I am delighted to have just received a written copy of the Minister's contribution because, unfortunately, I did not get to hear a large part of it. From what I did hear, the Bill means an awful lot to the Minister and the Green Party, and that needs to be acknowledged. This is a big piece of work and it is clear from his opening contribution that this, while not the culmination because there is much work ahead, is a big moment for him and his party. It is great finally to have an opportunity to speak to the Bill on Second Stage because it feels like it has been a long time coming. It is right to acknowledge the work of the Joint Committee on Climate Action. Unfortunately, I am not a member of the committee but the work it did was fantastic. It is a credit to the Parliament that a committee can work in such a way to make changes to a Bill before it comes before the House. Whether I spend one term, six terms or however many terms in the House, very few Bills, if any, will be as important or have such an impact as this one.
The Bill is not just about today or tomorrow; it is about the very existence and sustainability of our communities, our country and, if its principles are applied in other countries, the planet. Climate change is being experienced globally in dramatic ways and that is clear to see, but it is also being experienced in this country in dramatic ways, with flooding, extreme weather events in summer and winter and coastal erosion. It is not something that is just for sub-Saharan Africa, the outback in Australia or South America; it is everywhere, including here. That is why the Bill is important and it is why we welcome it and will work on Committee and Remaining Stages to bring amendments to strengthen it. Hopefully, some of those amendments, if not all of them, will be taken on board.
A number of issues remain of great concern and we believe they will work to weaken the integrity of the Bill, possibly undermining future climate action plans and carbon budgets. The understanding of climate justice as outlined in the Bill is very weak and there is only one mention of a just transition. Even this one mention seems both narrow and constrained in definition and ambition. We would like the definition of climate justice to be amended to recognise the need for equitable responses to the climate and biodiversity crisis that address inequalities and incorporate human rights at their core. The just transition principles should be defined as a framework for interventions that support affected workers and communities. These principles should be the foundation for all climate action plans and activities of public bodies under the Bill.
While the Bill has been strengthened and the Government has listened to some concerns, it needs to listen more. It needs to review the submissions made to the climate action committee from NGOs, trade unions and those working with the marginalised and vulnerable. I ask the Minister to examine many of them but in particular that given by the Community Law & Mediation centre, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and the Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice. The submission was informed by work with communities who experience poverty, social exclusion and inequality. They called on the Government to strengthen the definitions of climate justice and a just transition, and we can look to the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009, as amended over the years, for a better way to do this. We can do this on Committee Stage and it must be done.
There must also be a strong reference to promoting sustainable development in line with the UN's sustainable development goals, which is also notably absent from the Bill. When talking about climate justice and just transition, we need to listen to those who work with those on the very edge of society. The Bill, as it stands, does not reflect that and we believe it can do more. On the issue of workers, the appointment of ICTU general secretary, Ms Patricia King, to the just transition advisory committee is very welcome. Ensuring an outcome that works for all workers is at the core of how we tackle climate change.
The Government has committed to giving statutory effect to ending the issuing of new licences for the exploration and extraction of gas. The Government has indicated that the commitment will be provided for in legislation on Committee Stage. Why not include it for debate on Second Stage? Why will the Government not impose a ban on LNG infrastructure being developed to facilitate the importation of fracked gas? The programme for Government included an explicit commitment to bringing this forward as a policy to end the importation of fracked gas and LNG. This gap must be addressed in the Bill and the Government must publish a comprehensive plan to ban the importation of fracked gas and, specifically, to ban LNG terminals in Ireland within 2021.
Overall, I believe that the weaknesses in this area are due to the influence of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. The Minister paid tribute to them and that is understandable, but the two parties need to stop playing an overall-defensive game when it comes to climate change. Instead of defending the status quo, they need to embrace ambition and understand that if we are to meet our targets, not only will one or two sections of our society need to change but all of it will need to do so. If we are to meet our targets as set out in the Bill, we need to be honest with ourselves. If we are to reduce our emissions by 7% annually, as is the target, we must begin to visualise what that will look like. Ireland and how we live our lives will not look the same if we meet our 7% annual targets. How we live, travel, commute, work, socialise and everything else will look and be very different.
Over the past year, we have experienced an Ireland that was unrecognisable. It changed to both our eye and our lived experience. Industrial activity dropped, transport use decreased and during the most stringent lockdowns, the roads were quiet. We will all tell future generations about how quiet the streets were and the impact of Covid-19 on our lives, how people spoke of being able to hear nature again and how our natural environment re-asserted itself in our built communities.
We experienced a quieter, slower paced Ireland and this was replicated in many countries and regions all over the world. All that decrease in activity ultimately equated to a carbon reduction of 6.4% globally and 5.9% in Ireland. A unique global event like the Covid pandemic, about which we will be speaking for generations and which slowed the pace at which we live our lives, only resulted in a carbon reduction of just shy of 6%.
Over the past year, there has been a massive decrease in transport emissions but this was offset by increased home energy consumption while food production and agriculture remained constant. Transport, agriculture, home energy and large industry are the four areas responsible for the vast majority of our emissions and each will require ambitious programmes of assistance and reform if we are to be a climate leader and shake our title of climate laggard.
The pandemic has highlighted just how committed individuals are in wanting to restore our biodiversity, improve our environment and save our planet. We see it with every planting of a wildflower meadow or pollinator patch and with the uptick in active travel, the use of electric scooters and cycling. People want to reduce their carbon footprint but they need assistance.
In the area of home retrofitting, the plan to spend €8.7 billion on 500,000 deep retrofits in addition to the installation of 400,000 renewable heating systems in homes is daunting but it must be carried out. Up to this point, the retrofitting of homes was the preserve of the well-off. The poor and those struggling to make ends meet simply cannot afford to even think about retrofitting their homes. It is now accepted that the SEAI support schemes that have existed over recent years were not sufficiently geared towards meeting our targets. The retrofit programmes for which funds were allocated in the Government's latest budget, including the one-stop-shop for people to apply for subsidies for heat pumps, solar panels and insulation, need to be fast-tracked. These programmes must be State-led and the cost to people must be negligible. If the carbon tax is to be retained, this is what it should be spent on.
There is added value to be obtained from such programmes if they include robust apprenticeship opportunities with a focus on the trade crafts. Other elements of government are also focusing on this. I have concerns about some elements of that, but we need an improved State-led apprenticeship scheme and we can use the retrofitting of our homes to that end. The trade unions have done a lot of work in that space and I ask that more of their input be taken on board. Our net targets for reduction will not be met unless retrofitting is conducted on an ambitious scale.
Agriculture remains a real point of discussion and contention that needs to be resolved. We have seen issues in this sector informing today's debate. We have a good understanding of how to drive down emissions generally but this remains a challenge with regard to agriculture. There is a fair and just solution for farmers. Labour wants to create a farming and diversification scheme to help boost farm families' incomes and to promote alternative sustainable uses of farmland. The Government could also look at supports to help with farm modernisation and to help the next generation of young farmers. Such supports could include the reintroduction of the early retirement scheme, extending the second targeted agricultural modernisation scheme, TAMS II, beyond 2020, and implementing a standardised and simplified hedge cutting grant scheme. Helping farmers to diversify into areas such as biofuel and ensuring that such diversification is rewarded with a good living is vital.
Some people are drawing pretty stark battle lines in this area. This is unhelpful and will help nobody. We cannot allow it to happen. Our agriculture industry is suffering as a result of climate change. Flood risk and extreme weather events have challenged the ability of our farmers to pursue traditional farming methods and such challenges will only intensify if we do not tackle climate change effectively. I represent a constituency with a large and growing agricultural sector and have seen at first hand the enthusiasm of those communities and workers to embrace change. They do, however, need assistance and assurance that their livelihoods will not be impacted.
With regard to transport, we know the solution. We need greater uptake of, and greater investment in, public transport. It still does not feel like we are being ambitious enough to get there. Commuting was not working for commuters before Covid. One in ten workers spent more than an hour travelling to work every day, with commuter losing an average of five hours per week stuck in traffic. Dublin was the third worst city in the world for congestion, which is not only bad for our economy and for workers' mental health, but for the environment. Our air quality results have proven that. Transport in Ireland remains a significant contributor to carbon emissions. According to the 2017 figures, at 19.8%, it was the second largest emitter, behind agriculture.
There are further challenges in respect of public transport. Covid has thrown us a curve ball which we will have to work through. I refer to social distancing. Our buses and trains are running at 50% capacity. We do not know when it will be safe to increase the numbers allowed to travel on them. Unfortunately, we are seeing the car industry trying to use that to get people back into cars. We have seen this issue used as a marketing strategy to try to get people to turn their backs on public transport, including the bus and the train. Preying on people's fears in this regard is absolutely abhorrent and which we must challenge with ambitious positive policy.
How do we do this? We need to look at the cost of commuting. Cost is still a barrier to people taking public transport, particularly those living on the outskirts of cities who have great distances to travel. The limited competition that has been introduced in some sectors has not served to reduce prices. Fares only increased. We need infrastructural improvements such as proper segregated commuter cycle lanes for people travelling long distances at relatively high speeds. There are cyclists who want to cycle in from Balbriggan, Swords, Greystones and Newbridge but it is not safe for them to do so. Those cycle lanes need to be delivered. We may need to look at doing something like what was done in Luxembourg, where free public transport has been implemented. We could introduce that as a pilot scheme. It would be ambitious but it would greatly assist people on low incomes, some of whom have to pay for kids to take Dublin Bus services to school. Why do people take public transport? It is not for the comfort of sitting on a bus and admiring the scenery. It is to go to work or to school, to go shopping or to visit people, when that is allowed. It is to contribute to both the economy and society. Let us value that contribution and invest in it.
I will return to the responsibilities of corporations and large industry. This is an area in which I am concerned we will not make the required progress. I voiced my concerns about the carbon emissions related to data centres. We are on course to have more than 100 data centres in this country by 2025. The Minister knows how much energy these centres use. It is extraordinary. They also have an unbelievable appetite for water, another area of resource security we need to tackle. During the recent level 5 restrictions, data centre construction projects were considered essential while building houses to deal with the housing crisis was not. This is an indication of the importance of these centres to the industrial strategy of the State. Research I had commissioned shows that data centres could account for up to 29% of our overall emissions by 2030. That is incredible and very worrying. The corporate power purchase agreements in place mean that these companies will be siphoning off renewable energy that has not yet been created. Who is ultimately winning in this? We have a great deal of retrospective work to do with regard to our homes and existing industries but we are now creating new industries that emit an astronomical volume of carbon but that provide few jobs. We are going to have to create an awful lot of renewable energy just to power these industries. As far as we are concerned, it is bad environmental policy and we need to tackle it.
Corporations are also seeking to present themselves as climate activists. I am very suspicious of this. They are aware that this is good marketing and that there is a good euro or dollar to be made from presenting themselves as green and environmentally friendly and aware. We cannot be fooled. They are ultimately motivated only by profit and share price. Any attempt to greenwash products with self-regulated carbon labelling needs to be tackled by the State. Carbon labelling will come. Large conglomerates are trying to introduce it. We cannot allow this to happen. A few weeks ago, I introduced the National Standards Authority of Ireland (Carbon Footprint Labelling) Bill 2021 on First Stage. I ask that the Minister include its provisions as part of his climate action plan. We need a trusted, State-led carbon labelling system that does not allow corporations to greenwash their products. We can be leaders on this and set the standard. We can do it, so let us.
In my final few minutes, I will speak to a number of elements of the Bill that have been changed or presented. In section 4, there is a new clause with regard to the limitation of liability. This is a good idea. No one should be allowed to sue the State because of climate action having reduced his or her ability to make a profit. There is a principle involved which we are seeing in the debate on the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, CETA, and the investor court, which is the reason we oppose the agreement. This is a similar principle and it is welcome to see it included in the Bill. We also have to recognise that there have been studies done in this area.
I point to the study of Dr. Rachel Hilliard in NUI Galway, who has done some Irish based research on how strong environmental rules can benefit enterprises. Basically, some firms will want a strong floor of regulation so that they cannot be undercut by firms cutting costs on the environmental side, either in their own countries or elsewhere. Good work can be done here and it is welcome to see that included.
Section 6 states that the Minister "shall have regard to" a long list of sources from subsection (a) through to subsection (r). This is an understandable attempt to be comprehensive but it could unintentionally lead to people ticking boxes on a checklist or writing long reports to satisfy this clause as opposed to complying with the spirit of the law, which will be onerous on Ministers, Departments and many people. Climate change is not easy, however. We are so far down a bad road that to get back up will require some difficult choices and decisions. Those decisions have to be made because it is too important.
We need a further discussion on carbon leakage. This is the system of transferring products to other countries with less restrictive regimes that we are hoping to bring in through this Bill. It is an important concept but we have a concern that if this is not implemented or structured correctly, firms could get out of meeting their targets here through carbon leakage.
We welcome the implementation of carbon budgets and we support it in principle. It is a good idea. The Bill states: "The Advisory Council shall prepare and submit a proposed carbon budget programme". This is an onerous task so I ask the Minister whether he has plans to increase the staff numbers and resources of the advisory council so it can do this work quickly and effectively. There is also concern about the carbon budgets and the work that needs to be done because they are five-year cycles. Therefore, an awful lot of the heavy lifting will have to be done in the second and subsequent carbon budgets. That is a big problem, particularly when one considers the likelihood of the lifetime of any Government exceeding five years, and we are already nearly a year into this Government. We need to ensure that this Bill is strengthened so that the heavy lifting begins early because it will become a cumulative effect. We have already lost so much ground and if we lose ground next year and the year after then subsequent carbon budgets will have almost impossible tasks in catching up.
The Minister set a target of four months before which Ministers shall lay carbon budgets before the Oireachtas. Why is the target four months? Surely Ministers knew this was coming. We have waited a number of months for this Bill to be brought to us for discussion on Second Stage but Ministers will have had a heads-up that they will need to do work on carbon budgets so why will it take four months? Surely it could be a short time after this Bill passes through the House.
We will bring forward a number of amendments on Committee Stage but that will be in the spirit of strengthening the Bill. We acknowledge it is a good Bill that has been strengthened through pre-legislative scrutiny. Whatever the outcome of the Bill, it is important it works as best as possible and that we all work together to reduce our carbon emissions and to help tackle climate change collectively.