Deputies Bacik, Kelly and Nash are sharing time
National Standards Authority of Ireland (Carbon Footprint Labelling) Bill 2021: Second Stage [Private Members]
I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
I am glad to introduce this important Bill on behalf of the Labour Party. Following the publication of the Government's climate action plan and the conclusion of the COP26 talks in Glasgow last week, we have seen increased urgency and increased public focus on the need to take urgent measures to tackle the climate crisis and the need to ensure we put in place a just transition and climate justice measures. In all of our constituencies, such as my own in Dublin Bay South, we see individuals, households and communities coming forward wanting to contribute to our communal effort to tackle our carbon emissions and bring about a genuinely decarbonised society. However, we need supports to do this. That is why we are introducing this Bill. We in the Labour Party are a party of serious environmentalists. We are serious about offering practical ways to meet our climate targets. That seriousness of intent was evident at our party conference at the weekend in the Mansion House, where we passed some important motions on climate and where I informed delegates this Bill was just one of a package of measures we would be introducing in the Dáil and which we see as essential to enable us to reach those vital targets of a 51% reduction by 2030 and net zero by 2050.
What does this Bill propose to do and what is carbon labelling? Carbon labelling seeks to give consumers greater information on the environmental impact of goods they will purchase, in other words, the carbon footprint of those goods. Consumers are currently faced with difficulties when seeking to buy sustainably and to buy in a more environmentally friendly fashion. Currently, there is an absence of an overall standard scheme on how to calculate or communicate a product’s carbon footprint to consumers. Increasingly, however, we are seeing moves at international, national and, indeed, corporate levels to develop those standards. There is a clear need for independent, verifiable and universal standards and specifications. The scheme under this Bill would empower consumers by enabling informed choices to be made. It would encourage the purchase of goods with lower environmental impact. That is exactly what this Bill seeks to do.
Carbon footprint labels being developed attempt to itemise all greenhouse gas emissions relief through the product life cycle, from the extraction of raw materials through to manufacture, distribution, use and eventual disposal. Consumers are increasingly demanding this information. Companies are increasingly moving to introduce their own labelling systems. Just this year, big multinationals such as Unilever announced the introduction of labels across thousands of their products. We see legislatures moving to do this. In Colorado, the "Buy Clean Colorado" Bill, which was passed earlier this year, had the same intent. We are increasing momentum around this at EU level. In the circular economy action plan, published in March 2020, the European Commission proposed a revision of consumer law to ensure consumers receive relevant information on products at point of sale. The Commission is also proposing that companies would substantiate environmental claims. It is considering setting minimum requirements for sustainability labels and other information tools. We see this work going on at transnational level. Indeed, we are likely to see significant progress in the near future on the setting of carbon footprint standards. A harmonised EU approach is clearly the preferable way forward on rolling out this system.
We are also seeing already significant progress at national level. That is what this Bill seeks to do - to build on that. The National Standards Authority of Ireland, NSAI, the statutory framework on which we based this Bill, is our official standards body. It operates under the National Standards Authority of Ireland Act 1996 and is accountable to the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment. As the State's official standards body, its function is to inspire consumer confidence through a recognisable and reliable infrastructure of standards for products. The NSAI is already working on developing ways to measure carbon footprints. It is doing so with reference to the International Organization for Standardization, ISO, 14060 suite of standards and guidelines, which seeks to develop a set of auditable tools to help address climate change through a systematic approach to greenhouse gas quantification, monitoring, reporting, validation and verification. The NSAI is already offering an auditing and verification service against a number of ISO 14060 standards. This gives us a basis on which we can develop this scheme of carbon accreditation.
We are also seeing civil society pushing forward on this. For example, the NGO, the Carbon Trust, which has been established on our neighbouring island, is already working with companies there to help them measure, manage and reduce the footprint of their products. It provides a blueprint for a product carbon footprint label, which provides consumers with verified information. It provides footprints on a cradle-to-gate basis, used for business-to-business products, measuring emissions from the extraction of raw materials, through to product manufacture, and up to the factory gate. It also provide cradle-to-grave footprints for business-to-consumer products, which is the model we are seeking to develop through this Bill and through the scheme to be established under it.
The Carbon Trust follows a product carbon footprint protocol consisting of a carbon life cycle assessment and additional specific rules to certify the footprint according to type of label. There were a number of different labels. It is a useful model to see how practically this could work. Since we launched the Bill yesterday, we have had huge goodwill and support from members of the public for the principle behind it. The question we have been asked is how it would work in practice. It is worth saying we have models elsewhere, we see this working in practice elsewhere, and there is already a momentum for this.
This Bill is not some sort of far-fetched or utopian vision. It seeks to establish, in a very practical way, a framework for providing consumers with necessary information to help them make sustainable choices.
To return to how this would work in practice, we see the Carbon Trust providing a reducing CO2 label for some products, showing their footprint is reducing year on year and that the company is committed to achieving footprint reductions, in addition to a reducing CO2 packaging label to show the packaging's carbon footprint is also decreasing. We are familiar with other sorts of verification schemes around calorie counting products, nutritional information, fair trade and sustainable production, which are very well-established labelling schemes. Our Bill would build on these frameworks already in place and with which we are all very familiar. It seeks to confer powers on the National Standards Authority of Ireland, NSAI, the existing body with responsibility in this area, to develop standards to give information about the carbon footprint of commodities and thus to require reporting of greenhouse gas emissions on that cradle-to-grave basis. We want to make it easier for people to take steps to reduce their impact on the environment with this Bill. We know that if we could see this information clearly, it would enable us to make those informed choices.
It also places an onus on companies and corporates to stop flag-flying on climate issues. It would expose those who are carrying out what we might describe as greenwashing and would give credit to those who are taking the challenge seriously and taking substantive steps to reduce their carbon footprint. We know the term "greenwashing" was coined in the 1980s following a series of advertisements commissioned by the oil giant, Chevron, in an attempt to convince the public of its environmental bona fides. Deputies may recall its advertisements showing feel-good pictures of forest, woodland and so on, which diverted attention from the immense environmental damage being done by fossil fuel production. The term "greenwashing" has entered the lexicon and we know this is still a practice that may be used to fool customers into buying products that are not in fact environmentally sustainable. As legislators, we need to devise a scheme that will address the practice of greenwashing and give consumers real choice based on independently verified information. We in the Labour Party, as red greens or as green reds, have always sought to achieve a balance between the interests of consumers and those of society in a way that does not place undue obstacles on business but nonetheless recognises the responsibility of corporates and manufacturers in this regard. We are seeking to rebalance power between consumers, or individual citizens, and corporations.
I will briefly mention the issue of gender equality and climate. I am very glad to have been nominated chairperson of the new special Oireachtas committee on gender equality. I note that, as former President Mary Robinson has said, "Climate change is a man-made problem ... [with] a feminist solution". In any new climate scheme we introduce, we need to be mindful of the gendered impact of climate change. We have seen that the UN estimates 80% of people displaced by climate change are women. All of us know the impact of the climate crisis upon women, in particular. I mention that because the impact of the climate crisis on gender is something I will be very mindful of in my role on the committee on gender equality. In that context, it is worth mentioning that International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women is next Thursday.
I welcome the Government's engagement on this matter and the amendment it has put forward in the sense that it shows constructive engagement. We in the Labour Party are about constructive engagement on this. We will accept the amendment, but we will hold the Government to account to ensure that, in 12 months' time, the Bill will be read a Second Time.
I commend my colleagues, Deputies Duncan Smith and Bacik, on bringing this Bill forward. It is an excellent Bill coming the week after a very disappointing COP26. This Bill is a way to ensure greenwashing by large corporations is tackled once and for all. Companies and producers now want to come across as being as green as possible, but the reality is very few of us can really know the true carbon cost of most things we buy in supermarkets or any other stores. Millions are being spent on marketing and public relations to persuade us that products are sustainable or environmentally friendly, but in most cases all we have to rely on their word, their packaging and their advertising.
We need a reliable national standard people can trust. When doing your weekly grocery shopping, it can be all but impossible to know the environmental impact of what you buy. The famous avocado has a major carbon impact, but so too does Brazilian beef. Many companies have started providing a carbon footprint, but we need a measure people can know is independently decided. If we want to seriously transition to a low-carbon economy, it will mean using local products as much as possible. That means the person buying a product needs to know the impact of this asparagus, hazelnut milk or soya product. This Bill is a way to support local producers in Ireland and responsible producers.
It is not just about food either but everything from electronics to housewares and clothes. Rampant consumerism has gone hand in hand with corporate greenwashing. One of the key reasons we want to bring this Bill forward is to support Irish producers. A standardised carbon footprint label will provide people with a clear sense of what they are buying. If it is introduced, this Bill will provide a competitive advantage, especially for Irish food producers. Our agrifood sector is one of our largest employers, providing jobs for more than 300,000 people. It is central to the economic fortunes of rural Ireland and contributes to our food security. We need to do more to reduce our carbon emissions from the sector, but we also need to recognise its true strengths. A robust carbon labelling system will provide a further incentive for farmers who produce more environmentally friendly food.
There is an obsession with the national herd at the moment, which is something that does not really exist. What does exist are tens of thousands of farmers, some big, some small, some intensive and some not. Progress is being made. The recent campaign launched by Teagasc and Bord Bia to create awareness among farmers of the carbon footprint of their farms is very welcome. It is a further move in the right direction. Knowing what farmers' baseline emissions are is necessary so that progress can be recorded. More than 54,000 farmers can get access to their footprint through the farmer feedback report under Bord Bia's quality assurance schemes, which also allows them to benchmark their farms against others of a similar size. We have the Origin Green programme and, combined with information on their carbon footprint, would add further to farmers' credentials. Our horticulture sector is worth nearly €500 million and supports thousands of jobs, but we need to do more to encourage home-grown fruit and vegetables. Carbon labelling for our dairy products would also provide a clear advantage on the international market backed up by a robust system developed by the NSAI.
Ireland can be a world leader on this if we want to be. We can lead the way with a carbon standard. We are asking Irish farmers to cut their carbon emissions, and it will be difficult. Our party's legislation is a way to make it a little easier. We know that adding value to the products made here is the best way to support farming incomes. Providing an incentive to supply less carbon-intensive dairy, beef or any other food is the way forward. Carbon labelling is part of that solution. Research from Italy showed that people preferred to buy dairy products with carbon footprint labels. It also allows for informed purchases and supports more environmentally sustained farming.
As I said at the weekend during our party conference, we need a new deal on climate. We cannot delay any more on climate action. It is a betrayal of the next generation, including my children and everyone else's. Only the State can take the action needed to deliver a just transition for workers and families that unites people rather than divides urban and rural communities, which I cannot stand. This Bill is an important part of working with all communities. By putting carbon labelling on products, we are raising awareness of the steps we in our everyday lives can take to slow climate change. No one person or organisation will solve climate change. It is all about the incremental changes we can all make on a daily basis. This Bill would support our local producers and reward them for low-carbon farming.
I am very pleased to speak on this very progressive Bill. I acknowledge the lead role played by our colleague, Deputy Duncan Smith, in its genesis, in addition to the work Deputy Bacik has done on it to date.
As we know, climate change is the single most important challenge of our time. It is existential and beyond urgent, though one wonders if that reality has dawned on many of those who attended COP26 in Glasgow. The scale of the task facing us can often feel completely overwhelming. It is understandable that we as individual citizens might say, "This is too big for me; nothing I can do can change anything", but this is simply untrue. We cannot be fatalistic and fall into that trap.
Yes, we all despair at the foot-dragging and the incrementalism of the big polluters and leaders of large nations who would keep permitting them to do what they do and to hell with the consequences, but all of us still have a role to play. We all have a responsibility. We can take some control of our own lives and of our planet’s destiny. We all have agency and we all have power and that is what this Bill is fundamentally about.
When we are shopping, most of us these days try, insofar as we can, to be health conscious. We try to make decisions about what we put into our bodies based on the standardised nutritional values on the packaging we see in our supermarkets. I also make decisions, as do many of us, based on labour standards applied by the companies which produce the products we are interested in buying. Do they treat their workers well? Where do they source their ingredients? Were the ingredients sourced sustainably? That is often a very difficult decision to make and a question to answer as there are simply no commonly understood legal standards to define that term. Too much of it involves guesswork and it is a case of finding out what you can for yourself.
The question of labelling is a powerful and often emotive one. There is much about their products companies themselves and indeed entire states do not want you to know. One need only look at the resistance to a modest proposal emanating from these Houses, supported by the Labour Party, to label goods produced in the illegally-occupied territories of Palestine. Labelling matters and so does the presentation of labelling, or rather the misrepresentation of labelling. The phenomenon of greenwashing, mentioned by my colleague, Deputy Bacik, is something we are seeing more and more. We see some of the most egregious carbon- and methane-emitting firms and industries in the world mislead and deliberately misrepresent their environmental credentials because they can get away with it. More often than not they get away with it with impunity because their cant goes unchallenged and there are no robust legal standards that apply to this area. Greenwashing reminds me of the behaviour of some of the biggest firms which think that by wrapping themselves in the rainbow flag they are good employers and they are embracing equality, diversity and basic human respect and decency. Some of these companies are among those that are most openly aggressive and hostile towards trade unions, for example. A company does not get to call itself decent if that is its policy. It cannot define what decency involves. In the very same way, a firm responsible for polluting our air, land and water should not be able to make up their own tailored, customised, bespoke rules on sustainability. That simply cannot be allowed to happen and that is what this Bill is about. At the same time, the Bill does not overpromise. It is a modest proposal designed to make industry and producers honest and to treat consumers as informed citizens, providing all of us with the knowledge we need to do the right thing.
I am pleased Government will not be opposing this Bill. That is very progressive. We are prepared to work with Government on improving this Bill if that is required and we are aware that there is work going on at EU level on the standardisation and harmonisation of this process. I doubt we would have been made aware this week, or indeed earlier, of the Government’s plans or the EU plans formally in this House if it were not for the Labour Bill that prompted that action and that information to come forward. On that basis alone this Bill is very welcome and this should prompt the action that is required, needed and is frankly beyond urgent.
I move amendment No. 1:
To delete all words after “That” and substitute the following:
“(a) Dáil Éireann resolves that the National Standards Authority of Ireland (Carbon Footprint Labelling) Bill 2021 be deemed to be read a second time this day twelve months, to allow for further consideration and analysis, including a Regulatory Impact Assessment, of how the Bill will achieve its objectives; and particularly in light of developments at European Union (EU) level on the proposal for a Sustainable Products Initiative where the EU single market for products requires that labelling on products is developed and implemented on an EU-wide basis with EU-wide adoption. The Sustainable Products Initiative sets out a comprehensive and ambitious proposal in this regard including minimum sustainability standards on a significant array of products, a digital product passport, requirements for circularity, repairability and durability while also proposing the expansion of the Ecodesign directive to apply significant energy and sustainability standards on the most environmentally impactful product types; and for developments on these EU initiatives to be such considered in further scrutiny of the Bill; and
(b) notes that the Private Members’ Bill, as initiated, gives rise to several matters, some of which would present concerns and therefore require further consideration after passing Second Stage. These include its interaction with the EU energy label which follows a standard format which is easily recognisable to consumers; the viability of the Bill in achieving the policy objective of carbon footprint labelling at national level, its 2067 interaction with the existing NSAI Ecolabel standard, potential barriers to trade that could be created by Ireland applying national standards that could be considered inconsistent with freedom of movement of goods within the single market; its compatibility from a trade perspective with the World Trade Organization particularly regarding their principles of national treatment and non-discrimination; and the costs and benefits for companies including those additional costs in operating under both an EU and separate national carbon specifications.”
I am moving this amendment on behalf of the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment. I thank Deputies Bacik, Kelly and Nash. I welcome this Bill. This is a timed amendment to this Private Member's Bill so that the Bill would be read a Second Time a year from now, when it is expected the European Commission will have made significant progress in detailing the labelling and sustainability requirements to be introduced under the Sustainable Products Initiative, SPI. The amendment also highlights key issues that will need to be considered at a further reading, including the requirement to recognise we operate within the Single Market and separate regulations for products in Ireland are potentially a barrier to that Single Market. An EU-Ievel approach under the Sustainable Products Initiative is therefore the ideal mechanism to progress this shared objective. We also need to recognise we operate within the existing Ecodesign and energy labelling regulations for some products and that these regulations are improving the environmental performance of products. We need to assess the viability of the Bill in achieving the policy objective of carbon footprint labelling at national level and the costs and benefits for companies, including those additional costs that would arise from operating under both an EU and separate national carbon specifications. We need to asses the interaction of the Bill with the existing NSAI Ecolabel standard. We need to asses the compatibility of the Bill from a trade perspective with the World Trade Organisation particularly regarding its principles of national treatment and non-discrimination.
I thank the Deputy and the Labour Party for raising this important issue.
As we transition our economy and society to a low-carbon one, we need to empower consumers to make good and informed choices. Consumer preference for climate-friendly products will further encourage innovation and creativity from product manufacturers and suppliers to provide products through decarbonised supply chains or new products that replace those with negative environmental impacts with respect to their production, use, redundancy or as waste.
The Government shares the intention of the Private Member's Bill. We need product sustainability standards and labelling to drive down the carbon footprint of the goods we consume and also to provide for evolving consumer preferences and the choice to select a low-carbon alternative when possible. These standards need to be the complete opposite of the greenwashing we often see and hear, where a product claims to be good for the environment but does not provide the rigorous analysis necessary to substantiate that claim. We need robust and verifiable product sustainability standards and in my view these need to be appropriate to the product category. For example, the type of information consumers need for a construction product like cement and the type of information required for a mobile phone will be very different. Indeed, the assessment to establish the carbon footprint of those products would be very different. That is why a European-level approach to this under the EU Green Deal, a component of which is the Sustainable Products Initiative which takes a product by product approach, is the most appropriate mechanism to deliver on this important objective.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Sustainable Products Initiative and embodied carbon in buildings and construction. The Commission's 2020 Circular Economy Action Plan included a commitment to a new sustainable product policy legislative initiative, commonly referred to as the Sustainable Product Initiative. Under the SPI, the Ecodesign directive will be revised with additional measures to make products placed on the EU market more sustainable. The directive will be widened beyond energy-related products to apply to a much wider range of products. The Ecodesign directive will also be amended to support the circular economy further by establishing new EU rules for product durability, repairability, re-usability and high quality recycling. A ban on the destruction of unsold durable goods will also be introduced. The sustainable products initiative will also address the presence of harmful chemicals in products such as electronics and ICT equipment, textiles, furniture, steel, cement, chemicals and textiles. Consumers, the environment and the climate will significantly benefit from these new rules. Earlier this year, the Commission carried out a public consultation on the SPI to gather information and views from stakeholders. Government strongly supports the initiative which has the potential to have significant environmental and climate benefits. I look forward to the Commission's legislative proposal on the SPI in early 2022.
Nationally, my Department is preparing a whole-of-Government high level circular economy strategy for publication before the end of this year. The strategy will set out high level objectives for the transition to a circular economy. Following publication, my Department will establish an interdepartmental working group which will advance a number of circular economy topics including sustainable design.
The built environment has a significant impact on many sectors of the economy, on local jobs and quality of life. It requires vast amounts of resources and accounts for about 50% of all extracted material. The construction sector is responsible for over 35% of the EU's total waste generation.
Greenhouse gas emissions from material extraction, manufacturing of construction products, as well as construction and renovation of buildings are estimated at between 5% and 12% of total national greenhouse gas emissions. Greater material efficiency could save 80% of those emissions. To increase material efficiency and reduce climate impact, the Commission is launching a comprehensive new strategy for a sustainable built environment based on learnt lessons. This strategy will ensure coherence across relevant policy areas such as climate, energy and resource efficiency, management of construction and demolition waste, accessibility, digitalisation and skills. It will promote circularity principles throughout the life cycle of buildings by addressing construction products' sustainability in line with the construction product regulation's revision, including potential recycled content requirements for certain construction products, promoting the durability and adaptability of built assets in line with the circular economy principles for building design. We are committed to working with industry stakeholders to increase the use of low-carbon materials and technologies in the construction and renovation of buildings in Ireland.
This will be informed by evolving EU standards and by best practice in other jurisdictions.
Recent experience with defective materials in new home construction underlines the need to take a robust performance-based approach to the adoption of low-carbon materials. Alternative materials must meet the requirements of all parts of the building regulations, including regulations related to durability, fire safety, structure and resistance to moisture. We will base our approach on environmental certification, and a framework for calculating the embodied carbon of a building, with a view to the implementation of Basis Works Requirement 7, Sustainable Use of Natural Resources, BWR7, and the environmental certification of construction products.
The Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, SEAI, has commissioned a life-cycle analysis study to compare the contribution of different construction materials to the embodied carbon in buildings. Our approach will include distinct steps for demonstration, certification, standardisation and commercialisation of construction practices. This will include the research and development of alternatives to traditional building materials and the increased use of low-carbon materials in construction. It will also allow for the decarbonisation and recertification of existing construction products when lower carbon manufacturing processes are implemented.
The Office of Public Works, OPW, is currently developing a roadmap to promote the use of low-carbon building alternatives in construction and we will identify opportunities to locate and build an exemplar public building using best available sustainable materials and, in particular, buildings using wood. We can see examples of predominantly timber and clay buildings in many of our local Lidl supermarket stores where they have embraced low-carbon construction and operation of buildings, and act as a leader in this regard.
Furthermore, the green deal's renovation wave initiative can lead to significant improvements in energy efficiency in the EU. The Commission will implement the initiative in line with circular economy principles, notably optimised life-cycle performance and longer life expectancy of built assets. As part of revising the recovery targets for construction and demolition waste, they will pay special attention to insulation materials, which generate a growing waste stream.
Ireland will be obliged to follow this harmonised procedure via harmonised technical specifications for construction products when a consensus of approach emerges. In that regard, it would be counter to harmonisation to develop national rules for matters covered by the Internal Market regulation.
Finally, as a note of caution, all businesses much adopt a Paris-aligned path-to-zero approach to their carbon emissions. Any business that does not, through delay or denial, risks its sustainable economic future and that of its employees. Wholesale carbon prices rose 10% across the European Union last week on the completion of COP26 and this will directly impact the cost of high-carbon materials. Everyone in every business needs to treat the climate emergency as an emergency. I thank the House for allowing me to speak on this important debate this morning.
I thank the Minister of State for his contribution and for the Government not opposing our Bill. I congratulate my colleagues, Deputies Duncan Smith and Ivana Bacik for bringing forward this legislation. All of us in this House are possibly haunted by the fact that in 20 or 30 years’ time younger members of our family may be asking us what on earth we did when we had the chance to do something. That is why it is all our responsibility to do something. Any of us who think we can radically address this existential crisis without it involving any pain for anybody is fooling themselves. It shows zero political leadership for any political entity or grouping to suggest we can all live our lives as we have in the past and address this issue; we cannot.
Mary Robinson stated at COP26:
COP26 has made progress but nowhere near enough to avoid climate disaster. While millions around the world are in crisis not enough leaders were in crisis mode. People will see this as a historically shameful dereliction of duty. Leaders have extended by a year this window of opportunity to avert the worse of the climate crisis. The world currently needs them to step up more decisively next year.
What she said on national radio this week really stopped me in my tracks. She said anyone under the age of 60 in our world is likely to have a world that is less liveable in, which is facing terrible fires, floods and droughts and millions of people having to leave their homes. Anybody under the age of 30 is sure to live in that world, and that is what we are talking about.
I am mindful of some of the very hot and heavy contributions that have been made to debates like this one in this Oireachtas and particularly this Dáil. Those who tend to make these hot and heavy contributions, and who accuse those of us who are trying to address climate change of driving a wedge between urban and rural Ireland, should ask themselves how many people in their families are under the age of 30 and what they will say to those family members in 30 years’ time. This is not about urban or rural Ireland; it is about all of us making an effective change and changing the ways in which we have been living.
We can make positive changes to the way we live by trying to understand what the carbon impact is of buying one product or service over another, which is what our Bill seeks to achieve. It can be difficult to see beyond the massive greenwashing of companies that are trying to tap into an increased appetite for change and at the same time hide or obscure the actual level of carbon which contributes to any product or service. We in the Labour Party are justifiably sceptical of any corporate entity which looks at the massive mobilisation of young people and wonders how it can tap into that consciousness and their ethic in order to make money.
In a shop or online, it should be easy to identify which of two products or services has a greater impact on global warming. This Bill seeks to put in place an independent and transparent carbon labelling system for all corporations. In the same way that people have nutritional data to manage their health, we need to provide clear carbon data in order that people can manage their climate impact. It also creates a clear way of comparing which companies are serious about working towards a liveable, sustainable future and those who are not. At present, customers still have no way to compare how companies are doing on their climate credentials. This leaves them open to misleading claims and confusing messages designed to persuade us that corporations are pulling their weight when many are not. I often think of the phrase "recyclable versus recycled".
In early 2020, Ryanair made a claim that it was the UK's lowest emission airline. The statistics it used were completely misleading based on data from 2011 and left out many of its leading competitors. There is no way big corporations like Ryanair will magically publish accurate and independent measures of unflattering climate change data. At present, so-called green measures are more likely driven by marketing departments trying to tap into ethical consumer dollars. Companies that are making genuine strides to be low-carbon suppliers find it genuinely hard to differentiate themselves against the claims and counter-claims from their less scrupulous competitors.
As spokesperson on enterprise and employment for the Labour Party, it is essential we reward those companies which are doing things right by giving them an independent, transparent and standardised mechanism for showing their customers they are working to help to save us all. Businesses which are paying marketing lip service can be forced to publish their carbon sums in order that they can be monitored, tested and interrogated. We need honest data and information to allow us to publicly support those who are on the side of the fight against climate change and to abandon those who are not pulling their weight.
This Bill is not a magic bullet. We do not pretend that it is. The State will have to go way beyond labelling in managing a just transition to a liveable future but this Bill sets out a straightforward mechanism for the Government to let us start, at least, to monitor and measure the carbon impact of everyday choices in living our lives. I hope this Bill will be supported by all parties as a positive step towards the change that we need. There is no doubt there are a thousand different areas where we need to take action. This Bill is a small but nonetheless essential component in allowing people to make positive climate choices when they spend their money. We think climate change is too important to play games with.
Representatives from all parties and groupings in this Oireachtas should work to support each other and help to lead our people into a just transition to a more sustainable future. Often the struggle within parties will be as important as those between parties. The Labour Party is particularly aware of the work of Labour Youth in championing action on climate change as a core Labour Party value. I would ask those young people who are supporters of other political parties to exert all the pressure they can on their own political movements to ensure the vast majority of this Dáil is united in doing what needs to be done. We need to support those in government or in opposition when they take principled stances to support climate measures. We need to reach across party lines to help each other in the political world to make the right choices. If those of us who are serious on this issue could work together in opposition and in government to do the right thing always and not just oppose taxes or painful choices to cause difficulty for the Government, then we in Ireland can become leaders, not laggards, in international climate action.
This Bill is a step towards that process. In ten, 15, 20 or 30 years, I want to be able to say I did everything in my power to make the changes we needed when the call was made. Supporting this Bill and acting on the outcomes is a small part of that commitment.
I thank the Labour Party for bringing forward this Bill. It seeks to amend the National Standards Authority of Ireland Act 1996 in order to "confer functions on the [NSAI] in relation to promoting the use of standard specifications and standard marks to give information about the carbon footprint of commodities, process and practices". Sinn Féin will support the Bill.
It is important now and will be increasingly so into the future that we have such mechanisms in place to ensure transparency and accountability. We have heard speakers from the Labour Party and they agree the Bill will not crack that nut but is a step in the right direction and can be built upon. There are questions in terms of how we operationalise such a system of accounting but it will be important, not least because we already see how some large corporations are bombarding consumers with more and more dubious claims about their green credentials.
My colleague, Senator Boylan, has highlighted how several energy suppliers that claim to offer electricity from 100% renewable sources are simultaneously raising their prices during this period of extortionate gas prices on the international markets. That raises the question of how companies who are supposedly 100% renewable are so exposed to the volatility in the gas market. At least part of the answer relates to the fact they are not 100% renewable, but by marketing manoeuvre and advertising sleight of hand, they present it as such. When a person signs up to a 100% renewable supplier, he or she is probably expecting the electricity will be generated by wind, solar or hydropower but, in many cases, 100% renewable involves suppliers getting electricity from whatever fossil fuel source they like and buying certificates to offset the non-renewable electricity, so-called guarantees of origin. One guarantee of origin corresponds to 1 MWh of renewable electricity. It is a financial document. If a supplier wants 100% renewable electricity, it buys from a producer that offers the guarantees alongside the sales. An energy supplier offering 100% renewable can buy the guarantees from anywhere in Europe but the electricity delivered will still most likely come from fossil fuel power plants in Ireland or on the Continent. For example, a consumer on a 100% renewable tariff could be getting coal-fired power from Moneypoint. On paper, it reads as 100% renewable because the supplier has bought guarantees, but it is not. This practice is damaging because people have a right to know where their energy is coming from. If people want to avoid fossil fuels, there is no way of knowing which energy companies do not use them.
Several of the 18 suppliers that had their fuel mixes disclosed this week by the Commission for Regulation of Utilities, CRU, claimed to be 100% renewable but this is not the case. Customers are being misled and this needs to be addressed. This is one example, but greenwashing, as has already been referenced, is bad and getting worse. While this Bill seeks to appoint the NSAI to provide independent and comparable figures that include corporate processes and practices in recognisable and reliable standard measures, we also need tighter advertising standards to ensure companies cannot make outlandish climate claims, green claims or greenwashing claims without rigorous oversight and verification. This stuff really does matter. The current advertising standards are not robust enough.
Elsewhere, the Bill seeks to introduce carbon footprint information on all products. The aim of this would be to provide consumers with information about the environmental impacts of products, in a similar vein to how ingredients or calories are presented on products. Some companies already do this voluntarily. For example, Quorn, the meat alternative company has carbon labelling on some products, and BrewDog, the brewery, pub and restaurant chain, highlights the carbon footprint of individual items on its menu. The widespread use and standardisation of such an approach would provide for improved tracing, transparency, accountability and better information for consumers, remembering the old maxim to the effect that if you cannot measure it, you cannot manage it. It should not simply be seen as a tool to influence consumer behaviour. That is an important point and I do not think that is the suggestion from the proposers.
We are in a climate crisis. We need to address the root causes of the crisis and we need systems change in energy, transport, economics and food. While individuals can and will play their part, the focus should not be diverted from the major corporations that are responsible for huge amounts of emissions or from the failure of successive governments to take appropriate action and lead from the front to stem the impact of climate change. The climate crisis will not be tackled by shifting the focus onto individual behaviours or individual consumer choices. Carbon labelling can be for the climate crisis what calorific labelling is for the obesity epidemic. It can be a waste of time, an irrelevance, or worse, a tool to be used to give the semblance of action as powerful corporations drive on, ever more rampant and reckless. Other forces at play, such as predatory advertising, need to be tackled. Tighter regulation and proper deterrents are needed in tandem with providing consumers with more information if we are to tackle this issue successfully.
We need to recognise the disproportionate contribution of the world's wealthiest on the climate emergency. Last week, the CEO of Amazon waxed lyrical about climate change at COP26. With no shame, the same man took a vanity trip to space a few weeks before. He did not mention that or the fact that a few miles up the road from Glasgow in Dunfermline, Amazon was found to be in the practice of destroying millions of items in unsold stock every year, including smart TVs, laptops, drones and hairdryers. Let us not talk about product obsolescence. I welcome the moves the Government is making in relation to the circular economy and that needs to happen as quickly as possible.
Oxfam's report on confronting carbon inequality highlights the fact that during a critical 25-year period of unprecedented emissions growth, the richest 1% of the world's population were responsible for more than twice as much carbon pollution as the 3.1 billion people who make up the poorer half of humanity. Ordinary people would be correct in thinking there is one rule for them and one for the wealthy when it comes to climate action. We will not successfully tackle the climate crisis with a business as usual, status quo approach. The market and unregulated consumption created the climate emergency; they will not solve it. While the private sector will play a role in the solution, states must lead. They must not outsource their obligations to commercial interests.
One area where the State is outsourcing its obligations is offshore wind. We have almost unlimited potential for green offshore winds but the slow pace of planning and regulation is putting off some investors and the State is not leading from the front. Sinn Féin acknowledged the role of private companies in the development of offshore wind but we want to see semi-State bodies such as the ESB and Bord na Móna invest, develop and, importantly, retain ownership of renewable energy projects. It is essential the State does not become as reliant on private renewable energy production as it is on fossil fuels energy production now. The constant energy price hikes demonstrate how dependent and exposed the State is to volatility in the international energy markets and highlight the need to eliminate this threat.
I welcome the legislation and note the Government's amendment. It is an approach the Government has used consistently. It buys a year. I urge that action take place. We are in the middle of a climate emergency and need to see action. I am concerned in another respect. There is lots that could be done at European level. Some of what this Bill could deliver is, for example, an assessment of the carbon labelling of mushrooms grown on Irish peat versus international horticultural peat. Similarly, there is the comparison between Irish beef and Brazilian beef.
That is an important contribution it could make. The European Union also has a responsibility in terms of the Mercosur deal and international trade deals. It needs to watch its own carbon footprint as well.
I also want to make reference to young people, who are ahead of us in this regard. At the last Young Scientist competition I attended, a local school from my own area, Eureka Secondary School, put forward proposals in line with this. We need to get on board with that.
This pandemic, which we are still in the middle of, has proven to us on some level how we have failed to manage this planet. Unfortunately, we have seen it come back to hurt us and hurt our people in a really dreadful and tragic way, and we are far from through it. Within the last period, we have had COP26 and, for all the failings there may have been, it was particularly useful in reinforcing the issues we are facing as a planet. There are sometimes very simple statements that the planet is burning. Greta Thunberg's "blah, blah, blah" speech reinforced the fact we have all failed to do a sufficient amount.
I welcome this Bill from the Labour Party. There is a piece of work that needs to be done. In fairness, this is the sort of due diligence that could be done on Committee Stage rather than the kicking down the road that has been the way of the Government, particularly in regard to Private Members’ legislation in the last while. It is unfortunate given the seriousness of the issue we are dealing with.
Obviously, we need carbon footprint labelling done as best as possible. We will all benefit from the point of view of having real data in regard to the supply chain, the process in regard to goods, the actual carbon footprint and the real environmental cost. It will also mean we do not have some of the false claims we are dealing with at this point in time. I also accept that, as with all of these things, we should do the best we can. However, there is a necessity to deal with this on an international basis. We need to make sure, particularly at the European Union, that we get this element of best practice and due diligence.
I understand that companies may sometimes be particularly good at one aspect that we believe is beneficial. I welcome the commentary earlier that we need to deal with companies on the basis that not only are they environmentally good, but they are good in regard to their workers’ rights and their international relations. I have heard mention of, and I would add my voice on, the plight of the Palestinian people and the fact an awful lot of goods are still being produced in the occupied territories. We had the issue of the occupied territories Bill here. While there can be an over and back in regard to the Attorney General and whether it should be at this point or somewhere within the European Union, we need trade deals that have an element of fairness.
That fairness also relates to climate change. Deputy O'Rourke spoke about it being very difficult to sell to people the best practice and due diligence they need in their sector. If it is agriculture we are talking about, we have the impending madness of Mercosur. There is the possibility that if we have alterations to how we deal with agriculture here, where we may have best practice in many cases in regard to how beef is produced, we will be swapping that for Brazilian beef, with all the difficulties that relate to it.
We need to have a real conversation, and this Bill and the idea of carbon footprint labelling will play a definite role. I would also accept that for a huge number of people, when they go shopping these sorts of issues will not determine what they buy, and that will be on the basis of the choice that is in front of them. In many cases, if we are dealing with people who are suffering from poverty, they will not necessarily look at this.
On the wider issue, I reiterate Deputy O'Rourke’s point that what really needs to happen in regard to making the big moves that need to be made is that states have to play a huge part. I get that we are looking at changing the rules across the board. At European level, we are talking about green bonds but what are we really talking about? We all know the fiscal constraints within which we operate. We know some of those constraints were jettisoned during the pandemic but we all need to have a real conversation on what needs to be done. States need to play a lead role, as they played in the pandemic, particularly across Europe. We need to look at the means of freeing up the credit that is available at this point in time in a way that enables this State and other states, operating together on an international basis, to bring about real and meaningful change.
This Bill is a small piece of a solution and it will work. We have to do what we can to enact it as soon as possible.
I thank Deputy Bacik and the Labour Party for introducing this Bill to the House. Every one of us has a part to play in reducing emissions, for example through identifying and purchasing products that have a lower carbon footprint or choosing to implement changes to our everyday habits. Every effort we make as individuals is worthwhile, and we should remain committed to these measures. This Bill has a role to play in this overall effort by giving us the opportunity every day to consider the products we are purchasing or the services we are acquiring, and being able to incorporate the well-being of our planet into such decisions.
A number of companies have taken it upon themselves to include carbon footprint labelling on their products, allowing customers to make an informed decision on the environmental impact of their purchases. This is a welcome initiative and, therefore, we will be supporting this Bill. There are aspects of the overall Bill that we must be aware of but they have nothing to do with its intentions, which are important and welcome. We cannot allow the focus of responsibility to be taken away from the key emitters in this world, or the measures that are pursued by governments that run contrary to the campaign to reduce emissions.
I will deal with the first matter at the outset. At the recent COP26, we were reminded that the aim to reduce emissions to the extent needed is doomed to failure unless the key emitters in this world are forced by governments across the world to change their ways in a manner that is meaningful. Fine words, positive tones and aspirations are not enough to ward off the calamity of climate change. Huge efforts were put into coming to a consensus on how the globe will collectively tackle climate change but those efforts were made all the more difficult by the fact that hundreds of fossil fuel lobbyists were also at that event. These are the people who should not be allowed to lobby for preferential treatment. Instead, those industries which make billions of euro out of pumping emissions into the atmosphere should be called out for what they are and treated accordingly - as the main source of emissions on this planet. The focus must primarily be on them to change their ways and contribute significantly to the global effort. That is why we must take care to ensure that when talking about Bills that focus on the individual responsibility of us all, we do not take the focus off the large emitters.
Ordinary households face challenges of their own. Funding for county councils to ensure the upkeep of often draughty houses is inadequate, with people waiting years for attention. Unsuitable living conditions have been reported in a large number of local authority houses. We cannot allow people living in such conditions to be the ones who lift the burden of soaring fuel prices while subsidies are given to industries that are the main global contributors to climate change, yet they are being targeted nonetheless.
This is a point that can be extended to the world’s poorest people, those living in countries where climate change is already leading to forced emigration, natural disasters and total upheaval. Oxfam’s Confronting Carbon Inequality report highlights the fact that the richest 1% of the world’s population are responsible for more than twice as much carbon pollution as the 3.1 billion people who make up the poorest half of the world. The report goes on to outline how “our current economic model has been an enabler of catastrophic climate change and equally catastrophic inequality”. Ban Ki-moon, Deputy Chair of The Elders and former Secretary General of the United Nations, said that “to tackle climate change we must fight for social and economic justice for everyone.” We must heed these words and show compassion to those suffering from poverty but also from the effects of climate change. Targeting those industries and the most wasteful must be prioritised. They have the resources that can effect meaningful change.
I want to comment on some counterintuitive measures that are being adopted here when it comes to actions that are being taken to tackle the emission of CO2. We have seen a situation arise in which shiploads of horticultural peat are being imported into this country from Latvia, Estonia and elsewhere because a decision has been taken to restrict the harvesting of horticultural peat. It is something I have raised here and at the agriculture committee on a regular basis, and is something I will continue to call out. When is the Government going to examine the carbon footprint involved in the introduction of this peat into Ireland, when we could harvest a comparatively small and limited amount without the need for the environmental impact of importing it from 3,000 miles away?
This is a measure that runs counter to the purpose for which the ban on horticultural peat harvesting was said to have been imposed. Would the Government like to account for the carbon footprint involved in these imports as opposed to harvesting this small amount of peat here? It makes no environmental or economic sense, damages businesses and yet is being presided over through a number of Departments. There is a report sitting on the desk of the Minister of State, Deputy Noonan, which is reported to state precisely the nonsensical nature of what we have been seeing in recent months. Common sense needs to prevail, both here and in our overall efforts to tackle emissions and climate change.
We will support this Bill. Everyone needs to be informed and to use that knowledge to act responsibly, but it is only right that we also point out that in advocating personal responsibility, we do not allow the people who are responsible for the lion's share of emissions to go unmentioned.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on the National Standards Authority of Ireland (Carbon Footprint Labelling) Bill 2021 and I congratulate Deputies Bacik and Duncan Smith for drafting and proposing the Bill. The Bill, if enacted, would provide the carbon footprint on every product to provide consumers with carbon information and would place an obligation on the NSAI to define a standard approach to carbon labelling as well as to ensure consistency in labelling.
Yesterday, when I introduced my Bill to ban car-idling near schools, I reiterated the point that individuals in society can often feel overwhelmed when it comes to looking at ways they can make an impact on climate change and pointed out that simple initiatives like this can make all the difference. Climate change is often seen as too big a problem and yet the Government continues to send out the message that individuals must do their bit. This has placed enormous pressure on individuals to reduce their carbon footprint, change their lifestyle and buy the often more expensive but greener product, but people are not yet empowered with the relevant information to help them make the greener, more sustainable choices.
As consumers, people continue to be fooled into believing that the choices they are making are green when, in fact, they are not or could, at worst, contribute to the harm of our planet through often aggressive greenwashing exercises by large corporations. The Bill, if implemented, could assist people in their decision-making by informing their decisions and empowering them as consumers. They could then make real and impactful changes if they knew the amount of carbon emitted in sourcing, producing, manufacturing, transporting and packaging a product by the time it gets to the shelves of their local shops.
It would also prevent the widespread use of greenwashing by companies and the misleading information that is out there in the selling of products. The culture of greenwashing is, in my view, the consumerisation of climate action. We are starting to go in the direction of a consumer world where false impressions or misleading information about how a company's product is environmentally friendly is making people believe that consuming products are one way to fight climate change when often the opposite is true.
While I welcome this Bill, I recognise that there will be complexities in implementing it. These are complexities that we will need to overcome and this is an important starting point for that. We are asking producers of products to research, examine and source information on all the ingredients, activities and resources that were used to make a product and the carbon footprint as a result of all that. For some products, this might be particularly difficult to calculate. We are looking at a global and supply chain approach to it as well which would also add complexities.
We would need to be cognisant of our small local businesses, particularly their capacity to make significant changes in the way their products are labelled and the additional demands on them. The Government can lead by providing supports and the framework for businesses to adapt to these and future changes in our effort to combat climate change. It would be another reason for us to promote locally grown and locally produced and home-run businesses. The complexity of the job of putting in place carbon labelling will demonstrate that local is best, particularly when it comes to food. Our focus needs to be on ensuring that this happens and that, when large structural changes occur, we act on climate change. However, supporting our local businesses will be key to the success of the implementation of climate actions such as this.
While I support this Bill, I believe that carbon is only one piece of a bigger puzzle when it comes to the information that consumers require to be fully informed of their impact on the climate. This comes back to the fact that we cannot be talking about climate separate from biodiversity. We have two crises but they are very much the same crisis. The impact on one will have an impact on the other and our measures to address one will also address the other.
The issue of climate change is not only about emissions. It is also about other forms of pollution. It is about unsustainable use of resources and the continuing degradation of our biodiversity and our natural heritage. What about the water footprint of our clothes? I worked in Australia for ten years, through the worst drought in history there. The water impact of the food we were eating, the houses we were living in and the products we were using was a key consideration. Sometimes we forget this element of our natural resources and the environment that we utilise.
What about the ecological footprint of our food plates or the products we are using? We could have a product that is carbon sustainable but very damaging from a biodiversity perspective. Trees are very good at capturing carbon but they could be devastating for the local biodiversity in the area. It is about having that full picture. To gauge the real impact of a product on our environment, a company should have to demonstrate the full environmental impact and not only its carbon footprint. I acknowledge that this will add to the complexity of the work that would need to be done.
The carbon footprint of a product may be low but it could be negatively impacting on the environment in terms of how much water the product needs. Even the most trivial products can have some kind of impact on the environment. Developing something akin to a life-cycle assessment of a product would paint a more accurate picture when the ecological and resource impact of a product is taken into consideration.
When we introduce initiatives like these, it is about facilitating a cultural shift, providing more information and developing an education piece to work beside our current exploration of what it is we need to be doing to stop climate change. For individuals, the feeling of wanting to do something tangible and with a real impact can seem overwhelming, especially in the age of endless information, whether true or false. On top of greenwashing, people are faced with an ever-growing list of things that they need to be seen to be doing as legitimately contributing to climate action. It can have almost a paralysing effect on people. Should a person give up using plastic straws, move away from fast fashion, stop eating avocados, grow their own vegetables or buy bamboo toothbrushes? There are so many choices out there with so little information. It makes it difficult for people to make informed individual choices, and ones that they feel will actually have the impact we need.
I welcome this Bill. As I said, it is a starting point. I hope the Government works with the Labour Party and with the Opposition on this. It is a good stepping stone to what we need to achieve.
I wish to share time with Deputy Barry.
I thank the Labour Party for bringing forward the Bill, which we support. We support anything that will enable people to take the action that they want to take. The evidence strongly suggests that people are in favour of doing everything they can to try to contribute to the collective effort to avoid the climate catastrophe we are currently hurtling towards. That attitude of ordinary people obviously contrasts sharply with the attitude of the global leaders seen, unfortunately, over the past two weeks, at COP26.
The failure of COP26 also highlights the thrust of the approach. We have no problem in agreeing with the Bill. However, the thrust of the approach of focusing on the question of carbon footprints and people's individual choices is pointing in the wrong direction as the main direction of what needs to be done. That is highlighted by the fact that the Bill is using the phrase "carbon footprint" but it was big oil that invented the phrase. It was the brainchild of an advertising agency employed by British Petroleum precisely to point away from the main responsibility of global corporations and global capitalism for the climate catastrophe we are experiencing. To quote Mr. Mark Kaufman:
British Petroleum, the second largest non-state owned oil company in the world, with 18,700 gas and service stations worldwide, hired the public relations professionals Ogilvy & Mather to promote the slant that climate change is not the fault of an oil giant, but that of individuals. It's here that British Petroleum, or BP, first promoted and soon successfully popularized the term "carbon footprint" in the early aughts. The company unveiled its "carbon footprint calculator" in 2004 so one could assess how their normal daily life – going to work, buying food, and (gasp) traveling – is largely responsible for heating the globe.
That covers up the very important truth that by the time the individual gets to the shop, work or wherever, many choices have been made such that he or she is not able to take the most important choices on the nature of food production, the nature of energy production, etc. Those are political choices and economic choices that are made by the capitalist class and its political representatives. There is a danger of assisting them in avoiding the truth that the climate catastrophe is being driven by a handful of major corporations, which have names, addresses and headquarters. They are who we should target.
Ordinary people have, and will, over and over again, show that they want to take whatever actions they can. This is fundamentally a systemic problem that requires systemic solutions. Focusing on personal responsibility will not solve the climate crisis. There is a parallel with Covid where, of course, personal responsibility is very important and so on, but it is not enough such is the scale and the nature of the problem that we face. Rather than just labelling products with their carbon footprint, which we should do, we need to tackle the polluting major corporations directly. Simply put, we need to ban any further data centres in this country and not just put out a sign stating how bad they are. We need to force fossil fuel companies to keep the oil and gas in the ground even though that will come at a cost to them of $5 trillion in respect of the assets currently on their books that simply cannot be realised, as well as the various investment in fossil fuel infrastructure that will have to be stranded.
We need to transform our transport system such that people have the real option of availing of free green and frequent public transport, safe cycle lanes and walking to overcome their reliance on private cars either of the petrol or diesel variety, but also of the electric variety, which is also not the answer. Fundamentally, as the slogan goes, which has been widely taken up, we need system change to stop climate change. The system that needs to be changed is the system of capitalism, production for profit and the exploitation and treatment of nature as something taken for free, as well as the exploitation of labour. The type of change we need is socialist change.
Individual actions that we can all take are welcome, but the crisis is beyond individual action. It requires transformation not only of our public transport, but our energy system, our housing system and, fundamentally, our economic system. That way of organising society of private ownership of the core sections of the economy and production and private for-profit must go. We need an alternative eco-socialist system that puts people and planet before profit. We need the current big polluters in democratic public ownership and then we need to plan for a society, which prioritises the quality of people's lives and which centres the idea of a good life for people as opposed to the drive of consumption that capitalism pushes onto people.
I will vote in support of the Bill. Recording the carbon footprint on the labelling of products would represent a small step forward. It is something large numbers of ordinary people will respond to. The point has to be made that a measure such as this is a drop in the bucket. I support it. Let us get it done, but there are much bigger issues that we need to address such as free public transport for all, a massive State programme to retrofit homes, a four-day working week with a 32-hour maximum, a massive State programme for green jobs and green energy, and a ban on new fossil fuel projects, including LNG in east Cork and at Shannon.
The weekend before last, I travelled to Glasgow to take part in the magnificent COP protests. Inside the conference hall, there were more than 500 accredited visitors from the fossil fuel industry, many of them part of national delegations, including the Canadian and Russian delegations. It was a scandal. It is akin to letting arms dealers into a peace conference. Outside on the streets, we had the future. Many of the 100,000 people there, mainly young, were pointing an accusing finger at corporate capitalism and the governments whose strings they pull. That movement can grow into a force that goes beyond just pointing the finger at capitalism to challenging the very rule of that system. My sincere hope is that it will grow into a movement of hundreds of millions in the years ahead.
I will support this Bill but, let us be clear, it is a drop in the bucket. Much bigger mountains need to be climbed in this battle in the time ahead.
I will vote against this Bill. According to it, there is increasing awareness of the need to make informed consumer choices based on the environmental impact of goods in light of their carbon footprint. While we all want to be aware of our own carbon footprint, carbon footprint labelling is not easy or feasible for many businesses. There are a range of issues attached to carbon labelling, which raise a highly complex set of interlocking problems. This policy has the potential to put hundreds of small food and artisan producers in Ireland out of business due to red tape compliance and transaction costs. In support and protection of so many of these small businesses in west Cork, I will not support the Bill.
On a practical level, most farmers, food processors, hauliers and shop owners have never considered the carbon content of their work. A farmer may know how much fertiliser is being used, but have only rudimentary energy accounts, often in money rather than energy units, or detailed measurements. It is likely that large-scale and multinational manufacturers will be better informed but, even so, a requirement to provide carbon statistics would create a major revolution. I could support carbon labelling of imported goods, which might already be manufactured in this country. Where is the carbon labelling on the peat being imported from Latvia, which we are doing instead of using peat produced in Ireland? What is the carbon footprint of importing Colombian briquettes? Are there any concerns in that regard?
In regard to COP 26 owing to the stance taken by India, China, Russia and Australia, it was all over before it even started. However, a good number of people got a holiday out of it. The American President arrived in one aeroplane, followed by a second plane carrying a number of fuel guzzling SUVs. Where was the carbon footprint there? Did anyone care? They did not. It was all about the lovely talks, which some people slept through because they had no intention of changing.
This Bill presents an impossible situation for small businesses. I will not support it.
I also will not support the Bill. Have the proposers of the Bill and those who propose to support it considered the implications it will have for small businesses in particular? Who is going to pay for this? I will set out exactly who is going to pay for it. The people selling the produce will have to pay for it, but they will then pass that cost on to the consumer. As such, the person consuming the goods will pay for the labelling of the goods. I am not sure if Members realise it, but families are struggling. People are struggling to pay their energy bills, put food on the table and send their children to school and college in order that they can be educated.
What is this all about? This Bill relating to carbon footprint labelling is about putting more expense on struggling families. That is exactly what it will do because this will not happen automatically or without a cost, and that cost will be passed on to the consumer. People need to wake up. As stated by Deputy Michael Collins in regard to the bales of briquettes, people thought it was a good idea to stop the production here of briquettes. Where is the carbon footprint on the labels of the peat being imported from Latvia or the briquettes being imported from Germany? Wake up and smell the roses. Some Members have spoken about a move to a four-day working week, everybody having something for nothing and the need for us to reduce the time we spend working.
For God's sake, who is going to pay for it? Sure, do you know what we will do? We will stop working all together, every one of us, and we will stop paying tax and the money will just fall out of the sky. The people sitting over here are living in a never-never wonderland, where they make it all up, with their "the sooner we go to a four day week" and so on. Of course, we should not work at all. We should all stop. Will people wake up and get real? They need to realise that people have to work, pay taxes and keep the wheels of our economy rolling.
Globally, consumers want food that has a low environmental impact, which provides a huge opportunity for Ireland. There are three aspects to this that need to be capitalised on. Ireland has the lowest carbon footprint for milk in the EU and the fifth lowest carbon footprint for beef because we use grass to produce milk and beef. Ireland has one of the lowest levels of forestry cover in Europe. Trees and hedges help to reduce climate change effects as they absorb CO2 from the atmosphere. My colleagues and I have consistently campaigned for the Government to tackle the licensing bottleneck to enable forestry planting and harvesting. The harvesting of trees is taking too long. Carbon gets locked into wood and wood products. When this happens, new trees can be replanted and the cycle of storage happens again.
What I want to say to everyone in Ireland and everyone in this House, particularly those on my right who are completely out of touch with reality, is that Ireland is 0.01 in terms of carbon in Europe and 0.04 globally. I want to point out to our Government and a lot of those on the left in this House that all we are doing is importing products from countries that are 40% and 50% of the problem in terms of global emissions. Wake up. We want to save the planet but the Government is killing everyone in Ireland with price increases because we are importing everything. Why not encourage people in Ireland to produce their own products and not kill this world?
You could not make it up. As I look around me, I see a few people who I know are sane but this House is the most lunatic place in the world at the present time. This is a good piece of blackguarding, to try to get people to pay more for their produce and to try to get producers to get involved in intricate actions to try to account for their carbon footprint. At the same time, this Government cannot put a process in place to measure the carbon that farmers are sequestering. The Government has said that this will not happen until 2027 but now we are being told that we need a carbon footprint label for the products on the shelves, including information on how they got there. It is totally and absolutely unfair. At the same time, the Government is importing peat from Latvia and briquettes from Germany. What is their carbon footprint?
The Government put a working group in charge of the provision of peat for horticulture, which has recommended the resumption of peat harvesting next year up until 2030 or 2035, until a suitable viable alternative is found. It is critically important that this happens to save the 17,000 jobs in the horticultural industry. Dr. Munoo Prasad sent his report to the Minister of State, Deputy Malcolm Noonan, on 20 October last. Where is that report and when is the Government going to act on it? Is the Government going to keep people in the horticultural business in suspense? That is what is going on and now we have this Labour Party Bill, which is supported by Sinn Féin. Some Sinn Féin Deputies say they will vote in favour of the Bill but then they are critical of its contents. As Tom Mike from Kilgarvan would say, if you try to sit on two stools, you will fall down between them. That is what will happen to the Sinn Féin Deputies if they carry on with this. They cannot fool the people by trying to carry the two sides of the road. That is what they are doing here and the Labour Party is trying to suggest that we put more expense on the consumer and more work on the producer-----
That is not true.
Thank you Deputy Healy-Rae..
We are producing the most economical and safe food-----
That is simply not true.
You are 30 seconds over your time.
We are producing the most economical food and agricultural produce in the world-----
That is ludicrous.
Thank you Deputy, you are over time.
It is the truth. The Labour Party is trying to blackguard the people-----
This is farcical.
They are trying to blackguard them again. They did from 2011 to 2016-----
Deputy, you are a full minute over your time.
They made a right job of it when they cut the pensions on the women-----
Deputy, please show some respect.
-----and they took away the death grant as well. When they could not get it from the living, they got it from the dead. They tried to get it from them as well.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on the Labour Party's carbon labelling Bill. In general, I support introducing carbon labelling on products as a way of educating citizens on the carbon footprint of each product. Ms Mary Robinson's prediction that anyone under 60 is likely to face a less liveable world and that anyone under 30 is sure to live in that world is incredibly concerning. It is clear that we need to start shifting our focus more directly to the climate crisis to try to reverse the damage done and make the world somewhat more liveable for the generations to follow. Carbon labelling on products will help us to identify which producers are the greatest carbon emitters and this has the potential to educate citizens on the environmental impact of the products they are buying. It would allow them to compare the sustainability of products and I support any attempt to encourage the purchase of locally-produced goods.
As a Bill that aims to tackle climate change, however, it is incredibly weak and does not even begin to address the systemic problems that we face and need to address in this country. The Bill is nothing more than tokenism in that regard. The idea that we all need to take personal responsibility to effectively address the climate crisis is ridiculous and demonstrably false, especially when we have data centres using up an incredible amount of energy. If we are to address the climate crisis in a real and impactful way, we need good environmental and just transition policies that target the largest producers of emissions and not the working classes. Families on lower incomes are more likely to buy products with a higher carbon footprint because they are cheaper. We cannot begin to penalise those who can only afford to compare price instead of carbon footprint. This Bill is just one of the many climate Bills that disproportionately affect lower-income families instead of targeting the real problem of high emissions from farming and industry and the macro-structures of unsustainability such as capitalism and colonialism.
In this instance, the Labour Party is just assisting the Government in leading the population to associate environmentalism with unfair taxation, causing an understandable resistance and resentment towards the green movement. In fact, the very idea of the carbon footprint was invented by oil companies. The notion of focusing on individual responsibility was popularised by British Petroleum, BP, the second largest, non-state owned oil company in the world to shift the blame away from itself and to suggest instead that climate change is the fault of individuals and not of fossil fuel companies. Does that not tell us everything we need to know? In the context of the terrible climate crisis that we face, it is incredibly important that climate legislation should be our primary focus but we must step away from the greenwashing and do this in a real and just way. We must make sure that our actions will benefit the future of society.
I welcome this Bill and I commend the Labour Party on bringing it to the House. I asked for time to speak on this Bill, and I am grateful to the Minister of State, Deputy Troy, for facilitating me, because it is exactly the type of initiative we need in this House. As a Government Deputy, I recognise that the Government does not have all the answers as we face our immense climate challenge. We can, and must, seek out ideas from all parties in this House. I have already said this to Deputy Bacik, the climate spokesperson for the Labour Party, but in my capacity as Chairman of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Environment and Climate Action, if there is anything I can do to facilitate parties or Deputies not represented on our committee, I am more than happy to do so. We need every voice heard and we need every idea on the table.
While I accept some of the complexities outlined by the Minister of State, Deputy Ossian Smyth, regarding the implementation of the measures suggested in the Bill, and we do need to be mindful of the impact on businesses, especially small businesses, I support its thrust and the general idea behind it.
I was fortunate to attend COP26 on behalf of the Joint Committee on the Environment and Climate Action. One of the initiatives the organisers took was to provide information on the carbon footprint of each dish the menu in the vast canteen at the conference venue. It made a difference, just to put that information in people's hands. I know it was probably a captive audience at COP26, but I believe people's purchasing decisions would change if they had the right information about the carbon footprint of the products they were buying. It is not about banning anything or forcing people to buy something; it is about empowering them with information.
It is also the case, as Deputy Bacik pointed out earlier, that people want to know. They want the information and they want to be empowered. We will see carbon labelling in this country sooner than we think, because that is where consumer demand is going. I recognise the work of the Minister of State's Department, in helping companies get ready for this green transition. Companies that have high scope 2 and scope 3 emissions will find themselves at a large disadvantage in the market compared to more sustainable competitors. Once again, I commend the Labour Party on bringing forward this Bill. I hope we can make progress in the next 12 months both here in Ireland and with our European colleagues. I look forward to future legislative initiatives from both sides of the House to help us tackle the climate crisis.
I thank Deputy Bacik for raising this important issue and giving us an opportunity to debate it. I also thank all speakers for their important contributions on this Bill. It is clear that we have some way to go to ensure that we all embrace climate change going forward.
As we transition to a low-carbon economy and society, we need to empower consumers to make good and informed choices. There is already a shift in consumer preference for climate-friendly products, which itself will further encourage innovation and creativity from product manufacturers and suppliers to provide products through decarbonised supply chains or new products that replace those with negative environmental impacts in their production, use, and waste.
The Government shares the intention of the Bill. We need product sustainability standards and labelling to drive down the carbon footprint of the goods we consume and to provide for evolving consumer preferences and the choice to select a low-carbon alternative when possible. These standards need to be the complete opposite of the greenwashing we often see and hear - where a product claims to be good for the environment but does not provide the rigorous analysis necessary to substantiate that claim. We need robust, and verifiable product sustainability standards, and in my view these need to be appropriate to the product category. That is why a European-level approach under the EU Green Deal is the most appropriate mechanism to deliver on this important objective. I would like to briefly emphasise the importance of the EU standards approach, under the sustainable product initiative that my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Ossian Smyth, outlined. The Single Market for products requires that any effective labelling standards for products are developed and implemented on an EU-wide basis. Ireland is a strong supporter of the Single Market. A unilateral national approach to carbon footprint labelling would undermine these efforts, and place an undue administrative burden on Irish producers and make them less competitive when exporting products. It would also make it more complex for manufacturers based elsewhere in the EU to sell into our market. As such, a standard EU approach is required to effectively balance the important objectives of informing consumers with the need to avoid placing an additional administrative burden on manufacturers.
Another EU instrument currently under negotiation at the Council working party, as part of the sustainable finance agenda, is a proposal for a corporate sustainability reporting directive, CSRD, which would impose mandatory sustainability reporting requirements on all large businesses. This is something I have a keen interest in from a company law perspective. It will substantially revise existing non-financial reporting rules. The proposal comprises environmental and social matters and introduces more detailed and mandatory EU sustainability reporting standards. It is expected that the new obligations will be phased in so that companies will publish their first reports according to mandatory standards in 2024.
Given the scale of the climate challenge, the interconnectedness of economies and the global nature of many manufacturing supply chains, the best approach will be to continue working closely with the European Commission and other member states on these legislative requirements relating to sustainability reporting. The Bill proposed by the Deputy suggests an amendment to existing legislation that governs the National Standards Authority of Ireland, NSAI, which falls under the remit of my Department, and so I want touch on the important role of standards to help measure emissions and positively change behaviour. The NSAI recognises the need to tackle climate change and the related environmental challenges as this generation's defining task and considers standards to be a critical enabler of the solutions needed for a green transition. There is great potential to apply the NSAI's toolset - certification, standards, and legal and national metrology.
The National Standards Authority of Ireland Act 1996, to a significant extent, facilitates what is proposed within the amendments to legislation suggested in the Bill, and enables the NSAI to develop standards and certification on any product. There are existing applicable standards in the area of carbon measurement. These standards are relevant, not only for their content, which is derived from global ISO standards, but also because they are official European norms, which are adopted as Irish standards. The NSAI is playing a key role, as Irish adoption of international standards in this area supports the shift towards a more sustainable future. On a national level, the NSAI is achieving significant traction in its extensive contributions to standards required under the climate action plan.
To provide robust carbon footprint information to consumers and compete in low-carbon supply chains, many businesses, and in particular smaller manufacturers, are going to need to educate their teams and equip themselves to meet these requirements. With that in mind, my Department, together with the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications, is developing an online climate toolkit 4 business. This toolkit will give them an understanding of where carbon emissions arise in their activity, get them started on their journey to zero carbon and act as a signposting tool to the available State supports.
The Government is looking to amend the proposed Bill and defer its reading for a year, in order for progress on the detail to be made at European level. However, I highlight that there is plenty that businesses and consumers can and should progress in the meantime. For example, the NSAI can provide businesses with the EU Ecolabel, which is a label of environmental excellence that is awarded to products and services meeting high environmental standards throughout their life cycle. Many producers find that it gives them a competitive advantage. It allows companies that have made real commitments to sustainability demonstrate that to customers.
We also have a role to play as consumers when we are purchasing energy-consuming products such as dishwashers, fridges, or similar. We should be alert that manufacturers and retailers are legally required to provide consumers with information about the energy efficiency of these products. EU energy labelling helps consumers to choose the most energy-efficient product, lowering energy bills and reducing the impact on the environment.
The Government agrees that it is important that there is transparency and consumer choice around the carbon footprint of products. I hope that on further discussion of this Bill we can discuss the detail of the new product standards being developed at European level, and that Members can agree to a product-specific, robust and proportionate approach to sustainability and labelling requirements on products across the EU Single Market.
I call on the Government to vote against the Bill, never mind kicking the can down the road. The Government must show that it has guts and stand up for the people.
I ask Deputy Healy-Rae to resume his seat please.
That is what I am asking it to do. It is kicking the can down the road just to please the Green Party.
I ask Deputy Healy-Rae to resume his seat please.
That is what this is about. The Minister of State knows that I am right about this. The Government must vote against the Bill once and for all.
Thank you, a Chathaoirligh. I understand that the Order of the House is set out by Members by agreement. I also understand that you have a difficult job to do, a Chathaoirligh, in trying to chair these proceedings. I further understand that everybody who wants to speak is allocated time. If we are to act in consort and to obey the rules, then people might afford me the time that has been allocated to me and my party.
Is the Deputy taking his full ten minutes or is he sharing time?
I will take the ten minutes. I welcome the debate on this Bill. I welcome that people are exercised about it. I welcome the fact there is a majority consensus around the Bill. That is what this House is about - hearing voices that are against and for a proposition. However, each and every one of us is entitled to promulgate legislation and we are entitled to be heard. I understand the argy-bargy that happens, but it sometimes gets a bit much. Sometimes, it is a bit ridiculous.
To Deputy Duncan Smith's credit, he set out an explanatory memorandum when he was drafting this Bill. It reads, "There is increasing awareness of the need to make informed consumer choices based on the environmental impact of goods – their 'carbon footprint'." We can argue about the language of what constitutes a carbon footprint and who designed that language in the first instance, but the concept of a carbon footprint is broadly accepted. The memorandum continues, "Some companies have introduced their own labelling system showing, for example, the quantity of greenhouse gas emitted in the process of manufacturing and shipping products to consumers." We can all accept the fact there are such things as global warming and greenhouse gas emissions. If we accept those fundamental principles, then we are off to a good start. Some may not accept them, and that is their entitlement. The memorandum continues:
A fuller carbon inventory will attempt to itemise all greenhouse gas emissions released throughout the product life-cycle, from the extractions of raw materials through to the product's manufacture, distribution, use and eventual disposal.
However, while many consumers are willing to make more sustainable choices, they face difficulties. For a sustainable purchase choice to become easier, consumers need better information. Currently, there are no commonly used and accepted standards on how to calculate or communicate a product's carbon footprint to consumers.
This is all that the Bill seeks to do. We recognise and openly acknowledge, as does Deputy Smith, the person who wrote the legislation, that this presents enormous challenges for every stakeholder involved. Regardless of where someone is in the economy and society, be he or she a farmer in north Cork, the chief executive of a global multinational like Nestlé or the producer of a sub-supply part for the aeronautical sector in Shannon, it presents a major challenge. All we are trying to do in promulgating this legislation - we accept the Government's amendment - is to acknowledge that consumers want to make informed decisions.
No one who introduces a Private Members' Bill professes to have the wisdom of Solomon when writing it. We write our Bills in the expectation they can get to Committee Stage to be amended as needs be. We accept this Bill is not a perfect document, but it can be made perfect if it is given a chance to proceed. We are not entirely happy that the Government is seeking a year to do that - I contend that a year is a long time, but we accept it on the basis of the argument that has been proposed by two Ministers of State in respect of the amendment. If I interpreted them correctly, the Ministers of State, Deputies Ossian Smyth and Troy, have stated we cannot move ahead of the EU because of Single Market and harmonisation considerations. I understand the same applied in the case of the smoking ban and possibly the plastic bag levy - I am unsure about the latter - but we understand and accept the principle.
At least we are at a starting point in a process where there is an acceptance by individuals. I wish to disaggregate the principle of the consumer from the principle of the individual. We recognise that consumers are individuals, but people broadly have a level of consciousness now about what they are purchasing and, in using their purchasing power with their hard-earned money, they want to see transparency when buying a product, regardless of what that product is, about what its carbon footprint is. That is not a bad thing. Rather, it is inherently good. Increasingly, we are seeing behavioural change. We are changing our behaviours in our own households in a way that tries to contribute to the reduction of global warming and cut greenhouse gas emissions. That is all this legislation is trying to do.
If we look at the Government's response, what is a little discomfiting is the fact we do not have timelines for the sustainable product initiative or the eco design directive, for instance. Neither do we know how the Commission's 2020 circular economy action plan will be promulgated. Timing is important. We do not have time, if that makes sense. I do not mean to be partisan, but COP26 was not the end point. Rather, it was the starting point for the next steps forward. That is why, in introducing this legislation, we want to maintain the momentum of what arose from COP26. As such, we are hopeful the timeline will be shortened and there will be an urgency on the part of the Government in respect of its proposed amendment. All we are trying to do is put in place a framework.
The costs to small businesses can be offset easily through Enterprise Ireland, an agency for which the Minister of State, Deputy Troy, has responsibility. We spend millions upon millions of euro of taxpayers' money funding companies through Enterprise Ireland. I know that because I used to sit where the Minister of State is now.
I represent an agricultural community and I speak, as I am entitled to do, for the agricultural community as well. I live in a town that has one of the largest milk processing plants in the country. I recognise the value of a beast and of a blade of grass as much as the next person. I recognise the value of what farming brings to this economy. However, the purchasers of the primary product, be it a side of beef, a carton of milk, baby powder, infant formula or yoghurt, are the Yoplaits, Nestlés and Unilevers and the Lidls, Aldis and other multiples, and they are placing a downward pressure on the primary producer because they are going to start mapping their carbon footprints. This will result in the market determining from whom inside the farm gate the Unilevers, Nestlés and Dairygolds are going to purchase. The farmer or primary producer who has his or her carbon footprint mapped will be the person from whom they will purchase. That is the reality of the market. We have researched this extensively.
Through this legislation, we are trying to give those primary producers a fighting chance so that they can offset any cost that they might incur inside the farm gate. This can easily be done through Pillar 2 of the next round of the Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, for instance, by mapping it into the eco schemes.
We can subsidise the effort of the farmers or the cost of the expert advice they might procure to reduce their carbon footprints. That can be easily done.
It will happen whether we like it or not because the consumer demands it, regardless of whether it is done today, tomorrow or in two or three years' time. We want to make sure those farmers, primary producers and small businesses are given a fighting chance. We are introducing this legislation so that we can get this on the agenda now and get Enterprise Ireland, Teagasc and all the might of the State, through its research and funding arms, to support the people who produce the excellent produce we have in this country and to give them a fighting chance on this agenda. I fear that if we do not give them a fighting chance, then the likes of Unilever, Nestlé, Lidl and Aldi will exclude a lot of the people we are seeking to fight for. That is why we are introducing this Bill.
In accordance with Standing Order 80(2), the division is postponed until the next weekly division time.