieve this and what changes we as individuals must make to ensure that we stave off the worst effects of climate change, which we see every day across the globe.

It is fair to say that everyone in the House acknowledges the scale of the climate change challenge facing Ireland and the level of transformation required if we are to see a meaningful decrease in greenhouse gas emissions. That challenge needed a step up in ambition and renewed determination across Government and society to tackle climate disruption. The climate action plan gives us this required level of focus and drive. For my part, I am strongly committed to ensuring that decarbonising transport remains a key priority and that the sector continues to contribute to our national decarbonisation efforts.

The transport sector accounts for a little over one quarter of Ireland's non-ETS emissions, and there can be no question but that transport must feature strongly in our approach to tackling the problem. A wide-ranging set of bold and challenging actions for transport is set out in the climate action plan, particularly in the areas of public transport and active travel. I want to make sure that public and active travel options are a viable alternative for as many people as possible and for more of their journeys than ever before.

I am ambitious to ensure that, between now and 2035, more than half a million extra journeys per day will be taken either on public transport or by walking and cycling. This ambition is supported by the €8.6 billion investment secured under Project Ireland 2040 for sustainable mobility. This investment in new public transport and active travel projects is well above that for new roads, which is a reversal of the balance of investment in these two areas. An investment of €8.6 billion is transformative. It will be used to greatly expand our public and active travel range through key projects such as BusConnects, MetroLink and DART expansion, as well as enhancing the cycling and walking infrastructure in all our major cities. We have a clear plan of action for improving and greening our public and active travel offerings.

With more than half of transport emissions coming from private cars, we must work harder to shift people from using their private cars to greener ways of travel. However, this can tackle only a limited set of journeys and emissions. To really reduce transport emissions, we must decarbonise private cars. Globally, electric vehicles are the leading solution to the decarbonisation problem. It is the Government's job to ensure that conditions and policies are in place to support citizens in making the greener choice and selecting electric vehicles, now and in the years to come. Through a combination of incentives and a positive policy environment, we have seen sales of electric cars increase and there are now approximately 11,500 electric vehicles registered.

We know the technology is getting better. Driving ranges are improving, more models are becoming available and, most importantly, the cars themselves are becoming cheaper. As the technology gets better and cheaper, we will continue incentives and investment in the charging network. We are ambitious that, with a real push, we can make progress towards getting the electric vehicles we need on the road by 2030.

That target of almost 950,000 vehicles is a very challenging one and demonstrates the scale of transformation required across all sectors if Ireland is to reduce national emissions and reach its legally binding emission ceilings. Now is not the time to underestimate the size of the task ahead: it is the time for action.

As we have done with the low-emissions vehicles task force, my Department and I will work closely with the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Bruton, and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Donohoe, and their Departments to map out the new policy pathway that will be necessary. It will, of course, require widespread support to be effective and I am committed to ensuring that the necessary broad consultations will take place.

I am strongly committed to the decarbonisation of transport agenda and, as we saw last year, I hope to see further falls in transport emissions in the years ahead. Every sector must step up to the challenge if Ireland is to get on track for 2030 and beyond.

I commend the Minister, Deputy Bruton, on bringing this plan to fruition and look forward to working closely with him and my fellow Ministers to ensure the plan's success and place Ireland on the right trajectory to tackle climate disruption.

First, I thank the Deputies who participated in this debate. A wide number of issues have been raised and I understand why people are expressing fear about the impact on different communities. That is always going to be the case when we face the significant change that is required of us. I ask people who have expressed such fears to show a little forbearance about thinking what the future of our community will be like if we postpone all of this change. That is an important question.

I come from a family farm background and recognise that our agriculture depends on exporting. We need people who are committed to buying our products because of the high standards to which we produce them. That is increasingly becoming a feature of the marketplace. I have been on a number of trade missions promoting Irish food and it is really important to think that through. If we start to rail against the unfairness of the changes that we, as a relatively prosperous country, have signed up to at international level and point the finger at other countries that should be doing far more, we run the risk of undermining the whole effort with absolutely catastrophic consequences for the global community.

It is important that we think of what will future proof homes, family farms and enterprises in ten, 15 and 20 years' time when, as we know, carbon is going to be valued at €265 per tonne. That is the world in which we will be living and we must ensure that the choices we make now mean our families will be best placed to be resilient in that new world that is opening up.

It is not an accident that the next generation is pointing its finger at us and saying we have failed it. It is really important that we think this through. Deputy Neville compared the Joint Committee on Climate Action to the debate around the repeal of the eighth amendment to the Constitution. Many people went into that committee with views that were fairly fixed but not altogether based on having evaluated the evidence and found that the evidence, when they looked at it, was different. Some people came out of that committee strongly endorsing the Teagasc action plan as something that should be done and also endorsing the need to have a signal in carbon pricing that ensures we do not lock ourselves into carbon dependent assets that will become stranded assets in the years to come, dependence on which would lock us into very poor lifestyles that would undermine the well-being of our generations to come.

I understand why people ask how this will be done and how we will make the change. Those are legitimate questions. The way I look at it is that those who postpone change will face the highest costs and be left with the fewest opportunities. If we can start now and trace a roadmap to delivering these things, we will deliver significant change. The changes will be challenging. We need the fabric and heating systems of one third of existing homes significantly improved. One third of vehicles on the road need to be electric and non-carbon emitting by 2030. We need to expand massively the amount of renewable energy we put onto our system using wind resources and other alternatives to the fuels that are now doing such damage. These are big changes but we have, as a community, been able to make big changes before. We pride ourselves in having the pragmatic flexibility to do it.

It is important that we try and stay together as a community to deliver this. Brendan Behan used to say the first item on the agenda of any new organisation was the split. If we do not stay together, we will fail the generation that is knocking at our door and saying we need to make radical change.

I cannot go through, in five minutes, the many worthy comments that were made in this debate. I assure Deputies that this is the start of a process where we are determined to achieve the necessary change. This plan is not set in stone. As new ideas emerge, we will adapt and change the plan. It is important that we start by recognising that every part of our community, be it enterprise, agriculture, homes, public service or waste management, needs to make a contribution. This plan has tried to allocate that fairly across those sectors. We must work together with those communities to achieve this. At the end of the process, we will have warmer homes, cleaner air, resilient enterprises and farms that can stick the test of the changes that are rapidly coming down the tracks. The goal we are trying to achieve here is well worth the effort.

Can the Minister answer the question I asked?

The Minister did say there were too many worthy questions for him to respond to in five minutes.

How are we going to ring-fence money with the carbon tax coming?

As the Deputy knows, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Donohoe, has a consultation out until the end of this month which is asking people to submit their views as to how that is being done. He has clearly signalled that both energy poverty and the need to make change, which is part of the plan, are factors that should be taken into account in evaluating how revenue should be used. He has been very clear that the raising of this revenue is to change behaviour, not to penalise people.

I have opened up a can.

The Leas-Cheann Comhairle should close it quickly.

Deputy Fitzmaurice can ask a brief question.

To receive cash-backs or apply for a grant, one must earn less than a certain threshold. The reality, which we see day in and day out, is that people in middle Ireland, earning €35,000 or €40,000 and paying a big mortgage, do not get money back. Some of those people are driving large distances to work. Some are driving from Roscommon to Dublin, some to Sligo and Galway. We hear promises about cheques in the post but such people are not in a situation to move to an electric vehicle and they will be crucified. Will allowance be made for them?

There is no means test being applied to the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, SEAI, grants which are available for electric vehicles or for modification of homes.

There are means tests for people who are in energy poverty. People on the fuel scheme get a 100% allowance. Other than that, these schemes are generally available. There is a grant of €10,000 for an electric vehicle, plus a €600 subsidy for a home charger. There are 30% grants for a range of things under the SEAI.

We must move to a new model with retrofitting that will make it easier for people to look at easy payment methods, smarter finance and aggregation of the work. It is about making it easier for people to lock into the work. We recognise that we cannot rely just on the grant model that now exists.