Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 18 Dec 2019

Vol. 991 No. 5

Climate Action and Low Carbon Development: Statements (Resumed)

That is no problem. As I said, I hope that climate action does not become the new housing, where we have endless debates. We need to focus on the solutions collectively in this Chamber regarding climate action. Where there is consensus, we need to move forward and where there is not we will have division and debate. It is important, however, similar to the Bill we had earlier today, that where there is consensus, we need to drive on with this issue. I also mentioned earlier the European Commission's green deal, which has just been published. I said there are elements I like and elements I do not like. The most significant change is the one that states the targets set for 2030 and 2050 are not good enough and need to be revised.

Even within its own limitations, however, that proposal, ironically, still manages to outshine this Government, a Government completely locked into the private sector and market solutions. This is not surprising, as Fine Gael takes the same approach to climate action as it does to health, housing, childcare, insurance costs and workers' rights. The European Commission at least recognises that the existing targets are not good enough and wants to increase the greenhouse gas emissions targets from 45% to 55% by 2030. This is a real problem for Fine Gael, as it has consistently failed to achieve even the current modest targets.

Last week also saw the publication of the climate change performance index, in which the State went from the worst performer in the EU to the second worst performer in the course of a year. That was actually spun as a success by the Taoiseach and his Ministers. We are second worst only to Poland, which gets 80% of its energy from coal. The European Commission has called for a review of the framework for energy infrastructure to ensure consistency with the climate neutrality objective. It is hard to see how Fine Gael's love for fracked gas terminals will survive such a review. This is an issue that has received cross-party support. The Taoiseach and his Ministers, as is their style however, have simply ignored the views of the House and want to make out that fracked gas is somehow climate-neutral energy.

The European Commission's green deal also calls for a new circular economy action plan, including a right to repair and the curbing of built-in obsolescence of devices; the design of all new buildings to be in line with the needs of the circular economy and the climate-proofing of building stock; an increase and expansion in the use of rail, including the transport of freight by rail; a review of all current tax exemptions for aviation and maritime fuels; improved and expanded public transport; an increase in the area under organic farming in the EU, to be coupled with a farm-to-fork policy that will strive to stimulate sustainable food consumption and promote affordable healthy food for all.

Those are just some of the proposals within the EU's Green New Deal. It remains to be seen whether EU members can agree to act upon it, but on the face of it the document is progressive and shows real potential. I cannot, however, see this present Government paying anything but lip service to any of it. It is clear to me that we are not going to see any real progress on climate action until this Government is gone. That is the reality. Take the need for increased investment in public transport and rail on this island, for example. The western rail corridor was originally included in the EU's TEN-T map. That is a map of the EU core travel network, with each identified as a priority. In the last European Parliament, Sinn Féin managed to secure overwhelming support from MEPs from right across Europe to vote for the western rail corridor to be included in the core network list. Being included on that list means that government and regional authorities are able to draw down funding and support from the EU. During negotiations with the European Council, however, which the Government was a party to, the western rail corridor was removed from the core list. There was no explanation for that. What is certain is that there has been utter failure from successive Governments to commit to the western rail corridor.

There is much more that can be said and, as I said earlier, this is the second debate today that we have had on climate action. I am sure when we come back in January that there will be further debates on this subject. It is the issue of our generation and it is an issue that we need to face up to. The Minister highlighted the young people who sat in these seats and debated climate action only a few short weeks ago. What they want is action. They do not want endless talk, endless debates and endless motions being passed, which are not then implemented or delivered on. They want us in this Chamber, collectively, to do our job, face up to our responsibilities and deliver the climate action that is necessary.

The annual transition statement covers several areas, including how far the State has progressed in meeting national and EU climate commitments. It is an excellent opportunity to take stock of how far this Government has come, or not, in responding to the climate crisis and what new measures are necessary. I have a number of separate points to make.

The statement from the Minister contains the standard overview of recent policies, but I will start by noting that it is disappointing that other Ministers will only address the statement in 2020 and not in December, as in previous years. Ireland will fail considerably on its 2020 climate and renewable targets. Under the EU’s effort sharing decision, Ireland has exceeded its binding emissions allocation in 2018. Our overall target commits us to reducing emissions by 20% by 2020, but we will reach only a 1% reduction, a truly staggering failure. The upshot is considerable financial penalties in hundreds of millions of euro and potentially billions by 2030. It is important that the Minister explains, in detail, precisely why this occurred in 2018, whether it will occur again in 2019 and the level of fines that will be paid on account of our failure to reach our overall target in 2020.

As we approach the end of this Government, the biggest criticism of Fine Gael will be not only its failure to secure the necessary reduction in emissions and pollution in the last decade, but also its endemic and deliberate failure to enact appropriate legislation and to prioritise policies that would facilitate substantive, near-term emissions reductions. In other words, it is quite fond of making climate wishes with photo shoots and press releases, but the situation is quite different when it comes to delivering on them in the near term. I stress near term, in that Fine Gael was dragged kicking and screaming into producing its 2015 Climate Act. It produced a mitigation plan under this legislation, universally regarded as insufficient and which did not yield substantial emissions reductions.

This year, Fianna Fáil has been clear that the policy framework set out in the Government's 2019 climate action plan is an improvement. However, it differs substantially from the report of the climate action committee. It ignores timelines and deadlines which Fine Gael committed to in that committee.

It is littered with reviews and consultations, along with the words “would”, “could” and “maybe”. The point is that the longer we postpone climate action, the more expensive the transition will be and the greater the risk to the economy as emphasised most recently by the Central Bank.

It is important the Government undertakes a further review of the committee's recommendations and ensures their full incorporation in the finalised national energy and climate plan. The Government's climate plan has no statutory footing, meaning that it is not even possible to ensure accountability and properly measure progress. Will the Minister integrate relevant policies and measures set out in the Government's climate action plan as part of the finalisation of the national energy and climate plan?

The Minister’s climate plan will not deliver necessary annual emissions reductions in line with the Paris Agreement. Given ongoing increases in emissions, such an approach would also seem to imply a dependence on costly negative-emissions technology in order to meet a 2050 zero target. Will the Minister ensure that the national energy and climate plan sets out a pathway to net zero emissions consistent with the Paris Agreement objectives?

The deadline for the submission of Ireland's national energy and climate plan is the end of 2019. We understand the Government will not meet this deadline, however. The Department is currently holding a public consultation on a separate long-term strategy which was originally meant to last only 15 working days but was subsequently extended. The Department has not communicated if a further public consultation will take place on the finalised national energy and climate plan. Will the Minister ensure his Department allocates necessary resources to such consultations? It is particularly disappointing that we are discussing the statement but the Minister has not even published the key amending legislation which will turn promises to actions through a clear commitment to climate neutrality by 2050, a system of carbon budgets and an enhanced advisory council. It must be remembered that Fine Gael committed to enacting this legislation in 2019 at the Joint Committee on Climate Action, yet it has not even been presented. Will the Minister clarify if the Government will support a whole-economy net zero target by 2050 in light of its analysis during 2019? Will the Minister set out sectoral emissions reduction pathways to 2050?

Improving the climate advisory function is particularly important. The Minister's climate plan has made no reference to this step, however. Will the Minister seek to update the expertise and resources available to it? Earlier in December, the European Council endorsed the objective of achieving a climate neutral EU by 2050. The Council also noted the Commission's communication on a new green deal. The EU will substantively increase its mitigation commitments for 2030 and 2050. Will the Government step up to the plate, however? The signs are not encouraging. Earlier this month the international climate change performance index showed that, although Ireland had climbed seven places from its ranking last year, it remained among the lowest performers globally and is ranked one of the worst performers on climate action in the EU. With the EU now set to increase its 2030 target over the coming year to at least 55%, this is the time for Ireland to develop a 2030 pathway based on five-year carbon budgets aligned with the science and Ireland's fair share.

The annual transition statement also noted that Ireland has committed to a doubling of its national contribution to the UN green climate fund in 2020. However, this is only an increase to just €4 million, nowhere near that provided by other similar EU states which have reached ten times that figure. This makes a mockery of Ireland's commitment to climate action and further harms Ireland's international reputation.

Is the Minister aware of the policy statement released by his Department yesterday entitled, Petroleum Exploration and Production Activities, as part of Ireland’s Transition to a Low Carbon Economy? Did he personally approve the conclusions of the report, which contained some rather curious points seemingly prepared rapidly and exclusively for the benefit of the fossil fuel industry? Several statements in the document about climate action and energy security, unfortunately, would seem to call into question the Government's own and supposed desire to consult on Ireland's national energy and climate plan and clearly pre-empt the Government's upcoming energy security review. The Minister of State, Deputy Canney, in the foreword stated, "we need to protect and conserve our rich marine biodiversity and manage the available natural resources in harmony with surrounding ecosystems". On the same day as the release of this report, University College Cork announced research which showed that in areas of seismic surveys used by fossil fuel exploration companies, whale sightings are down by almost 90%. What does this say about a commitment to ecosystem protection? Did the Minister consult with energy companies prior to making these conclusions? Did he raise these conclusions with the EPA, the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, the Commission for Regulation of Utilities or the UCC marine research centre? Was this document signed off at Cabinet level?

Our emissions are driven significantly by energy and infrastructure decisions which lock us into either high or zero carbon development. It is important this review on energy security takes as the starting point the need to meet Paris Agreement objectives. It should address risks posed by new investments in fossil fuels, potentially locking in higher emissions. Will the Minister update the House on the production of the terms of reference of this security review? Will he be consulting on the matter?

Kieran Mulvey was before the climate action committee today. I was surprised to hear Mr. Mulvey state he was phoned two days prior to his appointment and a day prior to the closure of the two plants, Shannonbridge in County Offaly and Lanesboro in County Longford. This showed the Government was not prepared but it was a crisis reaction, getting the press release out and appointing the just transition commissioner. Mr. Mulvey stated at the climate action committee today that he was a one-man band and had not even secretariat support. He is not sure about support from the Department. While I believe he will be a credible just transition commissioner, if he has not been provided with the resources and the ground supports, his work will be compromised as a result of this failure by the Department and the Minister. Another point Mr. Mulvey made today was that he was not consulted on the terms of reference.

We should no longer refer to Ireland as a climate laggard as if the country were to blame. It was the Fine Gael Government which decided in 2012 to abandon climate legislation proposed by the Green Party and Fianna Fáil. It was Fine Gael which failed to introduce any sort of coherent climate plan until this year. It is far from certain that we will see legislation and policies sufficiently progress to reverse this trend before the end of this Government.

I am sharing time with Deputy Fitzmaurice. Hopefully somebody will send out a text to tell him he will be up in five minutes.

The Deputy can keep going otherwise.

Every week we are in this Chamber or at a committee talking about climate action. If the Government is to achieve everything that it has set out in the climate action plan, it would be useful if we could nail down the financial package involved. Let us take targets around afforestation or the retrofitting of houses. While I do not wish to be partisan tonight, by any objective analysis, there were only 300 deep retrofits carried out in 2019 when the Government has spoken about committing to a B2 BER standard for 50,000 houses per annum. This will require money.

If the Minister is talking about ring-fencing carbon taxes to build a fund, it is arguable that those resources may not meet the demands, particularly in the transport sector and with the provision of rolling stock to meet public transport demand. There is the issue of putting together the fund which will retrofit local authority housing. There are issues with the just transition. I am glad Mr. Kieran Mulvey was mentioned tonight because he is normally the person the Government of the day calls in to act as chief firefighter. He has a remarkable record in that respect. If we are serious about the just transition, and the midlands is ground zero for this, it must be resourced adequately.

We then need to see how that just transition is replicated throughout the State because other parts of the country would have that transition from carbon producing, particularly my area, which is the main hub for energy sources for a significant part of the island. We are anxiously waiting to see what funding will be made available for this just transition for the remainder of the country. Notwithstanding the appointment of Mr. Mulvey, the jury is still out on how that process in the midlands is going. It is early days.

I ask the Minister to address the financial elements of what is proposed. The European Union has proposed a €100 billion fund. What is the Government's thinking on how much will be available for Ireland to draw down? As I understand it, the package has yet to be signed off on but it is in play.

In the context of the agricultural sector in particular, what will the permutations of the negotiations relating to the multi-annual financial framework mean for the next Common Agricultural Policy, CAP? Right now, we are being told that the CAP negotiations could become not interminable, but could surpass the closing date of the current CAP. There is an opportunity to invest in agriculture in partnership with farmers on carbon sequestration. What funding measures does the Minister envisage could be brought to bear? The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Creed, will have a view on that, but I would like to hear the views of the Minister, Deputy Bruton, on it.

What is the status of the draft national energy and climate plan? We had some deliberations on this matter in the committee today. Obviously, we want to ensure the voice of the Oireachtas committee is heard when we reach a point when there is consensus - hopefully there will be consensus - on that draft national energy and climate plan. I hope the Minister will have regard to what the Oireachtas committee has to say.

I thank Deputy Sherlock for sharing time.

Many of us were in attendance to hear Kieran Mulvey address the committee earlier. He is a straight talker and I have great respect for him. He said today that he got a phone call the day before the announcement was made. While there is an office in Offaly, it is like the captain of a team going out onto the pitch on his own; the rest of the team does not seem to be there behind the man at the moment. Anybody taking on this project needs a significant team behind him. He needs the resources and the funding. The Government needs to ensure that whatever resources required are given to that man.

We need to consider ideas in the way Seán Lemass did years ago with the tax incentive area around Shannon Airport. Eight counties, including Galway and Roscommon, are involved in what I call the midlands. The Acting Chairman, Deputy Eugene Murphy, is from the same area that I come from. The people in the counties in question also supply peat and they cannot become the forgotten people. The fund is approximately €1.2 million to cover everything, including the wages of the team being put together. An area involved in a town and village renewal project would nearly get that amount. We need to make an honest effort. In the region of 400 Bord na Móna employees have lost their jobs and there are also temporary workers. The only solution so far is just redundancy; there is no strategic plan.

We have talked about Ireland West Airport Knock. The area surrounding that airport needs investment. IDA Ireland should allocate somebody to that midlands transition area as well as to the airport. Mr. Mulvey made it very clear today that Dublin is getting overcrowded. We need to get these businesses into these areas, but we need to put the money into doing so.

Some 6% of hedgerows throughout the country have not been included in our mitigation plan. That is phenomenal when one considers that Coillte owns approximately 7% of the land mass. All farms have some trees growing on them but not one is included as a mitigation measure.

On a few occasions, I have proposed the creation of little shelter belts of half an acre for holdings of up to 50 acres, three quarters of an acre for holdings up to 100 acres and 1.5 or 2 acres for holdings up to 200 acres. Over one year, we could give farmers an incentive in this regard without stopping them farming. We could probably put in 130,000 acres of trees. They could put in whatever trees they want. If they want to plant broadleaf trees, that would be fine. Some time ago, there were shelter belts and the EU paid farmers to get bulldozers and clear them out along with ditches. Now we are looking to get them back again because that makes economic sense. It would be possible to get 55,000 ha to 60,000 ha in one year if we had the money for it. I do not know whether we have the money; that could be the stumbling block. We need to ensure that no one is looking at a satellite image and telling a farmer that because a branch of a tree is sticking out, the basic payment or payment for area of natural constraint will be blocked. It requires some thinking. It could be a phenomenal success overnight without impeding the farmers in agriculture.

The carbon tax is a problem in rural areas because they do not have rail or bus public transport. They will be disproportionately affected. We should be looking at anaerobic digestion and solar power. People have no problem looking at different options, but it needs a kick-start. This week, the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine announced that we will remain on the same old track with the single farm payment and that we are not looking at the new system of convergence in order to ensure that farmers with smaller holdings might come up a bit and have their operations made more viable. We cannot keep not looking at these things.

Even though the farmers in this country get kicked day in and day out by media and everyone, they will be the saviours of the people in the cities, which is not recognised. It is about time that they started to be shown a bit of respect.

Given that my colleagues failed to do so earlier, on behalf of our group, I thank all the ushers, the cleaners, the porters, the canteen workers, those who serve us, the officials and the staff throughout the Houses for their helpful, hard-working and good-humoured approach to us all year. I wish them and their families the very best for Christmas and the new year.

A number of things strike me about the Government's transition statement. It has the hallmarks of a box-ticking exercise in its list of achievements and aspirations. It is as if the officials cut and pasted from the climate action plan and various PR releases made over the past year. Missing from it is an honest assessment of what has happened, what will happen and what has not happened, both here and globally. An honest assessment of the Government's climate action plan would have noted that last year, at the behest of the fossil fuel lobby, every trick in the book was used to stop the Minerals Development (Amendment) (Climate Emergency Measures) Bill, which articulated one key demand of the global movement, namely, to keep fossil fuels in the ground. Stripped of the spin, the underhand trickery used to stop that Bill was astounding. Belatedly giving in to the demand of the movement and the school strikers, the Government is claiming to ban oil exploration but not gas exploration. Of course, we discovered in the detail that a plethora of licences that have been issued will remain good in some cases until 2035. No one seriously believes that it is possible to ban exploration for one fossil fuel and not another. Instead of putting the measures needed in place, the Government sabotaged the Bill and sabotaged democracy to signal to industry that Ireland would not step on its toes.

At the same time, the Government made it clear that Ireland is happy to become a major hub for one of the most damaging and dangerous fossil fuels, namely, fracked gas.

It is a complete refusal to understand the science yet again. It ignores the evidence that the plans of companies that want to build liquefied natural gas, LNG, terminals revolve around fracked gas. This is an industry that is responsible for a huge spike in global methane emissions. All of this time the Government has relied on a false narrative that gas is a safe transitional fuel. It is not. The science is clear, and holding out the idea that it is the lesser evil for the climate is a death sentence for large parts of our world.

In general terms, the problem confronting the global movement is not that we have lots of outright climate deniers - we do not. Most people in power and the ruling elites accept the science and make noises towards the need to cut emissions. As we have seen with this Government's record and with COP 25 in Madrid, formal acceptance of the science is meeting an utter inability to take the steps that are needed at home and globally. We see an almost religious faith being placed in market mechanisms and in new technology that may be achieved at some stage in the future, maybe tomorrow, next year, in ten years, or by 2050. In the meantime we are planning for fracked gas terminals and continued exploration and for 1 million electric vehicles on our roads and we hope, like children playing on a beach while ignoring the ocean beside them, that the warnings of the science and nature are wrong. This is an utterly ridiculous faith in the market mechanism and is totally misplaced.

COP 25 ended in failure not because of the wrangles between one group of nations and another group or because of squabbles over old carbon credits. It failed because the only attempt to deal with the threat posed by climate change has been to rely on finding some way to ensure that somebody can make a profit from it. One commentator has noted that the proposals from some countries allow for massive loopholes that would deliver reduced emissions on paper but not in reality. This is exactly how carbon markets work. Their chief purpose is not to reduce emissions but to allow for the continued use of oil, coal and gas. The so-called clean development mechanism, CDM, has been a fraud on the developing world and on the global environment. It lacks basic social and environmental safeguards and has led to human rights violations and environmental destruction. Like the various carbon markets, it has facilitated double counting where theoretical emission reductions can cheat the accountant, but it cannot cheat the atmosphere and it cannot cheat nature.

Offsetting emissions will do nothing to stop climate crises and will only shift pollution from one place to another, guaranteeing only that somebody makes a profit on the way. While countries reach their climate targets on paper, emissions continue to rise. The full failure of carbon markets, which remain the only mechanism envisaged at COP and globally, is catastrophic for our planet. We have seen more than 30 years of this trading market and trading permits, during which time there has been a continued rise in CO2 emissions to historic levels not witnessed in 3 million years.

I am certain, unfortunately, that we will continue to see the same pattern repeated, that the demands of the movement will be ignored and that profit will be the priority over planet or people. In 2020, and with certain urgency and determination, the global and local movement has to return to the streets. I look forward to joining them throughout 2020, to get the radical action we need to save our planet, our biodiversity and our people from catastrophic climate change.

I am beginning to feel that climate is getting like housing with debate after debate. It is really time that we stopped talking and started doing. Equally, while marches and protests have their place, we need comprehensive, easy to read, easy to understand information and measures on recycling. Most of us have our different bins but there is a lot of contamination of recycling materials because people genuinely do not know all of the details. It is a lack of knowledge. I am tired of people saying that we must do more and we have to tackle climate change without saying specifically what each of us can do and what each of us must do so that the individual efforts of one are not undermined by the efforts of another.

I turn now to the frequent topic of what we in this House do in this regard. We now have recycling bins in Leinster House 2000, each of which has a sign. Still, however, the same items are in each of the three bins. I really think that we need pictures on the bins so we know exactly what to put into the bins. We must start here and do our bit.

On a bigger scale, we could look at what the German Bundestag has done. In 2008, they set out to become the greenest parliamentary building in the world when they made a decision to rely solely on renewable energy using water, wind and solar. There was a lot of refurbishment there in the late 1990s, including the glass cupola, and the roof uses solar power. In 2008, a parliamentary sub-committee set out to look for bids from renewable energy producers. This tied in with the growing trend in zero-emission homes in Germany, some of which are so energy-efficient that they produce surplus power that owners can sell back to the grid. We could start to look at ourselves in the Houses of the Oireachtas and how we could lead by example.

I believe that the public needs more information so that individuals' homes and communities will know exactly what they have to do. It requires comprehensive, concrete information. This will feed into how necessary it is to have clarity on the long-term strategy with processes, on the measures and on the timeframes.

We know of the need to cut emissions to limit warming to 1.5oC as in the Paris Agreement. A total of 196 states had signed it by 2019, and it has been ratified by 183 and the EU. That is the easy part. We also know the United States of America's attitude. Warming over 1.5oC significantly worsens the risk of drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty. Many states are ostrich-like, burying their heads in the sand and ignoring the scientific evidence. No matter what the EU, the island states, and the small countries do, the big polluters are getting away with what they please to do. We know exactly who they are. There is, therefore, a legal basis for climate justice. Dr. Lorna Gold has said that tackling climate change at its root means untangling and unmaking that complex web of capital power and privilege. The top 10% of emitters contribute 50% of global emissions annually. I was incredulous when I read of oxygen bars in Delhi where citizens can go to breathe fresh air for certain periods of time.

Four years on from the Paris Agreement it is obvious that current efforts are failing. Science is being ignored and the scientists have warned that without urgent action, global warming is likely to exceed 2oC. We know the devastating impact this would have on nature, on ecosystems and on biodiversity. There is also the huge cost for economies and the impact on the production of food. In his statement the Minister said that this would require an unprecedented level of international co-operation, that all sectors must step up to decarbonise, and that there is a need for radical change. If Ireland is fully committed to implementing the objectives of the Paris Agreement, then I believe that each community and each sector should know specifically how they have to contribute.

We are committed to scaling up our financial contribution to the UNFCCC and to support climate action in developing countries. Increasing finance for developing countries is only part of the answer. We need to ensure that the decisions we make in our developed world are proofed against the impact on developing countries. We have to make hard decisions in our world, which is a high-carbon economy. The better off we are, the more we emit, but we cannot leave the future of the planet to the market. Gandhi said, "The earth provides enough for every man's need but not every man's greed". We have to acknowledge excessive consumerism and do what is necessary to curtail it, and really take on board that we share the planet, we do not own it. We need more eco villages such as Cloughjordan, more eco communities and more eco countries such as Cuba. We need more community gardens, and all Members have these in their constituencies, and we need more tree planting. We know what to do. It is about getting down to do it.

This is a key moment of political accountability for Ireland's action on climate change in the past year. Despite all the consultations, plans and research papers, it is clear that Ireland is making very limited progress towards meeting its current long-term national policy position. Policy positions and expensive consultant contracts do not bring down emissions, but action does.

The 2014 national policy position set the target of 80% reduction in emissions by 2050 based on 1990 levels and an approach to carbon neutrality in the agriculture sector. In 2019, the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Climate Action endorsed a target of net zero emissions by 2050 and the enshrinement of this target into law in the first quarter of 2020.

In its climate action plan, the Government indicated an intention to increase the 2050 goal to a net zero target and enshrine the 2050 position into law in early 2020. I understand the Cabinet was supposed to have discussed the heads of the Bill this morning but did not reach this agenda item. When it comes to the crunch, climate change seems to fall off the Government's agenda every time.

I call on the Government to explain to the House why Ireland will not meet our EU 2020 climate targets. In my opinion, even the most recent climate action plan is insufficient to meet Ireland's obligations under the Paris Agreement and international law, since it is built on the premise that carbon pricing and electric vehicles will largely do the job. Extra financial burdens do not deliver climate action. They penalise disadvantaged communities and do not offer systemic change based on environmental and social justice.

The science is clear and the message is unequivocal. Our planet is in danger of hitting some key tipping points that could shift the global environmental systems out of balance. More than 1 million species are threatened with extinction and the world is on track for temperature increases up to 4°C and higher that would make much of the earth uninhabitable for humans. Experts and civil society organisations are all in agreement that only a rapid and deep transition to a decarbonised global economy based on the principles of social and climate justice is now required over the next decade to prevent the spiralling of catastrophic climate impacts and to reduce the levels of risks associated with the transition to a zero-carbon future.

The United Nations Environment Programme published its annual emissions gap report at the opening of COP 25 in Madrid a few weeks ago, highlighting that we must cut global emissions by 55% on 2018 levels within ten years if we are to stand a chance of limiting warming to 1.5°C, the temperature goal of the Paris Agreement. This equates to cuts of 7.6% per annum over the next decade. I call on the Government to take steps immediately to align Ireland's climate policies with what climate science and international law demands.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC, special report on 1.5°C published in 2018 makes it explicitly clear that limiting warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels must be the goal underpinning all national targets and policies. The report concludes that global average emissions must be net zero by 2050 at the latest. This means that developed nations such as Ireland must reach net zero sooner. It is interesting to note that Ireland produces more carbon than 55 African countries combined. That is the state Ireland is in. People speak about us being a small country making no difference. We would make a huge difference if we lived up to our aims.

If the current rate of increase in emissions continues, we will reach 3°C to 4°C warming before 2100. Ireland's current plans will only contribute to catastrophic climate breakdown unless there is a radical shift in Government ambition and urgency. However, Ireland remains a very poor performer by EU standards and our emissions continue to rise. Only because of the Citizens' Assembly and the report of the Joint Committee on Climate Action did we see the Minister finally start to develop concrete policies and measures.

Ireland is far off track from meeting its current 2030 target and longer-term commitments to decarbonise the economy. The most recent projections show that over the next decade, even with additional policy measures included in the national development plan, methane and nitrous oxide emissions from the agrifood sector are projected to increase by 3%. Continued growth in emissions from the transport sector is also projected in the short term, largely due to the continued use of diesel cars and diesel freight and the absence of public transport in much of the country. Energy consumption is also expected to grow, going in the opposite direction of what is needed collectively by the EU. We need the Government to commit to phasing out all fossil fuels, including gas and LNG, and all offshore oil and gas exploration. The current trends are unacceptable. Climate action requires that CO2 emissions from energy and cement need to go to net zero well before 2050. Nitrous oxide and especially methane emissions need to reduce steadily and permanently. Therefore, increases in these emissions from agriculture must be addressed with incentives for diversification, agriforestry, hedgerow maintenance and ecosystem restoration.

The 2019 climate action plan sets a pathway for a 2% decline in emissions per annum from 2021 to 2030. This is not in line with Ireland's fair share of the Paris Agreement carbon budget. Ireland will need to reduce emissions by more than 7% per annum every year to comply with the Paris Agreement but that is not the Government's policy. Ireland's continuing delay in increasing action and ambition will drastically escalate the governmental and political effort that will be required in the future. The annual transition statement does not show that the Government is serious about implementing the Paris Agreement.

This has been a hugely significant year in the country on the issue of climate change. It has been a year when public consciousness and desire for action has risen stronger than any time I can remember in the past 30 years of campaigning on this issue. It came from what happened in the previous year, with the IPCC report of October 2018 setting out the differences between a 1.5°C and 2°C rise in global temperatures. It came as well because of the World Wildlife Fund report published in the same month of that year showing we had lost half of all wildlife in the past 50 years by biomass weight. This was followed by David Attenborough and the controversy about plastic and the environment. The issue of how we are destroying nature by our actions was centre stage, particularly coming into this year. In any review of the year with regard to climate change and any look back at the history of what happened this year, people will also think of Greta Thunberg and the climate strikes movement. A few weeks ago, this Chamber was used for the youth parliament, which was a remarkable event, given the passion, intelligence and integrity of what was said. The Minister said it himself in his contribution. We have to listen to what those young people are saying.

What is so strong about what Greta Thunberg is saying is that she brings us back all the time to the key science and the October 2018 report from the IPCC that states if we are to have a 66% chance of staying below 1.5°C globally, we could release approximately 420 gigatonnes into the atmosphere. We continue to release and expand the number, with approximately 41 gigatonnes a year. This is why there is a focus on the next decade being the critical decade. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to Greta and the students throughout the country who brought it centre stage.

I want to concentrate on the good news as well as bad. We had a Citizens' Assembly to which the all-party Oireachtas committee reacted. If we listen to what other countries and other people say needs to be done, we have actually taken some of the steps. We did it in a positive and collaborative manner that I hope will set us up well. I am happy to commend the whole-of-government action plan coming out of this where I think it got it right in terms of the idea of a whole-of-government approach. This island is small enough to be flexible and pull together but big enough to show proof of concept. We are a capable island, country and people when we set ourselves a goal on which there is consensus. There has been progress this year in the broadest political sense and it is because the Irish people want us to do this. We all know this. We all hear it when we are at the doors. I do not believe it will change. Irish people want us to go green. We are tired of being laggards and we are ready to be leaders. This is probably the most positive development this year.

Despite the failure in COP, I was pleased to be at the talks last week, but it was deeply depressing to see the lack of progress. There is also potentially good news in the fact the European Union is now clearly setting itself the strategic goal of tackling this being part of our economic strategy. Tackling climate change and the biodiversity crisis is central to everything we will be doing as a continent and Union. This will have to be matched by a significant increase in the targets we are setting ourselves in preparation for COP 26 in Glasgow next year and much more ambitious targets for reductions in 2030 and 2050. In fact, there is a need for full decarbonisation before that date. This brings us to a challenge because the whole-of-Government action plan on climate is clearly not going to be ambitious enough. We cannot state we are part of the green new deal and that we really are leading if our emissions reductions are 2% per annum. I do not mean to score political points on this but it is just a reality.

The next Government will face a real challenge in delivering a multiple of that figure in annual reductions.

I met Paul Allen from Zero Carbon Britain - Centre for Alternative Technology at the Conference of the Parties, COP. He made the point that people focus all of the time on what the end goal date is for the decarbonisation and where we are at in terms of 2030 or 2050, which is true, but in terms of protecting the climate, it is what we do in the next few years that matters. If we leave emissions high, they remain in the atmosphere for hundreds, if not thousands, of years, such that the earlier we make the cuts the more significant the reduction that will occur in terms of pollution in the atmosphere. The curve is important. Starting early is the right thing to do in environmental terms.

There are two categories in terms of the Government's approach that need to change. There are categories on which we reached broad agreement at the Oireachtas committee, as reflected in the Government's action plan. I welcome that there is a significant ramping up or realisation of the scale of retrofitting we have to do in our domestic public buildings and commercial buildings. We are all agreed on that. The only problem now is how we do it when we do not have the workers in place to do it and we do not have the financing arrangements in place. We are only doing a minute fraction of what we are committing to do. For example, is the target 50,000 houses per annum but we are only doing a couple of hundred? That is the scale of the challenge. At least we know that is an area we are all agreed we want to address.

Similarly, it is significant that we have broad agreement on the Government plan which aims for 70% renewables by 2030. That is not an unambitious target for anyone who knows anything about how to manage this in an isolated, synchronised grid system. That will present a real challenge. I think we will benefit from it. We will meet it and we may be able to go further and in the learning by doing we will surprise ourselves and gain economic advantage. Again, nothing has been introduced yet, particularly in terms of offshore wind or in solar power, which shows us how we will actually do it.

Similarly in terms of the switch to electric vehicles there is broad agreement, although I have a different view in terms of the nature of the mobility services we need to be providing in transport. Again, ambitious targets are set but where are the real measures to deliver? That is a task for the current and next Government to rise to. In a whole range of other areas we do not have the ambition yet and we do not have consensus. We do not have consensus on transport. What this Government is doing on transport is utterly unsustainable. It runs completely counter to any climate change ambition. It is not serving our people in any way because it is just leading to gridlock. The entire transport policy needs to change. The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, has been a complete waste of space when it comes to his contribution to the climate debate.

In agriculture, the situation is different. The agricultural system and the farming groups and others are realising that things need to change and that there is huge opportunity in re-wetting our bogs, farmers helping out in forestry and in paying farmers properly, which is not currently happening, for genuinely origin green products. This is an area where again Government policy is not working but everyone else is starting to realise that the old game is up, even though the Government is clinging to it. A new strategy needs to be put in place.

Similarly in regard to waste, the Government is clinging to its mantra that Repak is working: it is not. The Minister rightly cited the instance of how much carbon emissions come from our use of materials but we have seen nothing yet in terms of ambitious and aggressive measures to reduce our level of consumption to introduce a circular economy. The same applies in forestry. I welcome the Government announcement that there will be no further oil exploration. We need to do the same in regard to gas and we need to stop the importation of fracked gas.

Looking forward to next year, what do we need to do? We need to put Brexit and climate together. One of the tasks will be to ensure that regardless of the trade deal that is done with the UK we maintain energy collaboration and wide environmental collaboration with the UK because we will not be able to do this alone and nor will the UK. We need to be part of a regional European electricity market and we need to make sure that there are common standards. In whatever Government follows the next election, we need a programme for government that is designed around a green new deal, matching what the European Commission said last week. It changes everything. It involves everyone and it takes what is good in the last year and it builds on it, with far greater ambition towards a just transition of which we can all be proud.

We now move to the questions and answers session, starting with Deputies Jack Chambers and Michael Fitzmaurice.

Does the Minister not get an opportunity to respond first to the debate?

We have already asked questions in our contributions.

The Minister will respond to the debate following the questions and answers session. I will not allow speeches. Deputies must confine themselves to questions.

What is the timeframe for the questions and answers session?

It is 30 minutes. The Deputy can ask two questions if he wishes.

I asked the Minister a number of questions in my initial contribution. What level of fines were paid as a result of our failure to reach our targets? What level of fines will be paid if we fail to reach our overall target in 2020? The Department has not communicated if a further public consultation will be held on the finalised NECP. When does the Minister intend to publish the draft NECP? Earlier Deputy Sherlock referenced the deliberations in committee today regarding the uncertainty around that date. We would like to make a submission to that process so I would like to know if the Minister intends to allocate the necessary resources for that consultation.

On the just transition commissioner, concern was expressed across the committee today about the one-man band, Mr. Kieran Mulvey. While I have some faith in him as just transition commissioner, it appears that his appointment was a panic reaction by the Minister and the Department in that he was contacted by telephone when the Minister got word that the two stations would be closing. The Minister needs to provide more detail around the choreography of that appointment, including whether he had been planning it over a number of weeks because Mr. Mulvey was not consulted about the terms of reference. It is important that we get more detail on that.

I have a couple of questions for the Minister. On the 6% of the hedgerows and trees around the country that have not been accounted for in the emissions, will the Minister ensure it is included? It could bring emissions for agriculture down 8% to 10%. Is the Minister willing to heed my proposal that in respect of holdings of 50 acres we would put in a shelter belt and the Government would incentivise farmers to do that work? On the just transition, is the Minister willing to talk to the EU in regard to what was done in Shannon by Lemass years ago, namely, that the midlands area, including Galway, Roscommon and Knock Airport, would be tax-incentivised areas such that new businesses could be created there? My understanding is that other countries such as Spain were given that from Europe.

It is critical that Mr. Mulvey is given the resources he needs. I concur 100% with what has been said. He needs the resources. He is like a one-man band. He is a good guy. Let nobody say any different. Is the Minister prepared to bring all county councils on board such that no one council is leading the posse and nobody else knows what is going on?

On the level of fines, they are not finally determined. Basically, Ireland has two areas where we are likely to fall short. In regard to the 16% renewable energy across all systems, not just electricity, we are likely to fall short and we will have to purchase statistical transfers. The price at which they will be bought is not yet set or known. We have to enter into discussions about them.

Regarding the non-ETS target, we have some accumulated credits that date back some considerable years. The additional purchases are not that significant; the expected volume is of the order of 10 million to 15 million tonnes. This will depend on the figures because they are cumulative targets in the years 2013 to 2020. In the early years, we were below target and since the economic recovery, we have been ahead of target and these will only be known when we get to that point.

Detailed modelling work is going on in the Department on the NACP. We have indicated to the EU that that work has to be completed before we provide it with the plan. It is happy that we proceed in that way, and we will provide opportunities for people to input into it.

The just transition commissioner is something that I worked on for a considerable period to develop a response, with my colleague, the Minister, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, the details of which were contained in the budget. There are four elements to what we are doing. We are going to repurpose the PSO, so that money will come from the electricity system to fund enhanced restoration of Bord na Móna bogs. We will also then have the just transition fund, which at this point has had €11 million allocated to it this year. We will also have money allocated for non-Bord na Móna bogs restoration, and we have €20 million allocated for retrofitting.

As the Deputy will be aware, a task force is in place in the midlands and we are working closely with it. The terms of reference were decided by Government. At that level we have an implementation group led by the Taoiseach's Department. These are key players in helping us design this. There is provision for support for Mr. Mulvey both in my own Department and indeed in the region. The terms of reference have been fairly loose, in that he can come back with recommendations where we have left open an opportunity for him to shape the response. His work will shape how we deliver the just transition across a range of areas.

I am not an expert on how carbon inventories are calculated but it is certainly my understanding that there is not a count of the acreage of forest or of planting, and a credit attributed to such planting. This is an aggregate credit, which I think from memory is 26.8 million tonnes, which we received for our accumulated forestry. We will need to considerably step up our forestry coverage to maintain our calculated credits. We need to improve on where we are. It is not a question of counting things that are already there and thinking that we will get benefit from doing that. We must show that we are improving from the existing base. Deputy Fitzmaurice's idea of counting material that is already there will not give any benefit. If we improve the carbon retention of our hedgerows or plant copses within pastureland, many measures can be taken to contribute to this. The Minister of State, Deputy Andrew Doyle, is probably more of an expert than I am in that area.

The question of tax incentives has not been considered. This is above the line. Tax incentives have a bad reputation in Ireland because when they were given out, they proved very costly and did not have the same accountability or forensic design. We are trying to design measures funded from the carbon fund and other sources that we believe are tailored rather than what has happened in the past where broad-based tax incentives were given that were retained beyond the purposefulness and not forensically examined. Tax incentives do not draw support across the House generally.

We have achieved the inclusion of peat within the coal platform. As part of the green deal, there is an increasing emphasis in Europe on developing just transition funds and, therefore, there is an opportunity for us to access additional funds.

The regional enterprise strategy for the midlands focuses strongly on the transition to a low-carbon economy. IDA, Enterprise Ireland, Science Foundation Ireland and all such bodies are building their offering in respect of the regional strategy around projects like that. They are all behind the strategy.

Even in the past six months, the understanding within the EU as to our level of ambition between 2030 and 2050 has changed in recognising that if we are to meet the Paris Agreement's targets, the overall ambition agreed three to four years ago is out of date. I understand Denmark has just committed to a 70% reduction in emissions by 2030, believing that it will gain an economic advantage from that. The country's officials do not quite know how they will achieve that objective. In the recent UK election, the UK Labour Party and others said that they would decarbonise in ten years. It is in that context I ask the Minister whether he still believes that the promise in the all-of-Government action plan for a 2% per annum reduction in the next decade will be sufficient. It certainly will not be sufficient to meet the scientific advice but even within the EU context in the likelihood of an increased ambition in targets and an increased demand for greater effort-sharing, does the Minister believe that that 2% target will have to change?

Second, a recent letter from the Climate Change Advisory Council raised doubt as to how methane is going to be counted in the process and the potential argument that the agriculture sector may not have to make as significant an effort if, for a range of complex reasons, methane is treated differently as a greenhouse gas. Within the rule book of the Paris Agreement and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, UNFCCC, process, it is highly complex as to how exactly different greenhouse gases are treated. Given the advice from both the IPCC scientists who were here and our own scientists such as Peter Thorne, we cannot do what the Climate Change Advisory Council seems to be suggesting, which is to discount methane. Does the Department or the Government have a position on that yet? If not, how could they arrive at one?

On the first question, there is no doubt that the Government, similar to other governments, has lifted its ambition. When I came into office first, my target was to get us back on track. We were failing dismally to achieve our target. People may or may not attribute this to the hard work that we had to do to get all of the Departments to agree to targets that were set and that would deliver and turn that into solid projects in each of them. I am not looking for credit, but there was a lot of work in the process.

There is no doubt that the Deputy is correct. The mood has changed. Like most policymakers, I come from the tradition of examining what can be done and then drawing up targets based on a reasonable expectation of what the available policy tools will deliver. That is changing and the mood is changing in the sense that people are saying that we have to get to net zero emissions by 2050 and we have to find the policies that will deliver that outcome. If the tools we have that are tried and tested are not enough, we will have to think beyond them.

There is that shift of policy thinking, parameters or frameworks, or whatever we might like to call it. That is a shift that was very evident even this year compared to last year in Katowice. As the Deputy remarked, the Danes do not know how they are going to get this done but they are making commitments without being able to say how they are going to get there. That is a shift. We have to work through this with the EU, but it has also shifted its target from 40% to a minimum of 50% and perhaps up to 55% by 2030. That represents a shift.

It will have to embody that shift in a policy framework over the coming months by mid-year and we will have to respond to that because we share the need to lift the ambition. It is a matter that we will have to work through.

On the issue of biogenic methane, I detected a shift in the attitude of scientists towards land use. There seemed to be a greater emphasis on the need to speed up what we do in conventional energy areas and land use seems to be greatly influenced by whether we can reduce climate temperatures. Land use as a carbon store is very much influenced by global warming. There is a balance to be struck in food production and food security, and how that is to be worked through. I have read the advice of the Climate Change Advisory Council, although I get the impression that the Deputy does not agree with it. The council spoke of a different range for biogenic methane from what would apply for other greenhouse gases. We have not adopted a position on that, and the long-term strategy is out for consultation and will have to evolve. We have committed to including a 2050 target in the legislation and will doubtless engage in the Chamber on the issue in due course.

Will the Minister update the House on the production of the terms of reference for the security review and indicate whether he will consult on the matter? I return to the policy statement on petroleum exploration and production activities as part of Ireland's transition to a low-carbon economy. Such activities would call into question the Government's desire to consult on Ireland's national energy and climate action plan and pre-empt the energy security review to which the Government committed. What the Minister of State, Deputy Canney, stated in the foreword was surprising. How does the Government reconcile that with ecosystem protection, given what UCC and others have stated? Did the Minister of State consult energy companies prior to drawing that conclusion and was it signed off at Cabinet level? There has been little discussion or oversight of it.

On the NECP, I seek the exact date on which the Government will publish the draft document. It is important from the perspective of the Joint Committee on Climate Action. There was little information in that regard prior to the committee meeting earlier and the Minister should clarify the date.

Will the Government produce sectoral emission reduction pathways, and if so, when?

The terms of reference of the security and sustainability review have not been finalised. We have sought input from our agencies, such as EirGrid, in order that we can understand the concerns before setting the terms. Contrary to what was stated earlier, it is in recognition of the concerns raised, such as in respect of LNG, that we want to ensure it will be assessed. I have committed that we will not support an LNG project until we are content that the sustainability and security review has been dealt with.

The petroleum review was published on foot of our decision to stop exploring for oil. The Cabinet requested that the policy paper be put together in that context to make clear what sorts of licences could be issued. It was endorsed by Cabinet and seeks to give clarity because we want gas to continue to be explored in our waters, just as we want offshore wind facilities to be developed in our waters, and the policy references both measures.

I will have to revert to the Deputy with a date on the NECP, which is a work in progress.

Emission reduction pathways for each sector are already set out in the climate plan. The issue is that if there is enhanced ambition, such as to 2050, there will be more work to do. We have committed that three five-year carbon budgets will be presented next year, which will then have to be disaggregated for each of the sectors. There will be a hard and fast climate budget within a range, although it will not be dramatically different from what is in the plan. It will be a similar type of model and the only difference will be that it will be enshrined in law. I refer not to the individual ranges but to the five-year budget as a whole.

I too wish all the Oireachtas staff and our colleagues in the House a happy Christmas.

Everyone speaks about tonnages, figures and percentages that we have to aim for, and about the degree to which we exceed our emissions targets. Will the Minister provide a facility for Deputies to talk to the people who do the number-crunching? Everybody in Ireland talks about carbon and figures but no one understands how we determine the numbers. The Minister stated in respect of forestry that we cannot add more than 26.8 million tonnes. It is damnable that trees that have been growing since 1990 throughout the country have been left to one side because they cannot be counted. Whoever does the number-crunching had better do it right. Any public representative who is interested in the matter should be able to learn how it is done, to understand it better. It has been written about in the media and everywhere else. Everyone talks about it but does not know how the figure of 26 million tonnes was calculated. Can that be facilitated by the Minister or his Department? It might require compiling a list of people in the various sectors whom we can contact in order that they will tell us how the figure has been determined.

The EPA, which does the number-crunching, publishes its reports. Obviously, it is available to come before the committee to present its numbers. The SEAI does the number-crunching for energy alone. If we just want the energy side of things, as opposed to the wider piece, that is available from the SEAI.

Who does the agriculture side of things?

The EPA does that as well. It does the evaluation. It calculates the emissions from agriculture that arise from methane, nitrogen, oxides, urea and so on. It calculates the whole lot. Teagasc has done an estimate of how we can start to reduce those emissions.

The question of land use and forestry is much more complicated. I am happy to make an official available to talk to Deputies. As I understand it, in our inventories we do not have an accurate assessment of how land use is sequestering or releasing carbon. The manner in which carbon is released depends on how land is ploughed and on how a lot of things are done. We do not do a detailed inventory. We do not track every acre of land to see what happened this year compared with last year. We do not track how carbon is emitted depending on the way harvesting is done in a given year. That is not done. We do not count every tree and estimate the carbon sequestration that it might give. We do not track the loss of carbon from the draining of bogs. We do not do that level of inventory analysis. It is very difficult to do. The science is imperfect.

As I understand it, a credit of 26.8 million tonnes of carbon was granted to Ireland in reference to our historic planting levels. Part of that has to be earned over the next ten years. I think approximately 4 million tonnes of the total of 26.8 million tonnes will have to be earned. We will have to show that changes are being made and that we are delivering the credit. We will have to make enough changes to justify the assignment of the credit to us. My understanding is that the credit is not as accurate a science as the rest of the inventory. I will be happy to get people to talk to the Deputy.

I thank the Minister.

Is the Deputy happy to proceed?

Is that okay with the Minister?

I thank the Chair and wish everyone a happy Christmas.

Does the Minister wish to make a concluding statement?

I do not think so. We will come back to this issue at the committee when we produce the climate Bill. I am happy to share as much as I can. This is a challenging area. It is a challenge to understand much of the science and to do the modelling. It is speculative. It is not as perfect science as we might like. I am happy to share. I thank the Acting Chairman, the other Deputies and the members of staff who are present in the Chamber for their tolerance in staying here until this hour.

Before we close off proceedings here, as someone who has been in the Chair quite often over the past year, I want to thank Deputies, Ministers and staff for their courtesy and assistance and wish them all a happy Christmas. With the help of God, we will all be back here in 2020. I hope everyone enjoys the break.

The Dáil adjourned at 10.25 p.m. until 2 p.m. on Wednesday, 15 January 2020.