Report of Joint Committee: Motion (Resumed)

The following motion was moved by Senator Donie Cassidy on Thursday, 4 November 2010:
That Seanad Éireann notes the Fifth Report of the Joint Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security entitled ‘Second Report on Climate Change Law’ which was laid before Seanad Éireann on 13 October, 2010.

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Mary Alexandra White. We will resume the debate with Senator Brady, who has four minutes of his time remaining.

I reiterate my point with regard to the insufficient level of attention being paid to pollution, especially that caused by dumping at sea, and the fact that pollution controls are not being properly enforced. It is important we should focus on this issue, especially in the context of the damage being done to wildlife.

Senator Quinn referred to wind and other forms of alternative energy. I do not believe there is sufficient interest in alternative energies because some people are of the view, for example, that it is much too expensive to erect wind turbines, etc. That is an aspect of the matter to which consideration must be given.

Another issue which arises is transport. Government agencies and Departments, for example, the ESB and other semi-State companies and the Department of Defence, etc., should take the lead in this area by ensuring they use electric buses and trucks and vehicles powered by natural gas. There is no reason this could not happen.

Senator O'Reilly referred to rail transport and cited the possible establishment of a link from Dublin to Navan and on to Kingscourt. The latter would remove a major amount of traffic from the roads in the area and pollution levels would be reduced as a result. The Senator also referred to wind energy and the possibility of using old water mills to generate power. A great many resources of this type throughout the country remain unharnessed. The possibility of harnessing these resources has not been investigated to a sufficient degree. I am of the view they could be so harnessed and with very little trouble. Senator O'Reilly informed me that on one occasion he and a colleague carried out a count of the number of mills in County Cavan and that this had proven to be a very useful exercise. These mills also add something to communities, especially from the point of view of heritage. Some of them are beautiful old buildings and a couple are located in the area from which I come. It is terrible they have been allowed to fall into such a state of dilapidation. Some use could be made of them, even if only from the point of view of encouraging tourism.

Pollution, particularly that caused by those who spread slurry in an irresponsible manner, can also have a major effect on tourism. I have no wish to mention particular areas in this regard. As stated, however, I like to fish and I visit a particular lake to do so. The stench in the vicinity of the lake to which I refer is affecting businesses, bed and breakfast establishments, etc. The fines relating to pollution are too low. We must put in place a deterrent which will make people think twice before they pollute, dump rubbish on beaches, etc. For reckless slurry spreading and so forth, the minimum fine should be €10,000. For other offences, the fines that apply should be pitched at approximately €1,000. We must take the route I am advocating and if we do not do so, we will just be wasting our time.

People must realise the seriousness of climate change and should not adopt an attitude to the effect that it is a problem with which someone else must deal. I recall meeting the President of the Czech Republic who informed me that climate change was a load of rubbish and that people's rights were being infringed upon. He further stated that people should be at liberty to do whatever they desired. It is not about infringing on people's rights; it is about educating them in order that they will recognise that climate change must be tackled. If we do not take action in respect of climate change, destruction will be wrought on both humankind and the planet.

Someone's mobile phone is ringing and interfering with the sound recording system.

It is not my phone.

Its ring tone is creating quite a nice rhythm. I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on this matter. We must take immediate steps to introduce legislation in respect of climate change. It is three years since the Green Party came to power and had a commitment relating to climate change included in the original programme for Government. That is far too long a period for action not to have been taken. When the current Seanad was first convened three years ago, Senator Bacik introduced a Bill on climate change which remains on the Order Paper. Unfortunately, the House has still to conclude its deliberations on that legislation. Senator Bacik had hoped to contribute to this important debate but owing to the unforeseen break in Seanad proceedings, she cannot be present because she has another engagement. The Senator asked me to pass on her apologies.

There is a need for immediate action in respect of climate change. The recession may have slowed things down but time is not on our side. We cannot afford to sit back while the recession rages because the threat posed by global warming will not go away. In October, the Joint Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security published its Second Report on Climate Change Law, which sets out the statutory framework that will be required in this area and which has all-party support. I commend my colleague, Deputy McManus, on her contribution, as rapporteur, to the work of the joint committee and to ensuring the report was published.

I welcome the recognition given in the report to the role agriculture can play in providing bio-fuels and biomass crops. Promoting green energy measures is one way of harnessing the natural resources at our disposal to help combat the effects of climate change and create much needed employment. The potential benefits are far too large to ignore and if we act immediately and introduce favourable legislation to support the creation of a green economy, Ireland could become a world leader. We all have a part to play in this regard.

There is a high level of unemployment in County Meath which is in the commuter belt and has suffered more than most counties. There are particularly high levels of unemployment among those aged under 25 years and we need to offer new ideas on how we can get them back to work. The green economy offers one way of doing this. I am working to increase awareness of how counties such as County Meath could benefit from the creation of jobs in the green sector and next Thursday night I will host a seminar in Ashbourne to examine the potential of the sector. We will consider things like how local farmers could benefit from the green economy and how business people and the community at large could help to create jobs in wind energy projects, community wind farms and the production of biomass fuels.

I was in Copenhagen last December during the climate change convention. I attended one session to discuss how sheep farmers in north Wales had got together to form a co-operative to examine the possibility of establishing community wind farms. They had managed to erect three wind turbines in the neighbourhood which provide electricity for 1,600 homes. They are now planning on expanding the project to provide even more turbines to cater for up to 7,000 homes. This shows that local people, acting as a community, can make things happen.

At one of the sessions at my seminar next week participants will explore how local communities in places such as Ashbourne can come together to address their own energy needs in a way that helps the environment. To help them in their efforts we need to introduce legislation to ensure there will be no barriers to allow farmers, businesses and communities succeed in their efforts. The opportunity to create employment is one not to be missed as the jobs created are often at the higher end. We have an abundance of natural resources which can help us to meet our energy requirements.

There is no reason, given our favourable climate, that we cannot become a net exporter of green energy, resulting in even higher levels of economic activity and lower energy emissions, both of which are within the terms of the report of the joint committee. The Minister of State will be aware that work on the interconnector between Ireland and the United Kingdom is under way. The interconnector will cross my constituency of Meath and will help us in ensuring energy security and a sufficient supply will be available at all times of the day and night.

With regard to the medium and long-term targets and the key measures needed to meet them, we have made very little progress in meeting the goals to which we signed up at Kyoto a number of years ago. We need to reaffirm our commitment to achieving these goals and legally binding targets. The British have introduced legislation to overcome this problem in a very short timeframe. They have a legally binding target of achieving an 80% reduction in carbon emissions within the next 40 years and I call for a similar target to be set here.

Others have mentioned the transport sector which accounts for 20% of our emissions. We, therefore, need to examine how we manage our transport infrastructure. I welcome the recent opening of the Dublin to Dunboyne railway line. We need to consider very carefully how we can further extend the service to places such as Dunshaughlin and Navan. We also need to consider increasing the frequency and speed of the Dublin to Belfast rail service. Engineers Ireland issued a report earlier this year in which it suggested the population along the east coast from Dublin to Belfast would double within the next 20 years. To make sure we can cater for such an increase and grow economic activity, we need to have better transport links. Public transport services are the answer. Therefore, the Government needs to consider how we can increase the frequency and speed on the service mentioned.

We also have to be careful about where we spend our money on transport infrastructure. I am not convinced on the need for projects such as metro north because I have yet to see a cost benefit analysis. I hear figures being bandied about this and the other House that suggest the ratio will be 2:1. If that is true, it is not bad, but I would like to see some figures. I do not buy the line from the Government that the figures are too sensitive to be given and that it will produce a redacted report. We need to see the full figures. Before we head down the road of spending vast amounts of money on the project, we need to be sure it is the best way of spending money. It must not be seen as a Famine road project. While we need to spend money on infrastructure and increase the public transport infrastructure in place, we need to spend money in a cost-effective way. It may be the case there could be a guided bus system or improvements could be made to the quality bus network. I am not sure, but I am sure that we have not yet seen a convincing case being made for the metro north project, something on which the Government has not moved forward.

Setting legally binding targets would have the advantage of creating certainty for businesses. Improvements to public transport infrastructure would help us to meet legally binding targets and mean businesses would have confidence to invest in equipment which is often expensive and will yield long-term benefits in terms of cost and protection of the environment, as demonstrated in the recent letter from the Irish corporate groups which pressed the Taoiseach to introduce climate change legislation. The Bill needs to be brought forward as quickly as possible. My party tabled an amendment to the Order of Business four weeks ago today to allow us to debate the introduction of climate change legislation. On that date the Minister of State's colleague, the Deputy Leader, Senator Boyle, told us, "The heads of the Bill have been largely agreed. There is one area of disagreement which appears to relate to who is responsible for what. I am confident this disagreement can be overcome in the next fortnight or so. I am stating my personal frustration on this matter." We are two weeks beyond his sell-by date. Does the Minister of State have any words which might sooth or calm him in this regard in terms of the introduction of climate change legislation?

As I was, unfortunately, not able to be present for the entire debate, I had a good discussion during the vote in the Dáil with my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Cuffe, who briefed me on what had happened here. As a Green Party Deputy, tackling climate change is a key issue for me and my party. I thank Senators for their contributions, in particular the two Senators present, Senators Brady and Hannigan. I welcome their input and the general recognition in the Houses of the Oireachtas of the critical responsibility to address climate change. We all know that it is the greatest moral imperative of our time that we introduce a climate change Bill because the effects of such change have been devastating across the world, in particular in low-lying countries. It is important also that we recognise that Ireland has existing legal obligations in respect of greenhouse gas emissions. The key purpose in enacting climate change legislation in Ireland would be to establish what I would call the architecture needed to achieve the objectives of binding EU and legal agreements.

Senator Quinn raised the issue of climate scientism. John Kenneth Galbraith said, "When faced with the choice of changing one's mind proofing, there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy on the proof." The reality is that the science is unequivocal. However, complex truths which challenge the status quo and the perceived consensus wisdom are often vulnerable to symbolism. However, even the most ardent sceptic cannot deny that business as usual is no longer an option for any of us and that future economic and employment opportunities will be delivered in low carbon, resource efficient green economies. We are entering a new era in which energy prices are likely to increase significantly. We also want to make sure the economy, our businesses, small towns, villages and communities are protected from the effects of climate change. We can, therefore, positively embrace change and reap the economic, social and environmental benefits or let the major advances in transition pass us by.

Addressing climate change and energy security are two sides of the same coin. As we know, Ireland is one of the countries most dependent on fossil fuels. As a consequence, the economy and our society are acutely vulnerable to energy price inflation. The International Energy Agency has warned that by 2015, oil supply could face difficulties to keep abreast with increasing demand, leading to further increases in oil prices and potentially shifting the global economic recovery. Domestically sourced energy such as renewable energy brings major benefits in terms of reduced reliance on those imports. Ireland, due to geography and climate, has among the highest potential for renewables anywhere in the world and we need to boost that still further to develop these industries here at home. I note the remarks of Senators in the debate.

Carbon prices are likely to remain low for the foreseeable future, acting as a disincentive for change and innovation. Within this context, the requirement for strong, legally binding targets enshrined in primary legislation is clear. A strong climate change strategy will act as a critical force for modernisation and a keen catalyst for transition to an energy secure, low carbon society.

I say to Senator Hannigan that we are working hard to bring the Bill to the House, dotting the "i"s and crossing the "t"s, and ensuring it is fit for debate when it comes into the House. I understand it is with the Attorney General.

There is a widespread international consensus that the development of resource efficient and green technologies will be the major economic driver of the new century. As countries worldwide seek to boost their economies in the economic crisis through stimulus packages, there is a clear pattern of investment being directed towards infrastructure for less polluting transport. I note Senator Hannigan's remarks about the east coast transport corridor, but we also must not forget rural transport. Rural transport is incredibly difficult. As a rural Deputy and Minister, I know how difficult it is for people to leave the car at home and get public transport in rural areas. I hope in the budget we can maintain support for rural transport.

As countries worldwide seek to boost their economies in the economic crisis through stimulus packages, as I stated, we must ensure we cut down on those emissions. With intelligent traffic management systems, low-carbon energy production, smart electricity grids, clean transport and energy related research and development, clear signs of transition towards a low-carbon economy are emerging across the world. We must ensure we tap into that potential to create a considerable number of jobs in our country through public transport, retrofitting of houses, the green economy, the smart economy and the digital economy.

The attractiveness index now cites the United States, especially those states with renewable portfolio standards, and China as the best investment opportunity for renewable energy, but we in this country have vast resources. Whether it is deep geothermal heating, wind energy or wave energy, we must tap into that. My colleague, the Minister, Deputy Ryan, is doing his best to push that boat out as much as he can.

Ireland has some unique geographic, climatic and human capital advantages on which to capitalise within this new global economic reality. Global competitiveness is fierce, however, and China, India and the United States have moved rapidly from lagging positions to being the international forerunners and principal global players. The United States is aiming to double its renewable energy generation by 2012. In 2009, China topped the global league table for wind power. Chinese and Indian wind turbines now appear in the top ten. We are moving towards the manufacture in Ireland of concrete wind turbines rather than importing them from other countries, and I welcome that new initiative.

The global green technology sector is expected to grow by at least 10% per annum in the medium to long term and in the context of securing national economic recovery, Ireland can ill afford to be left behind. We, in government, and especially the Green Party, are pushing that forward to create those jobs to help us out of the economic tough times we are in.

Numerous high level business interests have called for the urgent enactment of strong climate change legislation to provide the long-term certainty to business and industry to give them the confidence to enable them to make the long-term investment decisions necessary to capitalise on the new economic opportunities within the global transition to a low-carbon economy which is under way. Within the prevailing stressed global economic environment, one of the key deterrents to making investments is the absence of regulatory certainty as to the future direction of public policy. The introduction of strong climate change legislation will send a clear signal to the global investment and business community that the direction of public policy in Ireland is unambiguous and that Ireland is a prime location for long-term investment. The certainty needed can only be provided through primary legislation.

I thank everyone in the Seanad and address a remark to Senator Hannigan about his forthcoming meeting to encourage business. I have been trying to make Carlow the first green energy town in Ireland for the past five years and have met numerous investors. I travelled to the town of Güssing in Austria, which the Senator should visit if he has not been there previously. It is a prime example of a town which was down on its luck, with no employment at all and whose young people were leaving, coming back to full employment through biogas plants, bio-fuel plants and cutting edge technology. I suggest he Google it on the web. Güssing in Austria is the most fantastic example of what can be done when one is down on one's luck. I have been there and seen it for myself, and I am trying to move my home town of Carlow into that sphere where farmers, business people, investors and other local people can create jobs and where, importantly in this day and age, our young people can tap in to these cutting edge technologies. In Senator Hannigan's part of the world, there is an IT college and good third level institutions. We also have that in Carlow. I want to ensure that all of us, not only Carlow but also the constituencies represented by Senators Hannigan and Brady, can tap in to this to ensure that with good climate change legislation we can bring good economic prospects.

I thank everyone in the House who spoke. I look forward to bringing forward comprehensive climate change legislation on behalf of my colleagues, the Minister, Deputy Gormley, and the Minister of State, Deputy Cuffe. I believe we will have that legislation shortly. This has not been a political points scoring debate. It is important to have cross-party support for what I have said because it is the greatest moral imperative of our time.

Question put and agreed to.

When is it proposed to sit again?

At 2.30 p.m. next Tuesday, 9 November 2010.