Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Thursday, 6 May 2021

Vol. 1006 No. 5

Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Bill 2021: Second Stage (Resumed)

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I appreciate the opportunity to discuss a Bill that has real potential to benefit, not just our generation, but future generations. I would go as far as saying that this Bill has the potential to be transformative for Irish society and to instil a real sense of pride in our response to climate action. I know this is an important Bill for the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, and his party, for which his colleagues have shown a real passion and determination. I also acknowledge the contribution of the Joint Committee on Climate Action for its input on the Bill. I watched the Minister being heckled two weeks ago when introducing this fundamental Bill but I, for one, wish to thank him for bringing it before the Oireachtas.

Agriculture is one sector that has raised some concerns and while many challenges exist for it, this sector also has the potential to positively address climate action. There will be a need for real and meaningful engagement to address the concerns of this sector. The Bill will provide for extensive consultation in the development of carbon budgets and future plans and strategies, ensuring effective public and stakeholder participation at all key steps of the process, which I welcome. It is also important to look at the prospective benefits when farmers engage proactively on climate change. For example, the results based environment-agri pilot project, REAP, is an important step. I am specifically thinking of farmers availing of REAP who choose to use more renewable energy in their farms, as I suspect this would increase their environmental scores. This, in turn, would lead to greater payments under schemes such as REAP, which I suspect we will see expanded over time. I welcome this.

At constituency level in Mayo, I was impressed with the efforts of local communities in their work on becoming decarbonisation zones. It shows there is a real appetite among community groups to take this issue seriously and raise awareness of it. Some specific issues have been raised with me by constituents about this proposed legislation and they need to be addressed. For instance, there is a need for more detail on the principles of climate justice and a just transition. There is a demand to provide more clarification on the interpretation of the 2030 targets, which is an important step. There also seems to be a lack of targets set for aviation, shipping, non-territorial emissions and offshore mitigation.

The regional airports programme, which is of significant benefit to small airports, also supports sustainability objectives. It may be worthwhile discussing how sustainability funding under the programme can be increased and indeed, putting in place similar sustainability funding increases over time for other transport modes and sectors. One that comes to mind is the western rail corridor, which is an important piece of infrastructure.

This is a critical junction for Ireland, at which we need to choose the right path and grasp the nettle versus failing to act. In doing so, we need to put our money where our mouths are on climate change. I note that the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, acknowledged the significant level of investment required by ESB for our electricity network assets and renewable generation assets in previous debates on this Bill. I was glad to hear that plans are in place to increase the statutory borrowing limit of the ESB from its current level of €6 billion to €12 billion to support this.

I acknowledge the thousands of young people and students around the country who stood up and said that now is the time for action, urging Government to prioritise measures to protect against the ravages of climate breakdown. This ranged from the Youth Assembly on Climate Change coming into the Dáil to the school strikers and the many green activists who lined our streets. This Government is listening, and more importantly, acting. I welcome this Bill and look forward to supporting it.

I thank Deputy Dillon for sharing his time with me. I also welcome the opportunity to say a few words on what is a significant Bill. The Bill is not in itself the outline of the challenge but it is the framework within which the challenge of climate change will be addressed. It is important in that context, no matter what position we come from as long we are not climate change deniers, that we are open to debate and consideration. There is a great deal of prejudice, propaganda, misinformation and ideology. There are also many instances of big business trying to shape, inform and influence the direction of this debate. To be honest, there is also quite a lot of nonsense being spoken in the context of this legislation and some of that is being done in this House. It is important that we have a calm and rational debate on what is the challenge of our generation. In that context, I welcome the legislation.

I have reservations, particularly regarding the responsibilities being laid at the door of the Climate Change Advisory Council. I draw the Minister of State's attention to the difference in the ask of the council and the ask that we have successfully had for several years of the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council, IFAC. The IFAC does not introduce the financial budget. However, it does exert extraordinary and positive influence in ensuring that we maintain the public finances in good stead. Instead, what we are doing with the Climate Change Advisory Council is outsourcing the responsibilities, which should rest in the Executive and ultimately for approval in the Oireachtas, for carbon budgets. I would like the Minister of State to address that issue in his reply to the debate because the council, as I understand it, will propose the budget. The Minister may amend it in the context of engagement with the council and the Government will subsequently approve it. Simply put, that is a slight on the function of this House and on its primary duty and accountability for budget matters, be it for fiscal or carbon budgets. Lest there be any doubt, carbon budgets are the right way to go. People might argue that this is a moot point. I do not think so but I would be interested in hearing, in particular, the Minister of State's rationale behind the difference in approach with the IFAC and the Climate Change Advisory Council.

I welcome other provisions in the Bill. In particular, I welcome the obligation on the Climate Change Advisory Council to be cognisant of a number of issues, for example, the requirement for a just transition. In this context, I allude to a decision on something that is already a closed issue in the Government's approach, which is licences for exploration. I have yet to be convinced we can achieve a just transition and the targets to which we aspire, and they are rightly ambitious targets, while at the same time putting ourselves at a significant disadvantage by virtue of being reliant to the extent we are on imported fossil fuels, in particular what is recognised as a transition fuel, which is natural gas. I cannot fault the ambition but I wonder how realistic it is and I would like to hear the Minister address this matter.

I am also glad to see in the context of the Bill that the Climate Change Advisory Council is obliged to be cognisant of leakage, notwithstanding that the weaponised wing of the environmental movement disagrees, and An Taisce came before the Oireachtas committee on agriculture and dissed the issue of carbon leakage. In other words, if we were to sacrifice the national herd on the altar of climate change, the reality is that on a global scale, and this is a global challenge, there would be no net gain because we are one of the most efficient producers of food globally. The Climate Change Advisory Council is also obliged to be cognisant of biogenic methane and its specific characteristics regarding the requirement for a just transition and the impact on the rural economy. All of these are important steps.

It is understandable that Irish agriculture attracts a lot of interest because one third of the emissions in the Irish economy comes from the agricultural sector. It is marginally over one third at 34%. It is important to put this in context. If we were to lift Irish agriculture, lock, stock and barrel, and put it into any other developed country in terms of its modus operandi and its production systems, it would be far more efficient than the production system of any of those jurisdictions. The emissions profile, because of the historical industrial heritage other countries have, would be in single digits. It is because of this significant percentage of 34% that we attract unfair heat in the agricultural sector.

That said, the agricultural sector needs to embrace the concept of climate change. I can honestly say that, in my time as Minister with responsibility for agriculture, this was abundantly apparent. Why do I say this? It is because we export 90% of what we produce. The international marketplaces are increasingly cognisant of consumer asks in terms of sustainability. The future of Irish agriculture in this context is inextricably linked with efficiency economically but also efficiency from a climate change and sustainability point of view in terms of productivity. We need to continue with these improvements. We need to accelerate the pace of these improvements. More importantly, the sector must be seen to embrace the challenge of climate change. There must be no more mealy-mouthed resistance to every step along the journey. I would say this to farm leaders, for whom I have the greatest of respect with regard to the challenges they face, they need to step out front and lead in this debate. This is where the long-term interests of Irish agriculture are.

It is a sad state of affairs that it has come to pass, even within the Oireachtas, that the farming community is now fair game for unfair criticism in many respects from members of all political parties and none. This is a significant fact that should be taken on board by farmers and their leaders. As a declaration of interest, I am a farmer's son, I farmed myself and I represent a largely rural constituency. I have the greatest time and respect for the work and commitment of the farming community. Equally, I know that they hurt because of unfair criticism and that they are doing everything that has been asked of them, much of it unknown to many of the people who are highly critical of them today.

It seems that everybody is now an expert on agriculture. It appears to be almost the case that there is a willingness to turn a blind eye to a fundamental fact. Whether people are vegan, vegetarian, flexitarian or are meat and two veg people, in the production of food, greenhouse gases are produced. This is an inescapable scientific fact. What we should be aspiring to is a move to be a part of what is already under way, which is a global shift to those who are the most economically and environmentally efficient producers of food. In essence, this is the question that has to be answered not just here but globally. Who should produce our food? In the context of this debate, it is inescapably the answer that those who should produce it are first and foremost those who do it efficiently from a climate change and sustainability point of view.

In this context, it is worth pointing out that the Joint Research Centre of the European Union has said the Irish dairy industry is the most efficient not just in Europe but, along with New Zealand, globally. Why would we sacrifice our dairy industry on an altar of expediency when that opportunity would then be taken up by others? Would we prefer a shedload of 10,000 cows in California or the deserts of north Africa or Saudi Arabia or 1,000 cows across a parish in rural Ireland that are grass fed, outdoors for nine or ten months of the year and whose sustainability credentials, by any stretch of the imagination, are far better than anybody else producing dairy? It begs the question as to whether the criticism is ideologically driven by a resistance and objection in principle to meat and dairy in people who would prefer that we drink almond juice. They might like to call it almond milk. A litre of almond milk, or almond juice more correctly, requires 6,000 l of water to produce. This is something that is very often lost.

With regard to methane, it is imperative the Climate Change Advisory Council, with its scientific basis, does the scientific analysis. Carbon in the atmosphere lasts for 1,000 years. The 100 cows being milked on the average dairy farm today are not adding to the problem of climate change because those 100 cows only produce methane similar to cows of 12 years ago. Methane gas has a finite lifespan. It is a flow gas which, as it is emitted, is expiring. It has a 12-year life cycle. This is very different from carbon. This is why the challenges for the agricultural sector need to be very different from the challenges for the built environment and the transport sector. This is something that very often is not appreciated. The net point is we are not adding to global warming by virtue of our herd. Methane makes a finite contribution as it is a cyclical flow gas and this needs to be taken into account.

The importance of the rural economy and Irish agriculture to this country was abundantly manifest in the last crash in the economy when it was one of the bedrocks upon which we rebuilt. Globally, our reputation is second to none and I have seen this at first hand. It is regrettable that people resort to name-calling with regard to the Irish agricultural sector when internationally we have a reputation that many would seek to knock off us, and we need to be very careful about this.

Irish agriculture needs to embrace wholeheartedly the challenges of climate change. There have been improvements in herd genetics and soil fertility and in reducing the use of chemical fertilisers through better use and application of slurries. Not many people know, for example, that we measure the carbon footprint of approximately 50,000 farmers involved in the green low-carbon agri-environment scheme run by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.

The Irish agricultural sector is doing a lot. It is willing to take further steps and to embrace and accelerate the changes required but it cannot be asked to fall under a Dublin Bus, an Iarnród Éireann train or, God forbid, a four-wheel drive in suburbia. We will carry our share, and in terms of the public goods we are asked to deliver, there is nobody who will shirk in the agricultural sector provided farmers are adequately remunerated for those challenges. That is a big challenge for my successor in the context of the next reform of the Common Agricultural Policy.

This debate should not be seen in the context of agriculture as a binary choice between meat on the one hand and vegetables or plant-based diets on the other. We have seen in recent days the safefood report on meat substitutes which will be interesting in terms of the debate around public health. I referenced earlier big business seeking to influence the climate change debate. Anywhere one looks, in terms of research online, it is abundantly clearly that this is big money chasing economic opportunity and trying to undermine the reputation of farmers and those involved in primary food production.

I believe that the agricultural sector can and will play its role. It has a very positive contribution to make, not as the problem in the context of climate change but in the context of the solutions. Nobody in this country is more aware of the consequences of climate change than the farming community who make their living from the land and who are out there every day witnessing more extreme weather events, droughts and flooding. If they are treated appropriately and with respect, and if we can step back from our individual prejudices and ideology, we can collectively meet the challenge which is imperative for our children and grandchildren's sake, for financial reasons because of the fines and from the farmer's point of view because the marketplace is demanding it also.

Climate change is a hugely significantly challenge for humanity and there is a real urgency in dealing with it. This Bill sets out to take on the challenges. People are making efforts in their everyday lives and there is goodwill there in taking on those challenges. The burden varies from person to person but it is appearing to fall disproportionately on some people more than others. This is a real concern. Any transition must be a just transition and the State has its role to play in that just transition as well.

There are households who heat their homes with solid fuels - turf, timber or coal - and they want to insulate their homes. They are being pushed to the pin of their collar with the cost of fuel yet they are kept waiting for the opportunity to insulate their homes and to get funding through the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, SEAI. It can take up to two years for SEAI to inspect a house, not to mention to get the work done subsequently. In the meantime, householders are paying more for fuel. There needs to be a greater energy in terms of SEAI in rolling out those housing grants. It is not the only example of where the State is dragging its heels.

Where people want to develop green tourism in terms of our clean green environment and have public electric car-charging points at different places around the country, the local authorities are just not advancing the infrastructure. I have raised this previously with the Minister. SEAI has funding to build public electric car-charging points yet less than half of the local authorities have made inquiries about that funding, and no more than two or three local authorities have drawn down funding to put in place infrastructure. This is despite there being funding available and it being part of the local authorities' development plans to put in place electric infrastructure.

Transport networks need to be advanced to give people an alternative to driving to work or college, and I have raised this repeatedly with the Minister. One must realise that even when this is done, in many rural areas the car will still remain the only realistic option for many people. It is difficult to expect people who do not have alternatives to keep paying more and more for basic everyday journeys. It must be taken into consideration. A just transition is necessary and the State agencies must play their role in delivering that.

On wind energy, for far too long some communities have felt that they have been carrying more than their fair share of wind farm developments, with more and more being built in the same areas and putting pressure on those communities. There needs to be a greater emphasis on moving to offshore options. Offshore must be explored more. There is an emphasis on that now and that is a positive. It is good to see that movement. Can the Minister of State, Deputy Ossian Smyth, clarify whether that emphasis will exist for new and-or existing developments because we see a great many of the wind farms around us moving into the second third of their life span and they will need a renewal of their planning permission in the five to ten years ahead? Where will they stand? Will the emphasis push them out into the sea or will they be taken down as part of an offshore move? That needs to be clarified.

Many farmers feel victimised in the whole situation. They have been the custodians of the countryside over many generations. They are providing clean green food locally yet they are perceived as damaging the environment and needing to scale down livestock numbers, which, in turn, would result in the need for food to be transported long distances from other countries. It is a lazy criticism of agriculture and does not take into account the huge work on the environment that farmers continue to do. Science has been applied in numerous different ways, whether it is in the genomics or in fertilisers. There are further opportunities there for agriculture. It does not have to be a lazy option of reducing numbers, on which farmers feel threatened.

Credit should also be given for hedgerows. Teagasc estimates that 7% of the countryside is covered by them yet the hedgerows are not getting the recognition for their carbon sink value that they should be.

Through its passage in the Oireachtas and the debate and the engagement with the Members, I hope that this Bill will be amended and strengthened because there must be buy-in from all different sides and people must have ownership of it if there is any chance for it to be successful, and we need it to be successful.

Tá dúshlán mór roimh an bpobal i gcoitinne ó thaobh athrú aeráide de agus tá dea-thoil ann, i measc an phobail, chun dul i ngleic leis an dúshlán sin. Tá sé fíorthábhachtach a aithint nach bhfuil an dúshlán nó an t-ualach sin ag titim go cothrom ar gach aon duine. Níor chóir an claonadh sin a bheith ann. Chaithfí cothrom na Féinne a bheith ann i gcomhair gach aon duine. Má tá aon just transition chun bheith ann, ní leor labhairt faoi. Chaithfí é a chur i bhfeidhm i gcomhair an phobail. Mar a luaigh mé, bíonn tithe atá cóngarach dúinn, agus tá aithne againn go léir orthu, ag úsáid breosla ar nós guail, adhmaid, nó móna chun an tigh a théamh.

Fiú dá mba rud é gur theastaigh uathu insliú a dhéanamh ar an tigh, bheidís ag feitheamh thart ar dhá bhliain chun go gceadódh an Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, SEAI, deontais dóibh. Níl sé sin sásúil in aon chor. Ba chóir don Stát a bheith ábalta brostú ar aghaidh agus daoine a chur ar a gcumas an t-athrú sin a dhéanamh, nuair atá an dea-thoil ann agus nuair a theastaíonn uathu é a dhéanamh.

Ní hé an SEAI an t-aon ghrúpa Stáit atá ag déanamh faillí ann ná a bhfuil leisce air. Tá sé le feiceáil chomh maith i measc na gcomhairlí contae leis an lagéileamh atá ann maidir chun na car chargers leictreacha a chur ar fáil i measc an phobail.

Níl fiú ach leath dóibh tar éis fiosrú a dhéanamh mar gheall ar na deontais seo agus níl ach dhá nó trí chomhairle tar éis airgead a éileamh chun na chargers a chur i bhfeidhm in ainneoin go bhfuil sé mar chuid den phlean forbartha sna contaetha éagsúla.

Ní leor a bheith ag labhairt mar gheall ar just transition nó chothrom na Féinne a thabhairt do dhaoine. Chaithfí é a chur i bhfeidhm agus tá ról ag an Stát maidir leis sin.

Maidir le gaoth, braitheann an-chuid pobail in áiteanna a bhfuil an t-ualach ag titim san áit chéanna arís agus arís eile agus go gcaithfí druidim amach i dtreo na farraige chun fuinneamh a chinntiú.

Is rud dearfach é go bhfuil an iarracht sin á déanamh. Chaithfí a aithint go raibh an-chuid feirmeacha gaoithe ann anois le 15 bliain agus níos mó agus go mbeidís ag druidim leis an tréimhse a bheadh athnuachan ag teastáil ar an gcead pleanála. Mar sin, an bhféadfadh leis an Aire Stáit an scéal ansin a shoiléiriú?

An mbeidh an claonadh i dtreo na farraige ag cur isteach ar na ceadanna pleanála sin? An mbeidh an athnuachan sin ar fáil nó an mbeidh ar na feirmeacha gaoithe, a bhfuil cuid acu ann le thart ar 15 bliain agus níos mó, an athnuachan a thógáil anuas agus rudaí á mbrú amach i dtreo na farraige? Ba mhaith liom soiléiriú air sin.

Ní bhaineann an gné eile seo go díreach leis an mBille ach tá sé tábhachtach aird an Aire Stáit a tharraingt air agus tá sé mar gheall ar na deontais phobail a bhíonn ar fáil ó na feirmeacha gaoithe. Le fada an lá, cuireann cuid acu, luaim cuid mar nach bhfuil sé acu go léir, deontais ar fáil don phobal. Tá nasc díreach idir an pobal agus an fheirm ghaoithe.

Tá gluaiseacht anois atá ag cur eagraíochta eile eatarthu, chun go mbeidh na deontais sin á scaipeadh i measc an phobail ag eagraíochtaí eile amhail coistí forbartha cosúil leis na grúpaí LEADER agus mar sin de. Braithim go gcuireann sé sin bearna ann nó go n-osclaíonn sé spás idir an pobal agus na feirmeacha gaoithe agus na daoine atá ag baint brabúis as an infreastruchtúr.

Anuas air sin, braitheann go leor den phobal nach bhfuil aon scrúdú ceart ná oversight ann maidir leis an gcaiteachas a bheidh ar fáil agus go bhféadfadh thart ar 10% de na deontais a úsáid i gcomhair administration costs agus i gomhair na deontais a scaipeadh iad féin agus nach bhfuil aon eagraíocht le oversight air sin agus is cailliúint don phobal é sin.

Mar sin, tá dhá dheacracht ann agus is fiú iad a scrúdú mar is amhlaidh go bhfuil an tAire Stáit ag briseadh an naisc dhaingin, má tá aon nasc ann, idir pobal agus na feirmeacha gaoithe atá ag baint brabúis as. Tá sé fíorthábhachtach, má tá a leithéid d’infreastruchtúr i gceantar, go bhfeiceann an pobal go bhfuil tairbhe leis agus nach mbíonn siad ag braith an rud diúltach an t-am ar fad ann.

Ba cheart go mbeadh nasc díreach ann, fiú dá mba rud é go raibh deis ag daoine a bheith ag charging an gluaisteán sa chlós go mbeadh a fhios acu go raibh an leictreachas ag teacht díreach ó na muilte gaoithe a bhí thuas ar an sliabh os a gcionn. Ba cheart go mbeadh tairbhe ann go díreach ansin sa mhuileann.

De réir mar a bheidh an Bille seo ag bogadh ar aghaidh, beidh roinnt athruithe ag teastáil ann. Tá sé fíorthábhachtach go mbeidh an comhoibriú ann; go mbeidh deis ag na grúpaí leasmhara éagsúla go léir éifeacht a bheith acu ar an mBille; go mbeidh aon leasuithe riachtanacha ann chun a chinntiú go mbeidh an buy-in ann; go mbeidh gach duine ar aon aigne agus chun go mbeidh deis ag an mBille dul chun cinn.

Beimid ag coimeád súil ghéar air. Teastaíonn uainn go mbeidh dul chun cinn ann. Is gá go mbeidh dul chun cinn ann maidir le cúrsaí timpeallachta. Caithfidh an Stát agus an just transition sin a bheith ag feidhmiú chomh maith agus caithfidh an Stát a ról a dhéanamh ann chomh maith.

I welcome this opportunity to contribute to the debate. This island is but a small dot on the world's surface but we have been part of the developed world since the first farmers cultivated lands around the Céide Fields and other communities constructed Newgrange and the other monuments in the Boyne Valley. The cultivation of the land and the building of homes and towns over the following 7,000 years of human activity did not affect our climate or damage our environment. It was only with the invention of the steam engine in the middle of the 19th century that we start to record small changes to our environment and effects on our climate. It was another 100 years before we started to see a noticeable increase in CO² levels but over the past 70 years that rise, year-on-year, has been dramatic. CO² pollution levels have increased by 43% globally during our lifetime.

Ireland has been part of this explosion in CO² levels, with emissions per person reaching 13,300 kg in 2017, the third highest in the EU, just behind Bulgaria and Luxembourg, or 2.5 times the global average of 5,500 kg per person. To put this in context, it is suggested that I may have produced more than 70 kg of CO² by travelling by car to the Dáil this week to carry out my parliamentary duties and returning home to Clarecastle at the weekend. However, I am now driving a hybrid car so I have started to play my part in reducing my carbon use.

We have all witnessed the effects of carbon use on our climate. The past decade in Ireland has been the wettest in the past 300 years, with average rainfall rising from 912 mm in 1971 to 12,024 mm in 2018. Ireland's average temperature varied by 8.2°C in the 1960s but this had increased to 10.1°C by 2018. Over the past five years, Ireland has experienced its wettest winter and its hottest summer on record. We had the stormiest winter in 147 years, as well as our first taste of a near-intact Atlantic hurricane. We are designing and constructing almost 100 flood protection projects throughout the country to protect our towns and cities from severe climactic events, including in my own constituency of Clare. Significant projects are planned along the River Shannon and its tributaries, such as the River Fergus, to protect homes and businesses in Ennis, Shannon and Springfield, Clonlara.

Scientists have set out many strategies to correct the situation and put the global community back on the best path to restoring our climate. Put simply, the increased carbon that we created over the past 70 years must be reserved in the next 30 years, before 2050. While some see this as dramatic and harsh, there is no doubt that we have to take numerous small steps as well as many large steps for the good of mankind, our environment and our climate.

The main changes seem to be in our use of carbon fuels and energy to provide heat, light, transport and the production of consumer, industrial and food products. I want to express my reservations about the effects of these measures on two particular sectors, namely, the aviation sector and the agricultural sector. The aviation sector is a major component of the economic activity in County Clare and the entire mid-west region, with Shannon Airport at its hub. The aviation sector has been signalled as a contributor to increased CO² levels. I am aware there are many research projects in developing electric and solar powered planes, but these projects are going to take many years to come fully into operation. We may need to see increased investment in these projects, along with reduced targets in the early years, while retaining the overall targets for 2050. I believe that with the possible development of these new modes of air travel, Shannon, as an aviation hub, will have a bright future into the next century.

These measures are necessary in order to protect Shannon Airport, the aviation-related industries based around Shannon, and the tourism sector for the entire west coast. While talking about Shannon, I must also mention Moneypoint power station and its transition from a so-called dirty coal-burning power producer in a deepwater facility to be becoming a major base for renewable energy with the building of two major wind farms off the coast of County Clare. It will see Ireland's first move into the production of green hydrogen fuel with a view to exporting the fuel from the deepwater berth at the facility in the Shannon Estuary. There is also the possibility of the manufacturing of wind turbines at this facility for wind farms and possibly the manufacturing and exporting of turbines to all corners of the world. This is a good example of how County Clare is making a major contribution in transforming from the old technology to the new green economy and the opportunities it can bring to all of us.

Regarding agriculture and the agricultural sector, there has been much shouting at and lecturing of farmers in this whole process, but we must remember that farmers have been the greatest environmentalists and that they have nurtured their land for many generations. We must also recognise that the Irish dairy sector produces the most environmentally efficient dairy products in the world. The same can be said of the Irish beef farmer. Irish farmers have responded positively to changed circumstances over recent decades, especially since we joined the EU. I have no doubt that Irish farmers will respond positively to the measures we need to take in the coming years, but we must engage with the farmers on the ground. We must create a greater awareness and understanding of the measures that we need to take in order to preserve our world. Farmers do not respond well to lectures from those inside the M50, taking absolute positions against their livelihoods. I have no doubt that with an improved awareness programme the agricultural sector will respond positively. Perhaps we need to create greater awareness and understanding of these measures among the whole community. In the next Bill on this subject, we should include an environmental education programme not just for our schools, as they are far ahead in their response to and thinking on climate change, but one that is focused on the general population.

I want to compliment the work of the Citizens' Assembly on climate change. While I know it was given valuable resources and education on this subject before coming to its conclusions and report, I suggest that we must do something similar with the whole population. I also want to mention oil and gas exploration, and gas fracking, about which I have received a large number of emails, seeking the inclusion of a ban on these in the Bill. While I understand that these are not included in this Bill, I would appreciate if the Minister, in his concluding remarks, would confirm that these measures will be included in the programme for Government and will be dealt with in separate legislation.

The framework for change has been set out. The fewer number of steps we take now, the greater number of steps we will have to take in the future to meet our targets in 2030 and 2050. I commend this Bill to the Members of the House.

I welcome the Minister of State. I wish him well in his time ahead and, in particular, with this climate action Bill. Most of the Members are fully aware of the challenges that lie ahead in this regard, but also the necessity of this Bill in ensuring Ireland becomes a carbon-neutral economy by 2050. The importance of this Bill cannot be overstated. It is a clear signal of intent by the Government as to where it aims to stimulate employment, focus investment and how we reach our climate targets as agreed under the Paris accords.

I will focus on a number of specific areas today that warrant some attention and consideration. We understand the Bill recognises the special economic and social role of agriculture, but it also recognises that reducing emissions will, in turn, make farmers here more competitive and sustainable in the future. Our agriculture sector has among the best work practices in the world in terms of its agrifood offering. As Deputy Creed alluded to earlier, if Irish farmers do not continue the key work they do in this sector, then other countries with a far more inferior product and offering will pick up the slack. In that respect, everything needs to be measured and focused on bringing stakeholders with us. Just as we negotiated a fair deal, or a just transition, for those with peat and bogs in the midlands, we must ensure those engaged in farming receive similar treatment in terms of a fair deal.

I want to raise some issues on transport, which I think are worthy of raising. The transport sector accounts for more than 20% of our national emissions, with in excess of 51% of these emissions coming from the passenger car fleet. Under this Bill, there will be a focus on shifting to electric vehicles and alternative fuel technologies. We will also see a promotion of public transport and active travel initiatives which will also contribute to decarbonising society. Looking at my constituency, I know the Minister of State is aware of the efficiency of the Cork-Cobh-Midleton rail line which offers people viable public transport options but, unfortunately, on the northern side of the city, we are not as lucky with our current railway offering. I hope that with a renewed focus on public transport espoused in this Bill we will, in my lifetime, see the expansion of the rail line from Cork to Blackpool to Monard and on to Blarney. We can talk about the need to get people out of their cars and on to public transport but unless we offer something tangible and practical, we are only shooting ourselves in the foot in terms of meeting our climate targets.

I refer to Government initiative's such as the active travel funding and other grants under the town and village schemes and outdoors recreation grants, etc. While I have been engaged with a number of community groups and both local authorities in Cork in delivering some of these projects, we need to see a greater emphasis on what can be achieved by these relatively small, in budgetary terms, initiatives which have the capacity to dramatically enhance and change the transport practices of small villages and communities. I ask that we continue to roll out these successful schemes and that funding would be ring-fenced within the carbon tax intake to ensure we can adequately fund these programmes in the future. These are not just words.

In the area in which I live, Dunkettle, I see first hand the transformative impacts of cycle lanes and greenways which have been facilitated by the State. Every week, hundreds and thousands of people can be seen walking and cycling on these routes. We are hopeful that in the near future, the NTA will allocate funding to Little Island and provide designated bus and cycle lanes in an area which employs approximately 15,000 people. How Little Island, an area developed as a workplace for many years, is without such a provision, in terms of transport arrangements, baffles me but thankfully progress is finally being made on this front.

The next issue I would like to raise is waste water, an issue I have raised here before. We talk about the Environmental Protection Agency and the need for the State to provide appropriate legislation to take action against not just State agencies, for example, Irish Water for malfunctioning treatment plants, but also private developers. It is something we must look at as part of the wider discussion on climate action. There is still raw sewage going into Cork Harbour. The Carrigrennan waste water treatment plant, which is the largest one in Cork and is run by Irish Water, is in breach of its licence since 2015 in terms of its nitrate emissions. It is fine for us to speak about climate action and what we need to do as a society, but in some cases, State and semi-State bodies are not compliant with the regulations we are setting down.

That is something we as a Government need to take very seriously and keep an eye on because it is not acceptable that we are only asking stakeholders, whether farmers or others, to change what they are doing in their choice of transport and travel. It is fine for us to ask them to be compliant or change their practices but, at the same time, State bodies such as Irish Water need to get their act together in the case of Carrigrenan waste water treatment plant.

Deputy Aindrias Moynihan mentioned the wind energy guidelines. That is something we have trumpeted for quite a while and the review of those guidelines seems to have been on the long finger for quite a while. I raise it to emphasise that we are in favour of wind energy - or most of us here are. Some Deputies in the Independent ranks still believe the world is flat but the vast majority of Members are in favour of wind and solar energy. Communities up and down the country have been waiting for those guidelines to be published since 2015. We need to grasp the nettle now, publish those guidelines and give people some reassurance that the concerns they have about wind energy will be taken on board. That is all I have to offer today. I thank the Minister of State for his time.

I am very pleased to participate in the debate. I am a member of the Joint Committee on Climate Action and we have had a lot of discussion on this matter. It has been quite amicable among Members across the Houses, which is to be welcomed. This Government committed to bringing this Bill forward in a relatively short period, which is being done.

The Bill sets out the legal framework for Ireland’s transition to a climate-resilient, biodiversity-rich, environmentally sustainable and climate-neutral economy by no later than 2050. It provides for a 2030 interim target, five-yearly carbon budgets, sectoral emissions ceilings, an annually updated climate action plan and a long-term climate action strategy. As the Minister of State will be aware, the local authority is going to take the lead on the climate action plan in our shared constituency of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown. It is important that elected members of the local authority and other elected members, irrespective of level, feed into that plan because at the end of the day, while the Government can guide this plan, ultimately its implementation lies with local authorities. It is crucial that they play their part in that.

The legislation also places on a statutory basis the commitment to achieve a climate-neutral economy no later than 2050, which will be known as the national climate objective. Of course, this does not mean that Ireland will cease to produce carbon emissions by this time; it means we are committing to offsetting all the carbon we produce by 2050. A large part of this will involve reducing emissions by changing practices in sectors such as energy, housing, transport and agriculture and by sequestering carbon through methods such as rewilding parts of our country.

The Bill will ensure Ireland meets its international commitments under the Paris Agreement. Working internationally with almost 200 other countries including the US, China and India, the agreement aims to substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to limit the global temperature increase in this century to 2°C, while pursuing means to limit the increase further to 1.5°C. Over the next decade we will see revolutionary change when it comes to green infrastructure and technology. We are seeing this in the UK, which is embracing green tech and leading the way. Global capital and investors are following suit by abandoning old carbon intensive sectors and earmarking funds for green tech development. We can see that here in Ireland too. Ireland cannot be left behind and the Bill will ensure our country is at the forefront of this green revolution.

These changes will be challenging. We heard from Deputies earlier about the concerns within various sectors and this will require fundamental change in many parts of Irish life. We have to accept that, though at times it will be difficult for all of us. In rising to the challenge, we will be able to improve the health, welfare and security of our country. I have raised my concerns about energy security for Ireland with the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications previously and have submitted a parliamentary question on that matter. While we must rule out certain types of energy, it is imperative that we satisfy ourselves that we have energy security for the next decade and beyond. It is not just for our generation but for the next generation and those beyond them that the Bill must deliver the changes we want it to.

Once the legislation passes, we will then prepare the climate action plans which will set out the actions that must be taken to ensure we deliver on our commitments to reduce total carbon emissions by 51% by 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. This will make Ireland a world leader in responding to climate change and improve our country and our living environment immensely. The next step is to prepare the new climate action plan, which will set out the actions that must be taken to ensure we deliver on the commitments in the programme for Government, including making sure we achieve our 2030 targets and neutrality by 2050. This would make Ireland the world leader to which I referred.

The legislation underwent significant and intense scrutiny at the Joint Committee on Climate Action. I was proud to be a part of that committee and I pay tribute to our Chair, Deputy Brian Leddin, for his steering of the committee and for improving the draft text as the committee worked over the past number of months to do so. I welcome the fact that the Minister has included the majority of the 78 recommendations proposed by the committee, which will significantly strengthen the Bill. Language has been amended to ensure obligations are clearly stated, and the relationship between the various mechanisms is also more explicit. In line with the programme for Government commitment, the Bill stipulates that carbon budgets should provide for a 51% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. Key principles such as just transition, climate justice and protection and restoration of biodiversity are matters to which the Minister and Government will have regard when preparing the various action plans. Importantly, public participation provisions have been strengthened, with the Bill providing that for each of the relevant plans, strategies, and carbon budgets the Minister will consult with the public so they can have their say. A public consultation is currently under way, which closes on 18 May. It is very important that at this time, before this Bill is enacted, the public have their say in how those action plans are shaped and what is contained in them.

As I mentioned, the next phase will be to develop a climate action plan. In housing, we must move quickly to retrofit homes. A commitment has been made to retrofit 400,000 homes. The Minister of State knows that the local authority in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown also made a commitment and made great strides in improving local authority housing stock, and retrofitted quite a number of them. There is more to be done in just transition and retrofitting. There are private homeowners who cannot afford to retrofit and that is why it is key that we bring them along with us and that homes are made warmer and more secure. Retrofitting is an important part of that. It will save energy, reduce energy bills and make homes more comfortable for the owners and inhabitants.

Pilot schemes such as those provided by EnergyCloud provide innovative technological solutions to reducing the instance of fuel poverty and ensure we use wind energy to its full potential. I raised this at the committee last week. We must also ensure that all new housing stock is fit for purpose and we need regulations to ensure the reuse of grey water to reduce pressure on our national water network and conserve our precious drinking water.

On transport, we need to invest in our public transport network. Major infrastructural projects such as the DART underground and the upgrading of the Luas green line are critical. Equally, we need investment in walking and cycling infrastructure, where there must be a renewed focus by local authorities to complete projects such as the Sutton to Sandycove cycle track and ensure that it is a coastal route. That route has been planned for approximately 30 years and I fear we are moving away from the original coastal plan and proposing an on-road solution. It is imperative that the majority of that route be coastal. The funding is in place now and we have to ensure, collectively as a Government with the Deputies of this House, that this is achieved, as well as the Lee to Sea coastal routes.

The shift to electric cars must be supported with practical measures, such as more on-street charging points. The Minister of State will be aware our development plan specifies that all new developments would have charging points. It is important that is replicated throughout the country in the current drafting of other local development plans.

On land, we must ensure we continue to develop our forestry programme and I welcome the Government's commitments to plant native forestry and to enhance and support biodiversity. It is the energy sector in which Ireland has the most potential to make significant progress. We are well placed to become a world leader in offshore energy generation. This must be supported by an upgrade to the national grid and the completion of the international interconnectors. This is again something I raised with the Minister before, and it is important we stay on course with it.

While these changes will be challenging, I have no doubt they will improve our environment. Ten years from now, it is to be hoped we will be living in a healthier and cleaner Ireland as well as in cleaner cities. Biodiversity will have been improved and we will be on track to meet our international commitments and, more importantly, our moral commitments to the next generation of Irish and global citizens. I support the Bill on that basis. It is important that we, collectively here in the House, and notwithstanding further amendments, ultimately see unanimous support for such a measure.

I spoke earlier about retrofitting 500,000 homes and installing 400,000 heat pumps in existing buildings over the next ten years. Ambitions like that are crucial, not just in respect of retrofitting but across the board. When people see the tangible benefits of this ambitious and brave programme, I think and I hope they will buy into it. Ultimately, however, they will be the beneficiaries of it. This crisis is happening now and we cannot afford not to do this. To those who deny there is any need for climate action, I say we should all strive to reduce our carbon emissions, irrespective of our views. This plan will meet with that ambition. The targets are ambitious but we must start now. The sooner this Bill is passed, the better we will be. I commend the Bill. I thank the Minister of State for his time and I ask him to relay some of the comments I made to the Minister because I am waiting to hear a response.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Bill. My remarks will refer to several broad issues and I plan to limit them to ten or 11 minutes. However, I may not use my full allocation of time.

The challenge we face to get to net zero emissions by 2050 is simply enormous. We have an existential threat hanging over us and there is a very real danger that the scale of the task ahead could overwhelm us. It is still the case that the threat hanging over our country and our planet is viewed in the abstract by far too many people. Climate change is happening before our very eyes. The evidence is there to see, but there are none so blind as those who do not wish to see. Shamefully, there is a cadre of ignorant, anti-science and unenlightened representatives in this Parliament who refuse to see what the rest of us can. They lay claim to representing rural Ireland and to having some unique insight into the ways of our countryside and rural communities. The ignorance which has often been displayed does rural Ireland and the decent people they claim to represent an enormous disservice.

If we continue to travel in the direction we are going, the rate of destruction climate change will wreak on rural communities will be incalculable, and I know which side I am on. For some time now, society has been grappling with the challenges presented by what is known as the fourth industrial revolution. Before the pandemic, and without even factoring in the changes demanded of us by climate change, it was clear that artificial intelligence, AI, and a whole host of other disruptive technologies could and would lay waste to hundreds of occupations which until now we have taken for granted. Covid-19 has put that disruption on steroids. We have seen decades of change collapsed into a year. Many business models have changed forever, never to return. Many jobs may not come back in sectors where consumer behaviour will not return to the norms of pre-March 2020.

If we are to have any prospect of meeting the challenges of net zero, our economic model must change and change fundamentally. The idea of a just transition for those whose jobs and businesses are increasingly vulnerable to the changes required of us as an economy and a society needs to become much more than a pithy slogan. Impending changes to the global corporation tax system will impact on our system of foreign direct investment, FDI. However, an even more fundamental driver of economic change will be, and should be, climate change. It is clear we must commence a fundamental, top-down, review of industrial policy in Ireland. No review of any scale or significance has been done on our national industrial strategy for a long time. A massive paradigm shift is needed to decarbonise our economy. Due to changes in the corporation tax environment and in respect of the job we need to do in the context of climate change, it is now urgent that such a review takes place.

I remain concerned that this issue of the climate and the economy is not sufficiently understood nor is it being tackled on a whole-of-government basis as a primary economic positioning issue. This is not to say this Bill and the demands it places on Departments, agencies and all of us does not represent real progress. Of course it does. In the paradigm shift away from the current carbon-intensive model, agencies such as IDA Ireland, Enterprise Ireland, EI, and Science Foundation Ireland, SFI, need to embed the climate agenda into their make-up and their approach. A new industrial policy needs to be less about FDI at any price and more about focusing on what we can do uniquely and well here. I refer to how the entrepreneurial state can invest with the private sector in new innovations and technology and in scaling up our SME sector to export and go global from Ireland. We need to see the same State-led response to the pandemic applied to the development of the kind of entrepreneurial state that social democrats like those of us in the Labour Party believe in and can trust. Professor Mariana Mazzucato's ideas need to be brought to life in the transition to a new and more climate-friendly economy and labour market model.

To meet the serious task ahead, our Departments and State agencies will need to be repurposed. With carbon budgeting, the old ways of making annual budgets will have to change. I had an interesting exchange on this point two weeks ago with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy McGrath, during oral parliamentary questions. It is still not clear to me how, in practice, the relationship between the Departments of the Environment, Climate and Communications and Public Expenditure and Reform will change. Will the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications have a more formal role in driving overall budgetary policy? How are Departments that do not meet sectorial emissions targets going to be brought into line when they fail?

One of the most striking and worrying aspects of climate change is the impact on our treasured biodiversity. On a related matter, is the Minister of State aware of any plans in respect of the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications to better protect our national parks from the gorse fires experienced in recent weeks? We saw fires raging in Killarney National Park and the Mourne Mountains two weeks ago, and the impact on our flora and fauna and our native habitats is enormous. What we all witnessed is heartbreaking. Fires of this kind are all too frequent in parts of my constituency, namely, the Cooley Mountains in County Louth. I am not all that clear if anyone is ever held responsible for starting these acts of monumental vandalism and destruction. Our legal code must make it clear the book will be thrown at anyone responsible for these kinds of depraved acts of wanton violence and vandalism visited on our environment and natural habitats.

Finally, and I appreciate that the Minister of State may not be familiar with this issue, I raise for the ears of the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, Deputy Ryan, in the context of our attitude to planned liquified natural gas, LNG terminals, the question of how we are going to approach these propositions in future. Via parliamentary questions, I raised the issue of a proposed floating LNG terminal off the coast of Louth.

The company involved is aptly named Predator Oil and Gas. Let me make my own party's position crystal clear. In our last manifesto, we proposed to ban the importation of fracked gas and offshore drilling or any further extraction of fossil fuels from Ireland's land or waters - no "ifs", no "buts", no ambiguity.

I was disappointed a number of weeks ago to read the response of the Minister, Deputy Ryan, to the question I submitted in March 2021. I asked him if he planned to actively oppose proposals for floating LNG terminals in Ireland. Specifically, he referenced that his Department "is carrying out a review of the security of energy supply of Ireland's electricity and natural gas systems", and stated that he "will consider if it would be appropriate, or not, to develop LNG terminals in Ireland and, if any such terminals were to be developed, if they should only be in order to provide an emergency backup to existing supply infrastructure".

To be frank, by all intents and purposes, this appears to be paving the way for LNG terminals through the back door to provide what he has referred to as "emergency backup". We are faced with another emergency, namely, the climate emergency. We do not need another Government review of LNG. The evidence is clear and the Government must be clear that it is fully committed to ensuring that no LNG terminals are developed in Ireland. There needs to be absolute clarity on that point, because I did not receive clarity on it and the threat to the east coast in respect of the question I posed to the Minister in March. I hope that he will have the opportunity, perhaps in his response to this Stage later if he is here, or in another forum, to address that question much more fundamentally.

This is a most important debate, and one which we should use to enlighten people and make sure that the important points in respect of climate change are articulated and supported in a constructive engagement with all sides of this House and the community. The most important thing we can do is to educate and inform and tolerate other points of view and bring people round to understanding what we need to do to bring about the change to save our climate, our industry and our jobs, and to have a quality of life for future generations that will be sustainable and acceptable to everybody, whether they are rural or urban residents.

One of the criticisms made of rural people concerns the question of single housing and so on. The fact is that farmers and people living in rural areas have protected and nurtured the environment they live in for generations. They hold their farming and their beliefs sacred and true, and they carry them through from generation to generation. It is hugely important that we understand, appreciate and acknowledge any of the issues the IFA and other rural spokespersons articulate to us, and bring about change with their support. In that respect, in my experience in County Louth, I have met with representatives of the IFA on a number of occasions recently regarding climate change, and farmers are very much engaged in finding alternative crops and ways of making a living, while at the same time sustaining, protecting and supporting the rural environment.

One-off rural housing is a big issue in many areas. We must ensure that those who work and are reared in the countryside can live there. It is a key issue that is arising in many county development plans, as I speak.

I return to the question of how we educate, inform and bring about change. I have been in the House for more than 20 years. The biggest change in our thinking that I can recall was in respect of how we dealt with our waste. I can recall, as I am sure Deputy Nash will, that when the then Drogheda Corporation decided to change the waste management system in our town, thousands of people marched on the streets. Indeed, I recall that the mayor of Drogheda was sitting in his chair - as the Acting Chairman is now - happily wearing an orange shirt. When the crowd broke into the meeting, the first thing they shouted at the mayor was that he was an Orangeman. That was the extent of the anger at a change in waste management, which was not properly sold. However, the pace changed with the race against waste campaign. The race against waste campaign was one of the most informative and effective campaigns we had nationally about changing our ways and the environment. It was extremely effective. Now people understand why we have to deal with our waste, Wheelie bins and so on as we do, and accept and acknowledge that. That is what we must do in respect of the other controversial issues relating to climate change. We must educate, inform and support.

One of the failures in our country - and I include myself and I did my best - has been the failure to persuade the public that we need to change the way do deal with our water resources, how water is affected by climate change, how it will change into the future as the levels of rainfall and the patterns change regionally and so on, and the problems that will bring. Currently, as far as I am aware, there is no Irish Water or Government policy in place to encourage people to use less water and to conserve it. I ask the Minister of State to address that issue with the Minister, Deputy Ryan, in terms of information and how changes can be made and ensure that the impact of climate change on our water resources is reduced, scare as they will be in the future.

I also welcome the decision of Departments to have decarbonising zones in our counties. I have a criticism of that in that there is only one such zone in each county. In County Louth, the county council, in its wisdom, chose Dundalk. I have no problem with Dundalk being chosen in this respect because it has been a centre for renewable energy and the SEAI for many years. The choice of Dundalk is welcome, but a decarbonising zone would be equally welcome in Drogheda. I ask the Minister of State to address the issue that when towns such as Drogheda are named in the national planning framework as future major urban growth centres and cities, the leadership role that comes with becoming decarbonisation zones and all the policies, incentives and changes involved should apply to towns in that special area. Drogheda is one such town, so I call on the Minister of State to seek to encourage and change the rule on decarbonisation zones and for Drogheda to be included in that. It would make a difference in terms of our climate change and public transport policies, our active travel, our public and civic buildings, our use of green spaces, biodiversity, air quality and so on. Therefore, there is a lot of work to be done, and it is our job as politicians to ensure that the Government listens to what we are saying. More attention must be focused on decarbonisation policies in our towns, and particularly the town in which I and Deputy Nash live. It is unacceptable that my town is not included in that zoning. It is appropriate that this be looked at again.

In respect of land use and planning and the way that we build and zone, there is a major issue with zoning in development plans up and down the country. I welcome the policies of the planning regulator, which has been attacked unfairly regarding its vigilance. We must ensure that when we are developing our towns and cities and the rural areas, it is sustainable, makes sense, is thought through and does not just come out of the blue as a result of pressure from a developer or God knows who to change or to add to a development plan something that is not at all acceptable. I have seen examples of that in my constituency. There have been examples of unrealistic developments being imposed on the community where hundreds of houses were built with no infrastructure, footpaths, recreational spaces, amenities or green spaces. That has to end. That is the role we all have to play.

I commend the planning regulator on the vigilance and the prudence it applies in its office to ensure that there is thought-through, effective planning in my area. I live in a large commuter town. There is nothing good about Covid, but the only good thing I can think of is the fact that people are working from home.

That is what we must do with the other controversial issues.

It should be Government policy to reverse the commute. People in Drogheda, east Meath, Dundalk, Ardee and so on should be able not just to live in those places but also to work there. Reversing people's commute by enabling them to work from home is a hugely important climate change policy. The more sustainable life is for people, the happier they are and the more time they get to spend with their families.

There are more cars going through Julianstown every day than there were before the bypass was built. It is unacceptable that people living there face long delays and are suffering because of the accumulation of traffic and the discharge from cars. We need to look at the pattern of transport in Julianstown, east Meath and Drogheda. We need an appropriate and proper inner bypass of Julianstown to relieve the pressures there and the environmental issues arising from the accumulation of toxic gas from vehicles.

There is a lot to be done in the area of climate action. This is the first time in a long time I have had ten minutes to speak in the Chamber. I welcome the return to three days of sittings next week, which is what we all want. It will better enable us to listen and understand how our country is changing and show the leadership we all have to offer in articulating our views on these issues. I welcome the Bill and the debate around it. I look forward to contributing further on Committee Stage. The world is changing and we must change with it. Our most important role is to inform and educate. I cannot overstate that point. I say emphatically to the Minister of State that we need public opinion on our side in this matter. The way we will get it is not by attacking but by informing, educating and encouraging.

I want to tell the Minister of State at the outset that his colleague, Deputy Matthews, who is a major railway advocate, has challenged me to try out the train. I have done so a few times, including today, and will do so again tomorrow. I am glad to admit that it works. I still travel to Dublin by car some days but it takes ten or 15 minutes to cycle to the train station and an hour and 50 minutes on the train. I get through a lot of emails, have an apple and a mug of tea and come off the train refreshed before cycling into the city. I encourage everyone to try it. It does not work every day and there are some pitfalls to this form of travel. I am dreading the day the clouds open up and it pours rain on me. I will have quite a miserable day in Dublin when that happens. However, I am happy to say on the record of the Dáil that this new way of getting to work in Dublin from County Clare works, by bicycle and with a lot of help from Irish Rail, and I am happy to embrace it into the future. The Acting Chairman might see me pedalling away from here in a while. Perhaps some day he will take his bike and we can cycle together through his constituency on my way to the station.

This is very progressive legislation that sets an objective for the Government and the nation of achieving climate neutrality by 2050, with an interim target of a 51% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2023 relative to the 2018 baseline. It sets out a number of key provisions, including annual climate action plans, five-year climate action strategies, five-year carbon budgets, sector-specific ceilings and a national adaptation framework. Since the legislation was drafted, we have had really groundbreaking news in County Clare regarding the green Atlantic project to develop colossal offshore wind energy capacity off the coast of counties Clare and Kerry. The project involves a partnership approach by the ESB and Equinor, a private company. It has breathed huge life and hope back into our county. We have been looking at a cliff edge for far too long, with Moneypoint slowly winding down its coal-burning capacity and transitioning to we did not know what. There has been uncertainty for the Moneypoint workers and the economy of the county in not knowing what was happening. We now have a future pathway. However, it is important the county is not forgotten about in terms of the just transition. It will take five years or so to get to our wind energy goal. There will be tough days for the community and the workforce at Moneypoint as we move from the coal-burning phase to wind energy. That needs to be taken into consideration.

There is huge potential along the Shannon Estuary for tidal energy electricity generation. I understand that potential is being explored. I visited the University of Limerick a year or two ago to see one of the testing devices being developed there. That technology has been embraced by other countries. The tidal differential coming into the Shannon Estuary is quite significant. It offers a way by which we could be generating guaranteed electricity every day of the year. That potential needs to be explored. In the context of the infrastructural overhaul taking place in west Clare and along the estuary, we definitely need to be looking at tidal energy as well.

I implore the Minister of State to move ahead with finalising the new wind energy guidelines, which were published by the Government in draft format in December 2019. A hell of a lot has happened since then, including a general election and the Covid crisis. The guidelines need to be properly ratified and issued to all local authorities. In their absence, we are left dealing with guidelines dating back, I understand, to 2006 or 2008. They are totally antiquated and do not reflect where the infrastructure and the whole sector is at now. More importantly for communities, they do not give adequate protection to people who are living their lives peacefully. We have had a number of applications put in haste through the planning process in Clare County Council in anticipation of the new wind guidelines. There is one in my home parish of Parteen that has gone up in breach of planning. That is totally wrong. We must strive for the production of renewable energy but we cannot suddenly start lowering the bar and allowing projects to go in willy-nilly. It is an affront to communities not to follow the best planning process. The sooner we get the new guidelines in place the better.

This year marks 96 years since construction of the ESB's station at Ardnacrusha got under way. It is an incredible facility located in my home parish. It was once the largest generating plant in Ireland but now contributes only some 1% of all electricity generated and pushed onto the national grid. It is nearly a century old and was called the seventh wonder of the engineering world when it was first developed. It will continue to operate, although perhaps not for electricity generation for now, and to have a very important role in controlling the Shannon waterway. The Government needs to look at ways of increasing the output at Ardnacrusha. The turbines are not always turned on and the service offered is quite intermittent. It is operated remotely at the moment but there is potential for increased capacity. Nothing much has changed there. The demand for electricity has increased hugely, however, and Ardnacrusha can contribute more to the national grid. I implore then Minister of State to look into it.

A number of years ago, when I was a Clare county councillor, I was one of a number of councillors who fully backed proposals that our county become fracking-free. We were the first local authority in the country to do so and, six or seven weeks later, the Government declared that Ireland would become a fracking-free country. We now have a very difficult situation, as articulated by Deputy Nash, where LNG plants are still lingering around and we are not sure how they are being treated. That is not accounted for in this legislation and the Government needs to be clearer in this regard. We may be a fracking-free country but where do we stand on imported fracked gas? We have a position on it, as declared by Government when the terms of the programme for Government were being negotiated. That position needs to be enshrined in law and made very clear to the public. We in County Clare have understood the importance of this for many years ago because of our karst landscape in the Burren. When you start drilling down into deep rock, you interfere with aquifers and the underground water system. That is unhealthy, unsafe and environmentally unsound.

On forestry, there are far too few native tress being planted. We need to look at increasing the threshold and obligation on new forestry applications. The existing threshold is way too low. In my county of Clare, I am part of a group that is leading an initiative to reintroduce the native sessile oak to Cratloe Woods. Those trees are very special and there are very few of them left. Anyone looking at proceedings in the Houses of Parliament in Westminster will see a roof over Boris Johnson's head that was built with oak out of Cratloe Woods. Yet, if one goes up to those woods these days, it is conifer, spruce and Scots pine all over the place. We need to get back to this heritage variety of tree that was native to Ireland. Those trees built the hull of HMS Victory, the Royal Palace of Amsterdam and the roof of the Palace of Westminster. We need to get back those native species and move towards heritage forestry. There are parts of the country, especially uphill and upland areas, that are conducive to conifers, spruce trees and straight-pole timber, but there are other parts, Cratloe Woods being one, where we need to look at native species of trees.

On the matter of damage to the environment, I want to raise the issue of waste water output.

Doonbeg got a great announcement yesterday from the Minister, Deputy O'Brien, but there are other villages in Clare, such as Broadford, Carrigaholt, Cooraclare and Doolin, where waste water gets flushed down the toilet, goes out into soakaway gravel pits or septic tanks and, in many cases, is discharged directly into lakes, rivers or the open sea. That practice must end. Irrespective of party politics or who is in government, I have often wondered whether this problem is fully understood in Dublin and urban Ireland. In small rural communities, every drop of sewerage goes out into the open landscape when you flush the toilet. It goes into the water supply that people will drink later that day, following a filtration process. There is something askew and wrong with that.

The Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, has dual briefs relating to the environment and transport. I implore him to push back at every opportunity against suggestions that aviation taxes be imposed on the carbon output of airplanes. Aer Lingus, through its parent group International Airlines Group, IAG, has invested in 142 carbon-efficient aircraft. Ryanair has a plan to spend €20 billion on 210 new aircraft. We need to be kind to these industries and certainly do not need to be putting more impediments and barriers in their way as we try to get airplanes back in the sky.

This is positive legislation. There are other aspects of how Ireland embraces climate change, beyond legislation, that need refinement. When I left home this morning, 6 May, I noticed the windscreen of my wife's car was covered in frost and ice. Let the Healy-Raes or anyone who says climate change is not happening look at my social media pages this evening where they will see me scraping ice off my wife's car in the driveway with a credit card. Climate change does exist and is very real. The seasons are totally out of sync. We have an opportunity to do the right thing by the environment now for ourselves and the generations to come after us, and that starts with this legislation.

It is great to have an opportunity to speak on this important legislation. I have listened with interest to the previous speakers and have agreed with some of them, though not all. It is necessary to put into the public arena the various views because whether we agree with them or not, they are part of the debate.

Whenever we come to the issue of climate change, we seem or tend to descend into totally polarised positions. Some say it is not taking place at all. That is not true and the scientific evidence is there. We may at some stage improve the situation, having taken the necessary action, and I hope we will. Some say that we have to stop living in order to comply with the regulations intended to arrest the issue of climate change. That is not true either. We do not have to stop living. That applies particularly to the agri-food sector. It is true to say that the agricultural community has a significant role to play on the issue of climate change. It has played that role in the past and will continue to do so, with the support of Government and incentives. It can play that role and make a major contribution.

We need to get recognition for what we are already doing in this country in the agri-food area. On the basis of our current carbon footprint, we produce food for approximately 42 million people. That is a sizeable achievement. We can continue to do that and, in fact, can improve and are improving. In comparison with other jurisdictions, we are way ahead. Deputy Creed already made an interesting contribution in that regard that was scientifically based. We need to recognise that a sector does not have to close down in order to achieve a needed contribution on the whole issue. We can, however, improve and that is what I hope is going to happen.

I do not necessarily agree with my colleague from County Clare on the issue of forestry. We need a variety of species of tree. That has always been the case. For those who say the Scots pine is not a native species, there is evidence of it in the Céide Fields, dating from 5,000 years ago. At what stage does it become a native species? The point is that it was not possible to isolate the species in Scotland or its adjoining countries.

I know there are many imported species, such as redwoods and so on. I am an amateur grower of trees and have looked at the area quite a bit. Some species are not suitable for this country but there is a lot of space and we need to recognise there is space for both soft and hard woods. The best way to grow and develop forestry is through growing a variety of species, some of which will shelter others and expedite their growth. Non-deciduous species, for example, will remain a part of the shelter which is important. There are parts of this country where a fairly stiff breeze is blowing most of the time. We need to recognise that in order to encourage forestry and the growth of trees, we should encourage the interspacing of trees that retain their foliage throughout the year. That is possible to do while, at the same time, we make a major contribution to the fight to address climate change. Some species, such as the much-maligned Sitka spruce, have the capacity to absorb something like four times the amount of carbon dioxide of an oak tree, ash tree or any of the harder species. We should not toss them away or dismiss them. We need to recognise the role they have to play. They have played that role for millions of years and will continue to do so.

We have heard a lot concerns from our various constituents about the demise of the peat industry and, in particular, its effect on the horticultural sector. I and many others have said before that the horticultural sector needs a certain amount of peat product, or something similar, in order to continue to provide services, including nurseries for the production of trees and shrubs throughout the country. It is not a good idea to rely on imported material in that regard because all we are doing is creating further carbon miles in order to bring in something we can produce ourselves. I ask the Minister to keep in mind the possibility of ensuring that we have carbon-free access to a product at home, or whatever, in order that we do not have to import from other areas within a 5,000 mile radius, or whatever the case may be. We can and should do that.

The next issue relates to the transport sector and the fuel used in that area. I strongly support the move towards electric vehicles. There has been considerable progress in that area, although many of my friends and some of my opponents do not agree with me. The fact is that we will ultimately, inevitably and inexorably move in that direction. If we do, we will be making a major contribution to the fight against the changes that are taking place to our climate. One of the arguments that is put up is that we do not have enough charging points for motor vehicles. Why not? That is not something outside our reach. We can produce the necessary electrical charging points to ensure motorists can travel up and down the country without having to stay overnight somewhere, as an extreme example. The radius it was possible for those vehicles to travel ten years ago was approximately 180 km or 200 km, or so garage people tell me. That is now up to 450 km and is growing.

It is obvious that there is considerable benefit to a switchover to electric cars. The sooner that comes, the better. I compliment An Post and other companies that have already moved or changed over and have a carbon-free policy in their respective organisations. We need to realise that the world is competitive and does not stop. We must use what we can to our advantage to advance our own cause, while at the same time maintaining best practice insofar as dealing with carbon is concerned.

Retrofitting has already been mentioned. We need to do more of that. There is no sense blaming ourselves and beating ourselves up, while at the same time saying it would be good if we had more retrofitting but we cannot afford it. If we cannot afford it, perhaps we should be able to justify the means of affording it and appeal to the international communities. We should ensure that whatever is done, everybody makes the same sacrifices, and we do not become the only ones either to sit in the cold hoping for benefits in the future or that we do not have to close down parts of our industries to claim our rightful place in the changes that are taking place.

Some of the changes that have been made without any great upheaval are obviously those regarding motor engines. The internal combustion engine, of course, was not the first one. The electrical engine was the first for different reasons. People say that it was a changeover. My view is that the development of the petrochemical industry was a major factor in that and still continues, something to which previous speakers also made reference.

I hope that over the course of our lifetime, we will use the need to comply with international targets on carbon emissions well, first, to justify what we are doing already and what we do naturally with the levels we have achieved on food production and emissions. We are said to be outliers. To be fair, that is not entirely true. As I said before, we produce an awful lot more food per carbon footprint than anybody else can. That is beyond denial. I ask that the Minister tries to ensure, insofar as is possible, or ensures, full stop, that we get full credit and understanding for what we are delivering when compared with other jurisdictions. Some other jurisdictions obviously cannot achieve the same results. We are not blaming them for that. We want to get credit for what we are doing ourselves, however.

I made a note to remind myself of the issue of rewetting, which can make a major contribution to carbon reduction. Everything that grows requires an intake of carbon, which remains sequestered until such time as a tree is cut. It should also be mentioned and remembered that the only carbon that is released is the amount that the tree has sequestered over its growing lifetime.

Rewetting will have different meanings for different people. Some parts of this country contain large areas that are well-wetted enough already. If one asks people from different parts of the country how they feel about rewetting what is already wet land, they will quickly tell you. It is not that there are very small areas which are already in this condition. There are large tracts of land all over the country, but particularly in the midlands and along the west and south west. There are, therefore, areas we need to promote as currently making a major contribution to the issues we are trying to address.

The development of alternative energy also requires, obviously, wind energy. There was much resistance to wind energy, pylons, overhead cables and so forth. I ask people to try to remember that whatever energy we use has a cost. If we make it too difficult, the cost increases. Whether or not we are happy with it, we need to recognise that our industry in the future will be highly dependent on electricity and whatever way that is generated will be hugely important. Whether it is onshore or offshore, there is a necessity for infrastructural investment in that area now.

I have been hearing about wave development for last 20 years, for instance, and there is not very much of it around yet. There are other alternatives, however, some of which are achievable in the short-term. There is a renewed interest in solar energy. I am not certain that will be the ultimate answer because wind energy requires some other fallback or reliable source. The wind does not blow all the time in all parts of the country. There are those who say that as a flaw. Of course, it is not, because it can be countered by a grid that covers large tracts of this and other countries. Access to our own grid and to the international grid is, therefore, important. While very little wind may be blowing in one particular part of the country at a particular time, one can be absolutely certain that in some other area a fairly stiff breeze is blowing that keeps the turbines turning, which as a result keeps generating electricity.

If we build the grid and link into the international system in such a way that is possible and in line with renewable principles, we can become self-sufficient very quickly. We will only need an alternative for unforeseen emergencies. Wind and hydro energy are, of course, well-proven. When we go for bigger generating capacities, however, wind is probably the best option. Solar energy requires more space. Consider, for example, Moneypoint power station, which has 1,000 MW productive capacity. We need more of that nature. We need alternative energies capable of producing electricity to the same scale without using the entire country, which brings me to biomass.

To provide sufficient electricity for the entire country in the future, we would probably need to cover the whole country in biomass production. While people might say that would be a great thing, it actually would not. We still have to eat and we would have to import food. It would not, therefore, be such a good idea. Reference has already been made to this. There are those who say we should import and that artificial food is every bit as good; it is not. All things do not produce a balanced and varied diet, which is necessary. We need, therefore, to look at the areas in which we can produce reliable sources of energy without any detrimental effects to the environment and at same time retain in every way possible the full extent of our productive sectors in order that we can deliver to future generations something on which they can rely.

I have covered everything I intended to with the exception of the local authorities. It has become populist and popular in local authorities to say that people should not live in rural areas and that it is bad for the environment and so on. That is not true. It is simply a refusal to accept that it is possible to live in rural areas. It is possible to build houses in rural areas without polluting the rivers or waters of the countryside. In fact, all these things are possible provided we apply ourselves to them. A previous speaker made reference to the pollution of rivers and waterways and he is correct. The numbers of rivers and waterways in this country that are polluted and in receipt of untreated or insufficiently treated sewage on a daily basis is appalling. When that argument is trotted out in comparison, as it was with regard to Irish Water as its foundation, everybody said we cannot have any changes and we must make absolutely certain that we continue to pollute the waterways by doing nothing.

We must recognise that if we are serious about what we must do, then we have to make changes to deliver to the community, whether urban or rural. We have to produce a system that enables a person to live wherever they wish, within reason, while at the same time ensuring he or she can avail of the best available means and conditions for dealing with the impact of living in that area.

Peat in dealing with sewage treatment has a proven record, as have reed beds and so on. In order to meet the challenges of the future, no one single remedy will resolve the problem. A combination of remedies, alternatives and effort by all and sundry throughout the country and the globe will ultimately succeed.

The Deputy is still making waves. I thank him for that. I call Deputy Ó Laoghaire to take us to midday.

I am glad for the opportunity to speak on this Bill. Climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our generation and is, undoubtedly, an emergency. I speak as one of the younger Deputies in the House. It is very possible that I, and certainly my children, will see the severe impacts of the climate emergency unless significant and radical action is taken, not only here but on a global level. In that regard, we have a role as an exemplar to the world. There is no doubt that, if the climate emergency accelerates and-or even continues at its current rate, it will cause profound inequality at a national level but more particularly at a global level.

We are at the minute facing the enormous and profound challenge of Covid. There is the Irish phrase, "An gad is giorra don scornach is túisce is ceart a scaoileadh", "The knot closest to the throat is the first to untie". Often that can be case with our priorities in this House. That does not mean, however, that we can ignore the profound and growing challenge of climate change. It will have severe impacts. It will potentially immiserate large parts of the world which are already poorly able to adapt to it. If the right approaches are not taken in Ireland and other developed countries, it may possibly immiserate some of our poorest citizens as well. We need to make sure the actions we take will leave no one behind. The policy we take to reduce emissions must ensure those who are most able to carry the burden do so while those least able to carry the burden are spared some of that weight.

I welcomed the Bill when it was published. The pre-legislative scrutiny by the Oireachtas joint committee was limited. However, there was substantial engagement from the Sinn Féin team, which included Senator Lynn Boylan and Deputies O'Rourke and Cronin, and others on the committee. I pay tribute to them and the active role they played in bringing in experts to address the inadequacies of the draft Bill, especially in the area of just transition. Our team was proactive, bringing forward 78 recommendations to the Minister to strengthen the Bill. As a result of the recommendations, not only from Sinn Féin but many other organisations, the redraft is a significant improvement and strengthening of the legislation.

Social justice needs to be at the very heart of how we tackle climate change. There are still concerns about the Bill, especially around section 6(5)(a) and whether the Bill enacts the programme for Government commitment to reduce emissions by 51% by 2030. These concerns have been raised by climate experts such as John Sweeney, Andrew Jackson and Barry McMullan. We will continue to engage with them.

The issue of climate justice and the just transition were not explicitly referred to in the earliest draft but have since been included. It is not properly defined, however. For example, my mother is from Banagher in west Offaly, a community in which Bord na Móna is a significant employer and an integral part. The concern is that you cannot have the same impact in these towns and villages like what was had when Margaret Thatcher closed the coal mines in the Durham and the rest of the north of England and Wales. Misery and deprivation were created when this employment was just whipped from these communities with no investment put in place to replace it. It left profound misery. It is vitally important we get that right. That applies not just on a localised basis but on a state-wide level in terms of policies we enact. We must ensure it is not people on the lowest incomes who face the hardest burdens and that they are protected. We must ensure those who pollute the most and who can most bear the cost do so.

As well as all of this, there is opportunity. There are areas where the transition to a low-carbon economy can aid us. One area which I noted in Cork City Council is housing. When I am canvassing, I note the housing conditions in many private rented and local authority houses are absolutely desperate. In many instances, they are the modern equivalent of squalor, being cold and with damp on the walls. This has an impact on respiratory illnesses such as asthma. We need to move the retrofit programmes on from the apartment schemes to some of the older local authority housing developments. A development in my own city, Mount Sion Road in Greenmount, was built in the 1950s and is a considerable job which urgently needs to be done. There are also old developments in Cherry Tree Road and the area around the Five Star in Togher, as well as in Mahon, Passage and Carrigaline which are urgently needed. The apartments are being retrofitted, which is welcome, but we also need to move on to the houses. An enormous amount can be done in this regard to save energy and to protect the incomes of these tenants. We need to make it easier as well for the private rented and the owner-occupied sectors. Some of the grants are welcome but sometimes they can be difficult to navigate.

How we imagine our cities plays a crucial role with emissions. We cannot keep expanding outwards and adding to the burden with an increasing number of cars on our streets. We need to develop on a denser basis within our city centres. Crucial to that is adequate public transport. I have been vocal on light rail. We need it in Cork. We used to have a tram system which was substantial at one stage. We need to get back to that. However, before we do, we need seriously to upgrade our bus system. Bus rapid transit is required along bus corridors and all communities need to benefit from that. Good work has been done in Cork with cycling and protection of pedestrians.

The taxi industry feels excluded and ignored in the transport area in general. It is also the case in the climate change area. We need to start talking to taxi drivers as partners. There are schemes for electric cars which are a welcome support for the transition to an electric fleet. However, these cars are way beyond the reach of most taxi drivers, especially after almost two years of no income for them. We need to remember they are key enablers in public transport. When I travel to Dublin by train, which I do quite regularly, it is a taxi which brings me to Kent Station in Cork and a taxi which brings me from Heuston Station in Dublin. We need to treat taxi drivers as partners in this and give them greater support.

Local authorities have large estates of property. They need to do more to ensure they are generating energy from their buildings and from their lands. Some local authorities are good in that regard. The role of green apprenticeships is crucial as well with significant potential to create a great deal of employment.

On the point made by Deputy Durkan about the grid, there are huge potential opportunities for local authorities to generate income for themselves if they can sell it back to the national grid. There are opportunities also for local communities to establish trusts to generate their own energy, to benefit from it and sell it on to the local grid. We must do much more in that regard. We will continue to critically engage with this Bill.

Debate adjourned.