I welcome the Minister to the House and thank him for coming in to discuss his very important issue. At one stage during the debate on climate change in 2015, the Pope said it was the most serious threat to humanity. That same week, the Pentagon stated that climate change was a greater threat to humanity than global terrorism.
Annual Transition Statement on Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act 2015: Statements
I read at the weekend that the Pope's Christmas reading list includes Kate Raworth's book Doughnut Economics, which is about how the transition to a low-carbon future will transform not just the environment but also our society and our economy for the better. I look forward to seeing what he reads after that.
I recognise that what we are discussing today is the assessment of 2019 and not this year's emissions. We are looking back historically, due to a variety of reasons, including the Covid crisis and the fact we did not have a Government from February to June. The former Minister, Deputy Richard Bruton, introduced the transition statement in the Dáil in June but this is the first opportunity the Seanad has had to discuss it. Due to the timing, we are looking at a 2019 annual transition statement. It is a useful opportunity to assess where we are. I will give my perspective in a few brief comments that will only really scratch the surface of where we are going.
We should first acknowledge the league table published the other day by Germanwatch, which is a significant and leading international NGO. On the issue of environment or climate, we were not exactly where we would want to be out of 57 countries, although we have improved. We had previously been the absolute worst in class at the very bottom. In recent years we increased somewhat to 41st out of the 57 and then increased again to 39th. The main reason we have not improved further is that our emissions trajectory has yet to decelerate. We have yet to see the reductions we need to make but that is about to change, for a variety of reasons. Even the details of that Germanwatch study acknowledged that we would jump 11 points if there was a league table in the category of policy development. It is now up to us to convert that into action and emissions reductions for the good of all our people, the country and the wider world.
It is possible to do that for a variety of reasons but primarily because there is political consensus that this is something we are going to do and should do as a country. That consensus is critical. When we have broad consensus in this country on our strategic direction we can be very effective in making a change. In the 1950s and 1960s we changed from a closed economy to an open economy because there was agreement on that strategy across the board in the public service and the political system. In the two or three decades after that, when we had a stable political environment around that consensus decision, we joined the European Union, invested in education and set up foreign direct investment systems. That worked. We became a very successful open economy. What we need to do now is convert from an unsustainable economy to a sustainable one. It will take us two or three decades of similar stability in order for each successive Government to advance the decisions we need to make to get there.
Some of the decisions we have already taken in the past two or three years give me hope. Four years ago we decided to set up a Citizens' Assembly on climate change. That process was hugely successful, very well researched and well presented, as was the analysis, and the hundred citizens who participated came back with radical measures that would set us on the right course. That was followed by the establishment of the Joint Committee on Climate Action, where a good number of Senators and Deputies from the previous Dáil and Seanad played a critical role. With that committee, we took the recommendations of the Citizens' Assembly and turned them into a climate action plan of real scale and ambition. The NGOs widely acknowledge that. That, in turn, influenced the then Minister, Deputy Bruton, in the drafting of his 2019 climate action plan. While that plan was not ambitious enough and there are things in it I would criticise, I must acknowledge that it was still a quantum leap better than anything that had gone before. The plan before that one, the mitigation plan from 2017, has rightly fallen foul of living up to the ambitions of the 2015 climate Act in the courts system. Now we have a new Government and the proposal is to almost double the ambition contained in that 2019 climate action plan. We will look for at least a 7% per annum reduction in emissions, on average, over the next ten years and radically transform our economy and society in the process. I believe that is possible and that it will benefit our country and all our people.
Our current political environment will help us deliver this change. I am following this from a distance because I am not directly involved but the current Joint Committee on Climate Action is doing similar good work in assessing the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Bill 2020, which was published within the first 100 days of the Government. A number of commentators have said it needs to be strengthened in a variety of ways. I do not have a problem with that. Looking at legislation and, where necessary, changing language and considering alternative provisions and powers is part of our deliberative process. It is up to the committee to decide but I imagine it will publish its report at the end of this week or early next week and I look forward to responding to it in due course. It will probably be early in the new year by the time we manage to get the Government to come back with amendments, which I hope will reflect as much of the committee's report as possible.
I will summarise some of the key strategic choices being made, which will be necessary to meet this higher level of ambition, in descending order from where there is real agreement in the energy sector. There is agreement right across the political spectrum and among all parties that we need to switch to a renewable energy future. We must use that renewable electricity to power our transport system as well as heat our homes, and couple the development of renewables with real investment in energy efficiency by retrofitting at least 50,000 homes a year. In developing renewable power, we must also seek to develop solar power and offshore wind power at scale. There is some 35 GW of renewable power in offshore wind that we could tap into. We are on the path towards at least 70% of our power coming from renewable electricity by the end of this decade, which would put us at the forefront and cutting edge of what is possible.
However, there are things we will have to get right. I was talking to Senator Garvey when coming in here and I acknowledged that we have to learn from the mistakes being made with the location of wind farms. We must consider upland bogs in particular, given the environmental effects of bog loss damage we saw for the second time recently. I do not want to go into the details of any particular project but it is something to which we have to be attentive. We have to be attentive to the local environment and to public support. We do not want to cover the country in windmills but we will do it in a way that is co-ordinated and looks after our wider environmental objectives. I believe that is possible. Not only is wind power important for its own sake as an industry but the comparative advantage we have in low-cost wind power can deliver us a competitive advantage for industries in other areas, particularly in parts of the country that may have previously found it difficult to get investment.
If we can locate the users of that power close to where it is going to be generated, then that could have significant benefits for balanced regional development. In the future that will be on the periphery of the country along the north-west coast, the west coast, the south-west coast and in the south east.
We could refer to myriad other projects. We have failed to date to develop solar power. Despite thinking and talking about it for the past several decades, we failed to support people to generate their own power. That needs to change, and it is starting to change. We saw the recent auction for renewables. We have the first seven community energy projects. We must expand that and go as far as we can in the direction of community ownership. In the new year the Government intends introducing a consultation process on the ability of people to generate their own power and to sell it from their own rooftop, business or house. I hope to have that in place by next summer. I could go on. There are myriad energy projects that we can and will deliver and that will help us to meet our targets.
The second area where we have had greater difficulty, and the figures for 2019 show this, is reducing transport emissions. In fact, they have been increasing significantly and now account for 20% of our overall emissions. The outgoing plan for 2019 is not ambitious enough in the area of transport. It cannot just be about switching from combustion vehicles to electric vehicles. We must change the entire transport system for the better. The motive for that is not just decarbonisation, it is also for a better society, better planning, and tackling the housing crisis as well as the climate crisis. The Government sets out the provision for this direction in terms of a switch towards public transport investment because that gives us the opportunity to have what we call transport-led development, where new housing is close to a high-frequency, high-quality public transport system. We must make that decision now and make it very clear that is where our investment is going in transport so that the development plans around the country in the coming months are steered in that direction and that developers and local authorities know that is where we need the emergency housing to go.
The national planning framework, which was produced in the previous Oireachtas, gives us the correct approach. It is about developing back towards the centre. It is also perhaps about using the Covid crisis – Lord knows when it will end – to build back better when we come out of it and develop the concept of the 15-minute city, town or village, where resources are all close together and they are accessible by active travel in a new form of urban design. This can apply to rural villages as much as it applies to cities. It is about changing everything.
It is also about changing the way all roads lead to Dublin and the excessive development of Dublin. A total of 90% of roll-on, roll-off freight traffic comes from Dublin Port. That is not balanced. Similarly, 90% of all air travel is through Dublin Airport. That is not balanced. Some 50% of new houses in 2019 were built in the counties surrounding Dublin, which could only be accessible by largely unsustainable transport systems in and out of the city. That is not sustainable, and it needs to change. We will do that by making sure some of the investment in the 2:1 ratio in favour of public transport goes into urban transport systems in Limerick, Cork, Galway and Waterford so that we get better balanced regional development. We will get a lower carbon solution, but we will also get a better economy and we will better implement the objectives set out in the national planning framework. That is going to be contentious. Whatever we are building, it is always difficult to get anything through planning. The BusConnects project in Dublin is going to be difficult. The metro project in Dublin will be difficult. Planning is always the element that takes the longest, but I believe we can get it right. It will also be contentious because some people will say they want the motorway rather than the railway. That is one of the critical decisions we must start making. As I stated, it is not enough to switch to electric vehicles, it is about designing our life so we can travel less, and that we have services closer to hand.
A critical element is the significant investment the Government is now committing, which is 20% of overall capital spending on transport on active travel, walking and cycling. Unless we get that modal shift, where we are matching what is going on in Holland, Denmark and elsewhere, we will not reach our climate targets. It is that scale of change that we are seeking and the benefits in health, efficiency and social life because the transport systems that apply are available for everyone.
I hope I am not speaking for too long, Acting Chairman. I want to cover what is a very wide area. I wish to refer to agricultural land use. Today, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine published Ag-Climatise, which is its summary of the provisions it was implementing in the previous climate action plan. That is not the limit of the ambition that will be required. I sent our national energy climate action plan to the European Union in July. I said they were the measures we introduced with a view to meeting the 2019 climate targets, and we will be coming back with further ambition in 2021 and that they were only the interim measures we have agreed in that direction. Similarly, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine today has outlined the measures Teagasc and others advised to meet our 2019 target, but in the first six months of next year we will have to go significantly further so that agricultural land use elements play their key part in meeting the climate change targets.
One of the most important elements within the Government's climate work is the development of the land use review. It is a top-down review of how we are using land in the country to help us direct not only how we decarbonise, which is critical, how we manage our bogs, what sort of forestry we have and where, what type of farming we have and where, but also how we restore biodiversity. We must tackle the biodiversity crisis and the climate crisis together. The land use review plan must map how we reverse the destruction of nature that has taken place over the past five decades and longer. It must also take into account what we need to do to restore the pristine water systems. In the 1980s, 500 of our river courses were in pristine quality condition and that has reduced to 20. We all know that must change. If we do not get the water quality right, then insect life and other ecosystems are not right, and we are dealing with a degraded and depleted natural world. The land use plan must map that. In doing that, it can map what we might do on flood management. Managing forestry and the re-wetting of bogs may be a more effective, efficient and better way of managing the flood risks than just engineering solutions. We can use nature to help us tackle a whole range of different problems that face us at the one time.
Critical in any land use plan is the social part of it. It is the planning and modelling of where young people are going to get jobs in the future in rural areas. We must look at how we can give a guarantee that in the provision of services such as clean water, greater biodiversity, and a decarbonised system with high quality genuinely Origin Green food, we can pay young men or women in their early 20s to get a good income, raise a family and have a good home in their community in a rural area over the next 30 to 40 years because this is the way the world is going. This country and the European Union will pay for the skills and ability to work with nature and the use of nature to help us solve problems. That is going to be critical.
We will not start by telling farmers what to do. A land use plan is not there to say one must grow this in that field, it is about saying we want to support farmers and we will listen to them and ask them for help and suggestions about what they think will work. We will tap into the co-operative instinct that exists in Irish farming for centuries, which we are going to be good at in this decarbonised future. The land use plan is critical in terms of where we need to go. What we are doing is in tune with what the European Union is saying.
The multi-annual financial framework will be considered at the European Council meeting tomorrow. My understanding from my European colleagues is that the key issue will be to make sure that 30% of the overall multi-annual financial framework budget goes to decarbonisation, not just the recovery and resilience fund, but the main budget. In order to meet that target, the CAP will significantly change too. In the next year we also need to tie it in to agreements in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, UNFCCC, process in how exactly we measure land use emissions. We must start to get credit for the work we are doing in restoring the bogs in the midlands. We must start looking to do the same right across the country.
The first question we asked at the Citizens' Assembly four years ago was how we can go from being laggards to leaders. This is the way. Biogenic methane counts, and it must be counted.
Let us count it in a way that allows us to get credit when we have a really sustainable agricultural system that is good on animal health, and more family-farm oriented rather than industrial lots. We can be good at this. We can address the three objectives of ensuring we have a successful and thriving Irish agricultural system with a healthy environment, and a situation where Ireland goes to the top of the league table that is published every year by Germanwatch rather than sticking where we are at the moment in the bottom half of the league.
I thank the Minister for his very insightful overview of the challenges that lie ahead of us all.
I would like a copy of the Minister's statement.
The Minister was ad-libbing.
It will be on the video.
We usually get transition statements before we get the copies.
The debate will be online in an hour.
I am quite happy to so supply it and I have notes.
That is fine. I have no problem doing it myself. Normally, because this is a specific reporting function it is accompanied by a more formal report as well. I appreciate ad-libbing as I do it myself.
I call Senator Garvey and she has six minutes.
Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire as ucht a theacht isteach inniu. Tá sé go deas é a fheiceáil sa Teach seo.
I see Senator Boylan is here so I shall take this opportunity to thank the entire membership of the Joint Committee on Climate Action, of which she is a member, Deputy Leddin, the Chair of the committee, and members from parties and none, who have worked night and day. I also compliment another committee member, Senator Higgins, who is seated right behind me. I compliment the environmental NGOs who are not paid to be politicians but have had a huge input into the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Bill 2020. I look forward to it being by far the best, strongest and most important Bill to come through these Houses. I acknowledge all of the hard work that has been done because I know from my colleagues, from colleagues in the other parties and the NGO sector that so much time has been put into this Bill to get it right and I look forward to the final Bill.
The revision of the climate Act 2015 results from a process of political consensus building in the last Oireachtas, which has continued in this Oireachtas with very detailed pre-legislative scrutiny. A political consensus has been important and brought all parties and none together, plus the NGO sector. It is really important that those in the NGO sector feel listened to and we take on their ideas because they are often the experts more than ourselves, as politicians. There will be major changes that we must make. We have no choice but to do so as we have a genuine emergency, of which agriculture is a big part.
I come from Clare and I am very proud of a few things that we have in the county. I have spoken before about the 328 farmers who participate in the Burren Life project. I know some of them personally, have visited the region and I am well informed about the project. It is like having 328 biodiversity officers for the Burren but they continue to farm. Such initiatives can be done, must be done and we have the solutions being practised already.
I watched a broadcast on the FBD Young Farmer of the Year competition. The top farmer for biodiversity award was won by a farmer in Cratloe, County Clare. His land has a completely different type of soil so he utilises different farming methods but he won an award for biodiversity and farming. I say all this because we will have to diversify.
The launch of the Ag Climatise roadmap today by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine and his Minister of State, Senator Hackett, is only a starting point. We are only warming up and not just the planet. The roadmap is only the start and is based on 2019. In case people are worried that it is etched in stone, I can assure them that it is far from that. We face great challenges but I feel hopeful because if we do this right we will have cleaner air, happier children, healthier homes, better food, a better environment, better biodiversity and warmer homes for the most marginalised. We saw the prioritising of retrofitting for social housing and an increase in the fuel allowance. A huge amount of jobs will also be generated in this sector. Last week, the Minister of State, Senator Hackett, and the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications launched 350 jobs in the midlands to replace the ones that were lost in the peat industry. It is amazing that we will have 350 new jobs and save bogs. It is hugely positive that we can do both. It is too late for an "us and them" attitude and all farmers, bankers, politicians, NGOs and more must come together. There is no time to fight over this and we must just do it.
The green economy is very exciting for me. I see that we already have a shortage of bike mechanics in north Clare, for example. All of the greenways have generated jobs with 400 jobs created in Mayo and 300 jobs created in Waterford. These are very rural places that had nothing going on. Kilmacthomas in County Waterford is now the perfect example of an amazingly live and thriving town that was once full of empty houses. There are great plans for the town using the town renewal scheme.
All of this ties into providing a better quality of life that solves the problems of loneliness and disconnection. Let us consider transport in that regard. I often everywhere in my car but I like to travel by train to Dublin, for example. By utilising other modes of transport one is more connected to all of the life that is around. Now, more than ever, people need to reconnect with society as evidenced by people reconnecting with and meeting their neighbours during the first lockdown. While I do not think we will have time to hang out with our neighbours all of the time there is a connect when one zooms around in cars all of the time. The town of Ennis has a ridiculous level of air pollution. Therefore, we must consider what we are doing and do it better. We owe that to future generations. We are the last ones that have a chance to solve climate change before the situation becomes too grave. I remain a glass half full type of person with this initiative and look forward to the 2020 Bill with the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications at the helm. Finally, I again thank the Joint Committee on Climate Action for all of the work that its members are doing.
I call the leader of the Opposition, Senator Victor Boyhan.
I welcome the Minister to the House. It is clear from listening to him that he undoubtedly has an amazing enthusiasm and expertise in this area. I shall focus on 2019 but I was not expecting an outlay of what is happening in the future and that is exciting. We were invited in here today to discuss the 2019 annual transition statement and welcome the comments made by a clearly enthusiastic Minister.
What has changed since 2019? We have had a significant general election that provide there was massive support for the environmental nature of politics. Fair play to the Green Party for reaping the benefits and took the brave decision to enter Government. Now that party is at the table and its feet are under the table. Therefore, the party has a unique period of possibly four and half years to deliver what the Minister said he would set out. In the last two years there has been a huge international focus on climate change, the international agenda of the environmental movement because this issue is larger than a green narrative. The Minister has talked about sustainability, having a fairer deal and the significance of the Common Agricultural Policy, CAP. I support all of those environmental policies. In fairness to the Minister, he put his finger on it when he said that we must bring the people with us. We must dumb it all down, simplify things and explain to people the real benefits of cleaner water, better mixed forestry, and of having softer, kinder and unified synergies with the environment. I do not doubt that there is anyone who does not support all of that.
The Minister mentioned 2019 and Deputy Richard Bruton. I acknowledge that Deputy Bruton did a very good jobs under difficult circumstances. The whole political shift has moved one since 2019 thanks to the Minister present and many others. Let us consider that the 2019 annual transition statement stated: "The first progress report of the Board was launched on 31 October 2019 and shows that 85%, of the 149 action items due for delivery in Quarter 2 and 3 have been delivered." They might not be big action items but such progress is important.
As the Minister knows well, one of the big things for 2019 was the climate action charter agreed by the 31 local authorities, a copy of which I have in front of me. Significantly, every one of the 31 local authorities signed the charter that consisted of a few pages. I ask him to return to his office and consider the good things about the charter, and what has happened. I have spoken to councillors who have voiced their belief that it will be difficult to deliver some of the aspects of the charter. Who are the champions of the charter among the local authorities? We need to assist them in championing this very significant charter. Every local authority recognised the needs in the charter. All of the signatories acknowledge that a whole-of-government approach is essential in addressing climate change.
In this document reference is made to green procurement, which is extremely important, and to which the Minister is committed. That was in the 2019 document. In the context of green procurement, there are issues we must address as it feeds into something else. The Minister might take a look at Circular 20/2019: Promoting the use of Environmental and Social Considerations in Public Procurement. I contacted a number local authorities about it and they did not know anything about it, yet there is a note included advising how it was to be distributed. The Minister might consider that circular in the context of how we can drive the agenda for green procurement in line with the targets and objectives set down in 2019.
I want to focus briefly on agriculture. I am a member of the Joint Committee on Agriculture and the Marine and was elected on the agricultural panel. I recognise the importance of what the Minister said about the food chain, climate action change, environmental care, preserving our landscapes and environments and supporting generational renewal, all of which are key objectives of the Common Agricultural Policy. Much of this is central in European politics and policy. It relates to how we can have vibrant rural areas. Senator Garvey spoke about dispersement and enlivened and vibrant rural communities. That all ties into the vision the Minister outlined. Crucially important to that is our food and health quality. Our health is linked to our food and vice versa. That is an important factor. It relates back to the point that we must ensure there is equal and fair opportunity and fair income. We must address the issue of a just transition in its broadest sense. What is happening in the midlands in terms of the bogs and so on is fantastic. The big challenge for us is to dumb it all down and make it simple. Everyone wants to be part of this and to take this journey with the Minister and the Government. It is critically important. The Minister's party is one of the three elements of the Government to drive it. I believe the Minister will drive it. We are lucky to have him as the Minister with overall responsibility for this area because of his experience, vision and network across the country. He has enormous integrity and knowledge of this area. I wish him well. It is important we explain this issue and bring everyone on board with us on this journey.
I thank the Minister for coming into the House and for his strong personal commitment to addressing this issue. We all know the facts. Reports are coming out every week highlighting the extent of this crisis, the fact that we have to reach the target of 7.5% reduction in emissions each year between now and 2030 if we are to avoid a 1.5oC rise in temperature that will cause us so much difficulty.
The Minister was right in saying we must learn the lessons of Covid as we emerge from it and how that will mean we can recover better. This is about more than just the response of his Department or that of the Joint Committee on Climate Action. This is a responsibility of all parts of the State, of the public and private sector and of all Members of these Houses. I am glad we will have the climate crisis on the agenda in this House on a weekly basis.
I am conscious the Minister also recognises we not only have climate crisis but a biodiversity crisis. This is an issue that has been championed by my colleague, Senator Garvey, in this House and it is an issue about which all Members feel very strongly. I welcome also that the Minister recognises the importance of regional development. Rather than the lip service often paid to it, this is an opportunity for us to examine how we can properly regionally develop Ireland. In the context of the Minister's reference to taking traffic out of Dublin Port, he will not be surprised to hear me say that Rosslare Europort is a gem that is underutilised and there is an opportunity to develop there. As part of the Government’s remote working strategy, we must examine how we can support our rural towns and villages. What is required in that context as part of planning is that we address the need for a proper water and wastewater infrastructure for our villages. The lack of that infrastructure is the reason many people are not able to live in many of those communities.
I will make a rapid series of points on a number of issues related to the programme for Government, some of which concern timetables which the Minister might be able to address. There is a commitment to move more towards the use of electric vehicles. However, there is not an incentive for the average punter to buy an electric vehicles, as there is still a significant price differential and a shortage of charging points around the country.
I wish to raise the issue of the need for clean air legislation, which I have raised on several occasions. We need to address the burning of smoky coals, It is ridiculous we still have such pollution in terms of the number of particles per million in towns where the sale of smoky coal is supposed to be banned. Regularly in Wexford town, where the ban has been in place for many years, we still have poor air quality and it is also seen in other towns around the country. Legislation addressing that problem needs to be prioritised.
The Minister mentioned renewable energy. That will be significant and for the east coast and the Irish Sea it will be a game changer. The marine planning and development Bill is stated to be priority legislation in the programme for Government. It is critical for the development of this sector. What is the timetable for the bringing forward of that legislation? I welcome the €50 million allocation for walking and cycling infrastructure for areas outside Dublin. The reflects the motto, build it and they will come. This can be transformative for local authorities. It is a positive development. We will need more of it, therefore, it needs to continue.
On agriculture, I agree with Senator Boyhan on the importance of bringing people along with the Minister on this journey. It is clear the farming community accepts the importance of having a sustainable agricultural sector, sustainable environmentally but also sustainable to be able to support family farm incomes. An issue I have always had around the question of carbon credits is that if a landowner chooses to plant forestry or invests in a carbon sink, they do not get to own the carbon credits. Why not let the farmer or landowner own their carbon credits so that they will be able to trade in them? Again, it is about the sustainability of those farms.
As part of the debate we will have on this issue, I would like to hear set out in advance of the UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties, COP26, to be held inGlasgow next year what Ireland hopes to achieve from the conference and the agenda we want to set at it. I hope we will be ambitious. Given the scale of Ireland’s ambition, I suggest we would seek to hold a global climate change conference at some stage in the future and invite the composite parties to come here; we can show what we have achieved and what we are going to achieve.
Regarding our role within the European Union, in a G2 world that is increasingly dominated by the United States and China, there is an important role for the EU to use our soft power as well as our economic power to drive the kind of change internationally that we are talking about. Much of the concern must be around China because there is not much point in the European Union achieving all our targets if we do not use encouragement or influence to be able to impact on what China is doing.
I thank the Minister for his work and all I can say to him is to please continue to be ambitious.
It has become common courtesy that when a Minister comes into the House the first words uttered by Members are platitudes stating how great it is to have the Minister in but I genuinely enjoy it when this Minister comes into this House. Of all the Ministers who come into this House, it is clear he is very much on top of his brief, he is earnest in what he wants to do and his ambition is completely unparalleled for the job we need to do. It is a pleasure to see him come in here without a script or notes and be totally on top of his brief. It is impressive.
I am also a member of the Joint Committee on Climate Action. As a new parliamentarian, I find the concept of prelegislative scrutiny fascinating. We are in the middle of putting together legislation, going through detail line by line having listened to hours upon hours of expert testimony.
There are people on that committee from my party, other political parties and none who are so much more experienced than I am and have spent years working in the sector and know it inside out. To be able to listen and learn from them is very beneficial to me as a new and younger parliamentarian.
My interest in climate action is with regard to transport. The Minister's comments were very reassuring. A point I want to make about electric vehicles, and I have said it before to the Minister in the House and on the Order of Business, is that it has broken my heart in recent times to see friends of mine invest in electric vehicles but after a year and a half they decide to pack it in and go back to petrol or diesel. The reason they did so was that it was just not feasible for them because the proper charging infrastructure is not there. I have a list of some of the financial investment by the State, including up to €2,500 for new plug-in hybrids, grants for installing chargers at home and VRT relief. We are providing many financial incentives, which are great and they are a great way to encourage people to do it. People see all of these financial aids and decide they will buy an electric vehicle. Then, all of a sudden, they realise they will struggle to get from Dublin to Cork or Dublin to Belfast because when they get to the charging points they are faulty or someone is parked in the space while inside having lunch. How do we change this? We do so by having a huge campaign and the Government is trying to do this with local authorities. We need a huge campaign on increasing the number of chargers and having them throughout the country. What I would love to see, and I believe we are trying to do it, is planning permission for new housing developments having to have electric vehicle charging points. Once we really reassure people that, for want of a better phrase, battery anxiety will be a thing of the past they will buy into it. We have listened to other Members. I have no doubt about Irish society. The green agenda has just exploded in the past 18 months and people are so excited about it. They want to take part in it but, as Senator Boyhan said earlier, it needs to be made as easy as possible for them. The way to do so is to make it as easy as we can to get from A to B.
I want to pick up on the point made by Senator Byrne, which is an issue I have raised on the Order of Business and I hope to have a Commencement matter on it soon. It is with regard to the smoky fuel ban. It is absolutely ludicrous that we have ten towns, including my home town of Dundalk, with a smoky fuel ban but people can still buy smoky fuels in the towns. It is virtually impossible for local authorities to enforce it. Perhaps they are sending a litter warden around to enforce the ban on smoky fuels. We need a total outright ban on it throughout the country. This would provide huge opportunities to hit the 7% targets we have set ourselves in the programme for Government.
CPL Fuels has met many Members of the House in recent weeks about this issue. This morning, in preparation for the debate, I read a paper it has prepared. It states the first step towards achieving the targets of 7% will be the banning the sale of smoky coal and it has to be a nationwide ban. Significant CO2 savings can be achieved if the solid fuel mix in Ireland moves to smokeless as a first step. We are speaking about a 0.9% reduction in total residential emissions. Ovoids containing 30% biomass would mean a 5.9% reduction in total residential emissions while ovoids containing a 50% biomass would mean a 9.3% reduction in total residential emissions.
In 2019, the State retrofitted 1,000 homes and it is acknowledged that 35,000 homes would need to be retrofitted to make a real dent and impact on our CO2 emissions at a significant level. A viable alternative to achieving these emission reductions in the residential sector at no cost to the State is mandating a switch to low carbon and solid fuels in homes, followed by the long-awaited smoky coal ban. The ambition the Government has is in no short measure a result of the Minister and his Green Party colleagues sitting at the Cabinet table and my Green Party colleagues being part of the Government. It is because of their ambition that they are dragging us along with them on points they have been advocating for decades. Let us be ambitious about it. Let us set out and achieve everything the Minister outlined in his opening statement today. We can absolutely do it. Society has bought into doing it. However, we have to make it as easy and simple as possible.
I thank the Senator who finished with one second to go. That is absolutely superb timekeeping. I completely agree with him on trying to make things easy. Affordable accessible public transport, as well as ensuring those who use electric vehicles do not have to suffer that charging panic, is hugely important.
I thank the Minister for coming before the House. Other Senators have pointed out that when he comes to the House he has a passion and understanding for his brief, as do his colleagues. It is no small measure that there has been a marked change in Government communication since the Green Party entered. I sincerely hope we get the type of climate Bill that some of the non-governmental organisations are advocating for. At least with the Minister, as opposed to previous inhabitants of the office, they will be pushing against an open door on it. In this House, in particular people on the Opposition benches, such as Senators Garvey, Boylan and Higgins, have good interest in working together with the Minister to strengthen the Bill.
We have had an increase in extreme weather events in recent years. We have had a number of storms and this is the ninth consecutive year that the temperatures in Ireland have been above normal and winter has been the warmest on earth. It is an undeniable fact that climate change is not something of the future but very much with us.
The one level of criticism I would like to address is that sustainable forms of transport will be key to a just transition. While they are very important, and I am a cyclist and I want better cycling infrastructure in our towns and cities, I do not believe they will be key to addressing a just transition. Key to a just transition is to ensure that workers in carbon heavy industries can transition over. This means training them up and investing in them. It also means companies in profitable green industries will be asked to pay their fair share in training people up and into the just transition. As part of this, the Minister's Department should not operate in a silo. Rather the just transition should go across the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, in particular, so we get people in school and those losing their jobs and focus on them.
I want to address the issue of housing in terms of new builds and retrofitting. The Government needs to make a decision on whether it will prioritise new builds or retrofitting because we simply do not have the workers to do both. I ask that the Government give consideration through the climate action plan to eco-friendly measures in new builds and prioritising them in social housing. I spoke to the Minister about this when I tried to get a green roof and allotments for social housing units being built in my area. The local authority said it could not do it. It said the green roof was too heavy and that it would destabilise the structure, and every reason possible was given as to why it could not put the green roof on the building. This needs to be mainstreamed in local authorities. It is not just individual actions that will address the climate crisis. It is by using collective action, and through the State and its organisations such as the OPW and local authorities, that we can have a real impact on making our buildings green and sustainable.
I will go back to the five tests of Government set down by the Stop Climate Chaos Coalition. Does Government policy acknowledge the scale of the challenge? Does the climate plan accept that Ireland must get to net zero emissions by 2050 and that the 2030 targets must be strengthened? I believe the Minister does, as do his Green Party colleagues, but I am not sure whether it is true in other Departments. Will the Government enact amendments to the 2000 Act before the end of 2020? Work is progressing on this. Does the plan cut emissions in every sector and not just consider and explore? I believe the Minister does, as do his Green Party colleagues in the Government, but I am not sure it has been mainstreamed throughout Departments.
I thank the Minister for appearing before the House and for the work that he and the Green Party are doing to put that on the agenda and keep it there, and to try to mainstream it across Departments. On the Opposition benches, it is a challenge that we all need to be able to tackle together and we will support them in doing that.
I welcome the Minister. As others have noted, his contribution set out the passion he, like me, has for this area. I am sure he will also agree, however, that accountability is an important part of climate legislation and that Governments can make all the promises it wants, but without reducing emissions and delivering a just transition, and if the Government is not held to account, the promises will not worth be the paper they are written on.
One of the main mechanisms for accountability in the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act 2015 is that the Minister comes before both Houses of the Oireachtas and debates the national transition statement. That is a progress report that sets out, among other matters, the details of mitigation and adaptation and the effectiveness of our emissions reductions. In 2016, 2017 and 2018, the annual transition statements were published and fairly swiftly debated but, unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the 2019 one . Here we are in December 2020 and we are debating the 2019 transition statement. I do not blame the Minister for the delay, given that the statement was not taken by him but by his predecessor. Perhaps the reason we did not have the debate on that statement earlier was there was an election in the offing and we knew that climate change was such an important issue that Fine Gael probably preferred not to draw attention to its record on climate change. We then had a pandemic in intervening period, but even then, the Dáil managed to have this debate in June.
While this raises questions about the aversion to scrutiny, the reason I raise this issue relates to the climate Bill. It shows the importance of getting climate legislation right in order that irrespective of who is in government, they will be held to account. The Minister is appearing before the House under the provisions of the previous climate Bill, the 2015 Act, but in the future he will be here under the next climate Bill, so I will turn my attention to that. As has been pointed out, the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Climate Action has been scrutinising the climate Bill carefully. We have spent more than 30 hours on the subject. I think the Minister will accept there was a push to rush it through . He asked that we would give only two weeks to pre-legislative scrutiny.
We have listened to all the experts and they have been crystal clear that accountability is critical if we are to have any chance of meeting our targets. The experts also told us that we need a robust framework in respect of how those targets are set and of how we hold people to account. During the pre-legislative scrutiny, we heard that the Bill presented to us was flimsy, non-binding and full of loopholes and weasel words. It had a dangerous reliance on negative emissions and the targets within were inadequate for meeting our obligations under the Paris Agreement. Those are not my words or criticism; they come from the most eminent environmental law and climate academics in this country and outside it. When one expert was asked how the Bill compared with other international examples, he put it in football terms. He stated that the Bill, as it stands, would be in the relegation zone of the league table, but that if we get it right, it could put Ireland among the leaders in terms of climate change legislation.
I hope the Minister will take on board the recommendations that came from both those testimonies to the committee and also, hopefully, from the committee's report on the pre-legislative scrutiny. We cannot continue to be a laggard. I know the Minister understands that but, as Senator Moynihan noted, we are not convinced that his partners in government understand that. We have been ranked 19th in the EU, just above countries with heavy industries such as Hungary, the Czech Republic and Poland. We are falling short of all our international commitments. The experts also raised concerns about the absence of any mention of the just transition. We heard international examples of how that can be incorporated. That there was no mention in the Bill of a just transition is deeply concerning and I hope the Minister, again, will take that on board. The report from Oxfam yesterday showed that while the transition is under way, it is not a just one. Oxfam reported that lower and middle income people have cut their consumption emissions but that the richest 10% have grown theirs. To address climate action we have to address wealth and consumption.
We also have to address energy poverty. Whole cohorts of people in society are falling between the stools in respect of supports against energy poverty. The Society of St. Vincent de Paul is spending €5 million a year supporting families. I have been conducting an energy poverty survey and the findings are stark. People have told me they are choosing between food and heat. A response from the Minister's office to a parliamentary question recommended that families change supplier. With respect, that is very difficult to do if someone does not have a credit rating and it is a market-based solution. Renters and people with disabilities are more likely to live in poorly insulated homes, while young families with mortgages who may be just over the threshold for the warmer homes scheme cannot afford to retrofit their homes.
I ask the Minister to take on board the statements from those academics to the committee. He has an opportunity to redraft the Bill and to make it the gold standard of international climate Bills. The nation is putting our faith in him to do that.
I welcome the Minister to the House. I can understand the desire to focus on the future, even though we are here to respond to the 2019 transition statement. We need to be serious and solemn about where we are now in order to be credible when we speak about the future. Climate change is continuing apace. The UN Environment Programme has been clear that even despite the pandemic, we are on track for a 3% increase in temperature this century. That is devastating. We declared it was a crisis and we know it is a crisis. The impact of climate change is no longer a future issue; it is a present issue. We see the evidence of its impact all the time and we know that it hits hardest those in developing countries and countries that have done the least to cause it, which is related to that principle of climate justice.
Ireland has not done its fair share. We talk a great deal about bringing people with us, but to bring anyone with us we need to be going somewhere. For the past decade, Ireland has not been going anywhere. Ireland has stayed still and let others, including poorer countries, carry the burden and the work of trying to address this existential crisis for our globe. Ireland is in 19th place in the European Union. We are not just in the bottom half but well into the bottom half, towards the bottom third of the league tables in the report released yesterday by the climate change performance index. We have been failing. We are not now in a matter of convincing people that climate change is an issue and that perhaps we should take action on it. Much of the public does not need to brought along with us; they are ahead of us, they know it is a crisis and they reflected that in the election. They know it is urgent. The ambition, when one speaks to individuals about what they want from climate change, often far outstrips the political ambition.
It certainly far outstripped the political ambition in the draft Bill, which, as the Minister acknowledged, is being subjected to pre-legislative scrutiny. We have had very positive engagements and important input from experts. It is important that those diverse experts' views be listened to and reflected on, and that we reflect them in our report, not just in our recommendations and actions. Those experts and critical perspectives are one of the greatest assets we have. It is really important, when we talk about bringing people with us, that we do not seek a false consensus or a lowest common denominator consensus in respect of climate change and climate action, but that we agree the key principles of moving forward. We must try to find legislation.
I am hopeful that if the Minister takes on many of the recommendations, when we agree them and finalise them on the committee, this could be strong legislation. It is important that we reflect that in our legislation but also that we are always listening to those who are saying more needs to be done. We have seen that things have changed, and that the urgency is continuing to gather momentum. There are tipping points that are very hard to reverse. No matter what argument or beautiful rhetoric we might have, we cannot magic up again a glacier that has melted, as that is beyond our capacities. We need to be very clear on the direction of travel and the urgency of travel.
The Minister will be aware from following the debates in the climate committee, which are still under way, that 2050 is too far away as an ambition and that we need to have very clear and strong legal commitments by 2030. It is the next ten years that is the UN decade of action, and where we have the very blueprint, which Ireland helped negotiate, of the sustainable development goals to help guide us in terms of achieving this. These are the ways. If we talk about just transition as a sustainable development goal, it is how we move forward in a way that minds society, the economy and the environment together. They are a very useful blueprint and they sit alongside our Paris commitments.
The key year is 2030. We cannot afford to lose even one year, which is why I am concerned that some of the things being talked about are still long-fingered. We are talking about green procurement but it was recently being talked about for 2023, when it should be next year. Many of these things can be scaled up now. We have a two-year window in which the fiscal rules and requirements have been suspended in Europe. This means we do not need to choose between new builds and retrofitting, and we can do both. We have 0% finance available to us, so let us be extremely ambitious on that. On that issue, let us also look to the unnecessary demolition of building simply for the sake of profit and the building of a higher building, because there are huge omissions lost on that issue.
We will have a chance to engage Minister by Minister, I understand, around each of the issues in each of the areas. What we cannot afford is to have language, or loose language, replace action. There are difficult things we are going to need to do. Ireland needs to stop trying to get a derogation on the nitrates directive. We need to step up on that. We cannot simply ask others to make an exception for us when we are one of the wealthier countries in the world, and one of the countries that has pleaded exception the whole way through.
Senator Byrne referred to international objection. Let us be leaders on that. He spoke about the importance of Ireland taking a strong position at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, UNFCC, talks but we also have the opportunity to take a strong position at the European Union level. This week, the Minister will be meeting with the European Council and he will be determining what the European Council believes should be the collective target of ambition for Europe. In the European Parliament, the Minister's colleague and my former colleague, former Senator Grace O'Sullivan, now MEP, who has been awarded the status of rapporteur on some of this issue, has called for 60%, and that is what the European Parliament is recommending. I urge the Minister to support that at the European Council meeting. He will, of course, be aware that the climate committee has written to him in respect of that issue.
Let Ireland step up as a leader. Let us not give ourselves excuses. Let us replace language with action and let us put our commitments hard on the table in law.
I welcome the Minister to the House and thank him for his, as always, very thoughtful presentation and for sharing with us his ambition. Maybe I am not as taken as others by his presentation today because I have had the benefit of working with him on committees for years, and I have seen the diligence and the approach that he has taken, which has continued here today. I thank him for that.
There is no shortage of ambition and no shortage of desire among the Irish public about addressing climate change. That, to me, is probably the biggest shift in the past ten or 15 years. When Roger Garland was first elected here as a lone member of the Green Party, many people were surprised about the agenda at that time, but it has grown to become part of the political lexicon. For sure, people recognise the impact that the way we live our lives is having on the climate, and they see how it impacts so negatively on them.
There ends the consensus. As we talk to people, and even when listening to the different contributions from the various sides here today, everybody has a solution but it is not to come from the people they think they represent. If anything, what we should try to do, in the way the Minister has always done throughout his career, is try to bring people with us, and that requires getting compromise from our own people as well. I am often taken by a level of laziness that exists in the vernacular among certain commentators or the commentariat within certain sections of the media. The first question is usually, “So when do we cut the national herd?” That immediately divides urban and rural, and it has made an urban-rural divide again. This is where we have to be extremely careful in regard to bringing people with us.
I have great respect for Senator Boylan from the Sinn Féin Party and her commitment to addressing climate change. I worked on a committee previously where her party were really engaged with the committee and did fantastic work, but when it came to accepting the principle of a carbon tax, which is recognised right across the world as the way to go, there was immediately a rejection of it. I would have rejected it flat out too if the committee had not recommended responding in a way that Senator Boylan has rightly identified, namely, ensuring that people do not suffer from a poverty associated with fuel.
It is really important that we do not leave people behind us. In the community I have represented for many years, there is concern among the agricultural community that it will impact negatively on them. We talk about just transition, yet the Government still has not responded to the impact on the west Clare area and the fallout from the decision - the right decision - to end the burning of coal at Moneypoint. I accept it is not possible to get money to resolve every issue, but we have to resolve the big issues. Everybody will be affected in some way. The Minister, right from the get-go, has always said we should address the problems but try to mitigate to the greatest extent possible the problems for those who will be most affected, particularly those on low incomes and those depending on social welfare.
However, we cannot not let it all be about the negatives because there are real opportunities, and the real opportunities are in the green tech sector. We should be doing much more in regard to the capturing of wind offshore, but it is not just about capturing wind offshore. It is about getting in at the start of the wave of technological development that will see the activity sustained and will employ people for generations to come. It is not just about the negatives, the cost and the impact. That is there but we have to advance, in parallel, a vision that looks to the upside of that change.
We see it in regard to the potential for the greater use of rail, the greater use of airports outside the capital city, and the rebalancing of some of our air activity to Cork and to Shannon. We have to look too at the issue of wind turbines. This has become a very vexed position because much of the low-hanging fruit, to use that terrible term, has been captured at this stage, in that most of the sites that do not impact overly on the livelihoods and the lives of people have already been developed. Now, there is a lot of negative feedback from communities who do not want to see the further development of wind turbines. Therefore, we have to move very quickly to look at the alternative, and that is offshore, to my mind.
The nitrates directive has been addressed. Again, we have to be careful with regard to the farming community. I listened with interest on the radio today to a PhD researcher who was putting forward a comprehensive plan for addressing the impact of the agricultural sector on carbon emissions, looking at the genomic make-up of our herds and the diet of cattle, and looking at how the methane output from our national herd can be addressed. The research is looking at the targets and at having mitigation in place.
It behoves us all to adopt a broad outlook to find solutions rather than look to our own constituents and seek to suggest that somebody else carry the burden. There has been a broad debate today and I look forward to my continued participation in that.
I welcome the Minister. It was good to hear his speech. The Joint Committee on Climate Action meets every single day, so there is a huge amount of cross-party work being done. I come from the constituency of Roscommon-Galway. It is an area that has traditional industries, such as Bord na Móna. Ballinasloe is 10 km from Shannonbridge and not far from Lanesborough. The area has been affected. The phrase "Let us bring everyone with us" is easy to say but means an awful lot because many people have been left behind a little bit. The just transition fund is fantastic as it went to those particular regions to support the creation of other types of income such as the provision of funding for remote working hubs and ecotourism. All that is crucial but we must also consider what other off-farm incomes we can support. I was very happy to hear about the 350 jobs that were supported in terms of the rehabilitation scheme.
I will speak to the farming element. I come from a farming background. My Dad is a small drystock farmer who participated in the rural environment protection scheme, REPS, and most recently in the green low-carbon agri-environment scheme, GLAS. We have a small section of a field where we grow natural broadleaf trees, such as oak and ash trees. It is important the Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, supports smaller farmers, particularly with environmental measures. Farmers are at the heart of protecting the environment as they look after the land and maintain fields to ensure we have hedgerows and so on.
Teagasc is the research arm of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and it has done great work on methods that use less technology, such as low-emission slurry spreading, and has done analysis on ways to work together to reduce emissions. The genetics of animal breeds has been mentioned. There is so much that farming can do. We must ensure farming is part of the solution because it is a vocation like teaching, nursing and public life. Farmers are part of their communities and the farming community is the backbone of towns and villages. Therefore, we must find sustainable ways for farmers going forward.
In terms of off-farm income, there are greenways. I am very happy to see an allocation of €50 million for active travel, particularly walking and cycling. Consultations are taking place on a Dublin to Galway greenway and five routes between Athlone and Galway city are being analysed. I hope the greenway will pass by my home town because we are fighting hard for that. I see the importance of greenway to Dungarvan in County Waterford and the Westport to Achill greenway in County Mayo. One can see how much off-farm income is generated through ecotourism, which I very much support. I look forward to seeing more investment in counties to develop spurs off this national infrastructure.
In response to the comments made about public transport, I have been squashed like a lemon when travelling on trains from Galway to Athenry and to Ballinasloe. It is wonderful to have a train service and pre-Covid many people commuted daily between Ballinasloe and Dublin for work. However, many people must drive 20 miles to reach the train station in Ballinasloe or drive to Athlone because it has more frequent rail services. The standard of train services and infrastructure must be upped. Irish Rail has spoken about doing so for a long time and I would like to hear more about what investment will be made in Irish Rail. Unfortunately, there are many villages to which buses do not go. Obviously services have been reduced during Covid. How will we provide services to towns so people can access public transport to get to very important places like hospitals, work and schools? The only way people can get to the hospital in Ballinasloe is to drive. There are no public transport options for older people. I would love to see them but they do not exist currently. It is important access is considered from a regional point of view.
In terms of local authorities, wind farms generate much income, particularly offshore wind farms in which I am very interested. Local authorities need these forms of income as they are starved of income at the moment. However, I would like local authorities to invest in providing more biodiversity officers and enhance the protection of biodiversity habitats. I am part of a community group in Ballinasloe that went to the High Court two years ago to fight for the habitats directive because of the impact of a development on the low lying flood plains of a local river. We fought about the water quality and its impact, which is not being done by local authorities. I see the role of local authorities as protecting the biodiversity in habitats. Therefore, I am very interested in the development of habitats and how we protect biodiversity. In this particular location where there are food plants, we had the only sightings of the only European protected butterfly, the marsh fritillary butterfly. I refer to bogland areas previously linked to the Grand Canal and Bord na Móna boglands. We must develop and protect habitats but what investment are we putting into local authorities to do such work?
These are exciting times. We all know that no matter what party we belong to we have to do our best to combat climate change and that it is very much about bringing people with us. There are many more challenges in regional areas than in urban centres, a fact that must be taken into consideration.
I welcome the Minister. One positive that came from the Covid lockdowns was that people walked and cycled in their local areas, thus leading to a greater appreciation for the current infrastructure. That is why I welcome the significant investment that has been put in place to continue and develop more cycleways and walkways.
I welcome the recent midlands retrofitting programme that provided a significant €3 million investment in my own county of Longford. Starting in the second week of January, 47 homes in my local village will be retrofitted, which is extremely welcome, especially by low income families as it will reduce their energy consumption and energy costs. When private owners see local authority houses being retrofitted, they will want more significant grants to enable them to retrofit. Recently, An Post rolled out a green hub so it will give grants to retrofit private houses but private householders must make a significant investment. I ask the Minister to consider increasing grants.
Have local authorities used up the funds available to provide charging points in their counties? Is the data recorded? To my knowledge, some local authorities have not done so.
Recently €108 million was allocated for the bog rehabilitation scheme. That is extremely welcome in my area, following the closure of the ESB plant and the Bord na Móna venue in Lanesborough. There is an opportunity for us to turn these places into an asset, such as the mid-Shannon wilderness park. I am sure the Minister is quite aware of the project but I want him to commit to its development. A 20,000 acre national park would be a fantastic tourism asset to County Longford and the country but I disagree with having a wind farm on a site and, therefore, I totally agree with locating wind farms offshore.
When the Minister was here a number of months ago, I asked for support for a number of projects that were put forward to create employment in County Longford, particularly in Lanesborough and the surrounding area. I thank him for his commitment because all of the projects were funded up to the value sought. It is most welcome that extra money was found on top of the €11 million allocation to make sure that all of the projects can proceed. It was a very good day for us in County Longford to see that commitment and funding and supports being provided to enable the projects to go ahead, thus ensuring that anyone who lost his or her job with the ESB and Bord na Móna will be re-employed. The allocation shows the Government's commitment to the areas that suffered following the closure of the plants.
Senator Dolan's comment that agriculture has to be part of the solution was 100% correct. I firmly believe that. There is a fear that farm income will be decimated but I believe there are ways of maintaining or increasing it. By working together with the agriculture sector, it can be part of the system.
I would like to get a commitment to the effect that the M4 will continue. It is the last link in connectivity around the country. When looking at a map of Ireland, we see the need for a link from Mullingar towards Sligo to give access to our major cities.
We spoke about rural Ireland and the lack of rural transport. Maybe an Uber-type system of transport could be used, especially in the more rural areas. We cannot have a system with buses servicing every small lane in rural Ireland. This is a matter that could be worked on.
I thank the Minister for his commitment, particularly to those of us in the midlands, and I also thank him for the significant funds that have been put in place to help to create more jobs in our area.
I thank the Minister for coming to the House and for all the work he and his Department are doing. I thank everybody on the Joint Committee on Climate Action, which is meeting daily. It is great to see such energy and cross-party consensus. Similar to how we all tried to suppress the virus, there is a political movement whereby collective energy is being applied to try to have the Seanad and Dáil take significant climate action. This is great and really encouraging. It genuinely encourages the young people who protested for so many Fridays during the term of the previous Dáil. It gives hope that we can achieve a just transition to a climate-resilient and carbon-neutral economy by 2050.
I will limit my comments to three areas that I would like the Minister to consider. The first concerns energy. I am a member of the Joint Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage. We have been engaging in the pre-legislative scrutiny of the marine planning and development management Bill, which the Minister will be aware will create a planning and regulatory system for our marine territories. It will be a major Bill and it will be important that the State get it right. Offshore wind energy presents a great opportunity. I had some appreciation of it but as the pre-legislative scrutiny meetings have proceeded, I have become much more aware of what is entailed. Not everybody in the House may know that Ireland, as a small island, has the offshore wind capacity potentially to generate 20% of Europe's renewable electricity. That is an enormous opportunity. I am not saying we are going to realise it in full but it is enormous. It has been stated many times that no other single intervention could deliver us as much renewable energy in one fell swoop. It is great and I am very supportive of it. We need to pass the legislation.
A concern I have regarding the Bill relates to protecting biodiversity. One of the first Bills the Minister brought to this House was the National Oil Reserves Agency (Amendment) and Provision of Central Treasury Services Bill 2020, which ring-fences funds from the oil industry for the climate action fund. What are the Minister's thoughts on creating a mechanism within the marine planning legislation to apply a levy on the industry such that the accruing funds could be ring-fenced to invest in protecting marine biodiversity?
I fully recognise and commend the Government on the €220 million allocated for retrofitting. I fully support the decision to allocate the biggest chunk of money to low-income households. That is appropriate. It is important that everybody, particularly those who need help most in upgrading their homes, be supported by the Government. Can the Minister provide us with an update on the national retrofit office that was promised? I specifically seek information on grants for middle-income earners. If we can help people to have healthier, more sustainable homes, it will help the individuals therein but also our communities and country.
On public transport and transportation generally, transport accounts for 20% of all our emissions, 51% of which come from private cars. In no place more than Dublin do we need to get out of our cars. While Covid-19 has emptied the streets of cars and while the city has become much more comfortable for cycling and walking, the bus transportation service, which has continued at a reduced rate, has become more important in Dublin commuters' minds. Could the Minister update us on the investment in buses? I am aware there was a commitment to have 100 hybrid buses. I believe a hydrogen bus is being trialled. Could we have an update on that?
BusConnects is a very ambitious project. I support it. We need more affordable, accessible and reliable public bus services in the city, but we also need to ensure there are appropriate services farther out from the inner city estates. I hear this particularly in the county areas. A small local bus service is important. The Minister mentioned in his opening remarks the ideas of 15-minute communities and 15-minute cities. Small local bus services can be a lifeline not only for elderly people but also for schoolgoing children and other students. Increasingly, we should be ambitious for Dublin so people living there will not have to own a car and will be able to rely primarily on public transport services. To achieve this, we will need to increase the capacity and the operations of the bus services.
Regarding the Royal Canal greenway, we opened the stretch from Spencer Dock up to Newcomen Bridge at North Strand. It is great but the Minister is probably not aware that it has taken us 15 years. The pace at which we are delivering such projects has to be accelerated. Over the course of 15 years, we had to engage with Waterways Ireland, Irish Rail, CIÉ, Dublin City Council, the National Transport Authority and the Department of Transport. All the stakeholders came together do a superb job, delivering superb infrastructure, but we need to accelerate the model considerably. We have a route from Spencer Dock all the way to Athlone and beyond. Let us really bring the greenway on the Royal Canal to life. It is fantastic, sustainable infrastructure. I encourage the Minister to do all he can to accelerate it in his time in office.
I welcome the Minister to the House. It is so important that hope and the recognition of the challenge coexist in the same room; they are not mutually exclusive. I recall the current Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, addressing a public meeting in Naas a few years ago when the latest league tables were published and Ireland was a laggard. I recall him saying we still have our hope. Therefore, I am confident and assured that he has hope, but I am equally confident and assured that he recognises the sheer challenge facing us, best encapsulated, perhaps, in Sir David Attenborough's most recent documentary, "A Life on our Planet", in which he lays out the war humanity is waging on nature. There can be only one winner. I want to make sure we do not forget about hope, especially for our young people.
I meet young people most days and some of them are genuinely traumatised. We must cling to hope. In a sense, the conversation has moved on. On Saturday, the Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Senator Hackett, visited Rathcoffey zero-waste community garden. The goodwill was palpable.
There is a golden opportunity for the Greens to deliver. How could the Greens turn down the opportunity of having the two big political parties in government, the two big parties that can reach out to every parish to drive home, to explain, to demystify and to bring people with us on this journey? There is a third party that we have to reach out to in particular, Sinn Féin. If we are going to take people on the journey, there has to be full consultation. When I say Sinn Féin, I also mean every politician from other political parties and Independents.
Is it not ironic that it took the horrific Covid pandemic for the penny to drop for some? A friend of mine recently got back up on his bicycle with his children. He heard the birds sing for the first time. Now more than ever, there are people on our side.
I welcome the Minister referring to the transport strategy and the DART+ programme. It has been essential. In County Kildare, the Connolly Station to Sligo rail line stops short in Maynooth and does not go to Kilcock. The Heuston Station line, heading to Cork and Galway, stops short in Hazelhatch and Celbridge but does not go on to Naas. It should go on to Newbridge and Kildare, which will be music to the ears of Senator O'Loughlin and others. I hope the Minister will review this because that would be a game changer with the acceleration of the volume of people using transport, along with the electrification of the line. We will keep pushing a review of that now that we have a new Government.
I am pleased the Minister referred to biodiversity. It has been inextricably linked. The Native Irish Honey Bee Society is concerned about the native Irish honeybee, Apis mellifera mellifera, which is under huge pressure of being diluted due to the European strain of the Italian honey bee being imported into the country. It does not adapt to our climate, is less frugal in the wintertime and more aggressive to handle. We all accept the importance of pollination. The Green Bar Association - it is not the Green Party Bar Association; it is inclusive - is working on a proposal on a ban on the importation of a strain of bee species which would not be good in the long term for our traditional native local Irish honeybee.
I am delighted the Minister referred to the offshore wind at scale. This is a huge game changer. The Minister is passionate about this and is fully aware of what it can deliver. I am delighted with the just transition programme being rolled out which could create 800,000 jobs. In Allenwood, just one example, eight acres of former Bord na Móna lands have been used to create 150 jobs. Senator Dooley is correct that we are the friends of the farmers. We must bring farmers with us. No change should happen to the detriment of farmers. The change that happens should enrich, improve terms and conditions and quality of life for farmers. Just transition is pivotal in doing that.
There must be buy-in from people. Friends of the Environment Ireland v. Ireland overturned a High Court decision in the Supreme Court which determined that the national mitigation plan, formulated pursuant to statute, was justiciable. In other words, one could bring a judicial review because the national mitigation plan required to specify the manner in which it is proposed to achieve the national transition objective. We need people's participation, accessibility and accountability at the heart of the forthcoming climate Bill. Crucially - a point the Greens get - no party has exclusive rights to this. We have been saying that for years. We are not in politics forever. We have many other policies on social justice. We will only win and succeed when everybody, Opposition and Government, comes together to tackle the greatest challenge facing humanity.
I welcome the Minister, Deputy Ryan, to the House. I sincerely thank him for opening the National Council for the Blind charity pop-up on Grafton Street recently. I asked him to do it. The Minister, being the gentleman that he is, absolutely agreed to do it. Charity shops in their essence are environmentally friendly. One cannot get better in terms of recycling than charity shops.
On a point of openness and transparency, I got my wife a lovely jacket there for €20 on the occasion which she was thrilled about. The shop is at the bottom of Grafton Street and is open for the month.
I saw it.
It is always tricky for a gentleman to buy for his wife.
It was not tricky on this occasion.
Eamon being the absolute gentleman that he is actually bought something in the shop. I was not going to mention it because many Ministers turn up to do an event and go. Eamon actually bought in the shop which was well-noted and is a testament to the man.
As I do not drive because of my disability, being visually impaired, I get the train to Dublin all the time when I come to the Oireachtas. On occasion I have stayed in Maynooth. I listened to Senator Martin speak about extending the train services to other parts of Kildare. He is correct. The service from Maynooth to Dublin is fantastic. There are proposals to extend and develop it, perhaps, into a light rail service. That would be welcome. Any investment in rail transport is worthwhile and justified investment.
The Minister is committed to extending the rail link to Foynes Port in Limerick and the western rail corridor to Tuam. This would be fantastic. When the western rail corridor was opened from Ennis to Galway, it had a slow start with only one, two or three people on it in the morning. Before the pandemic, the number of people using the Ennis to Galway line was fantastic. There were times one could not get a seat. On Friday evening with students coming home to Ennis and then on to Limerick, it was standing room only. It takes time. We need to have patience when investing in rail infrastructure. Every single penny that is invested in our rail network is justified.
Two months ago, I asked the Minister about when the lift would be installed at Ennis railway station for people with disabilities, wheelchair users, older people and mobility impaired people. I am delighted the lift is now in place and the lights are on. In several weeks' time, it will be operational. Deputy Ryan is a Minister who delivers. That asset to Ennis railway station was promised by many Ministers in the past. It took this Minister to say this needs to be done, get on with the job of work and install a lift. For that I am very grateful.
My colleague, Senator Carrigy, has spoken about the just transition fund and the benefit it brings to Longford. I would like to know what is the status of the just transition fund from a Moneypoint perspective. Many people in west Clare have benefited from employment in Moneypoint. The scaling back of Moneypoint creates a challenge. The just transition fund can be a lifeline in providing educational opportunities and other employment opportunities. I would like to hear the Minister's views on the fund and how it sits with regard to Moneypoint, the people who have worked at the plant and the workers who may no longer be work there in future. Moneypoint is a significant political issue in County Clare and clarity is necessary at this stage. The people working in the plant whose lives are essentially on hold are waiting for a decision and clarification on what will happen. Such clarification would be welcome. If there is bad news, let us have it and we will deal with it. Coupled with any such bad news, we would want a plan. We want to know what will happen in future. At this stage, most of society has brought into the principle that what has happened in Moneypoint in the past will not happen in the future. Society, County Clare and the country will move on.
Green issues will only really succeed when they become political issues. Unless green issues become mainstream, we will not achieve our common goal. Most politicians in this Chamber espouse green issues but until they become mainstream, we will not achieve the results we want. I thank the Minister and look forward to his replies.
I welcome the Minister. As many speakers have said, he is an honourable man. One of the most important qualities in politics is to be able to listen and understand people. I have often defended the Minister in rural areas, particularly with some farming groups. I have said the Minister will listen and understand and knows we have challenges, particularly in agricultural areas. From speaking to him, I know what the Minister wants to do for small and medium-sized farmers. He wants to make farming pay for them and come up with new ideas.
Although I spent the past 20 years in radio and television, I trained in horticulture and I have a great understanding of the horticultural business. I constantly go on about the opportunities we are missing - I know the Minister is on my side on this - by not having a brand new plan for horticulture. When I was writing up part of the Fianna Fáil policy on horticulture for the party's Government programme, I looked at the amount of money we spend on importing vegetables and fruits. We cannot grow all fruits here but if we take Bramley apples as an example, most of the apples bought in this country come from France. While we sometimes get severe frost which can hamper apple growth, we have a perfect climate for growing apples. So much could be done in that regard. I know the Acting Chairman has a big interest in the horticultural business as well.
There are opportunities and the Minister will work with us all. He will not say a certain Senator is from this or that party. We have proof of that in our part of the country in just transition, to which some of my colleagues referred. We have a huge commitment on this from the Government. I told people in the area that the Government and Minister would deliver. Just transition is now well accepted in the area. I hope we can dot the i's and cross the t's.
Replacing the loss of Bord na Móna jobs is a major issue for my locality. In every second house in my area, somebody was either in the ESB or Bord na Móna. If we accounted for every job linked in to the demise of the ESB and Bord na Móna, we are talking about not a hundred or five hundred but thousands of jobs. These companies were the economic lifeline of the midlands for 70 years. Their demise presents a major challenge but it gives me great comfort that we can talk to the Minister and Government and they understand that we need assistance. We need more assistance and I know the Minister will come to speak to us and get all of our views. There is access to all areas. Substantial funding was provided for a boat on the River Shannon. Having lost our power stations, the distillery in Lanesborough has been huge for counties Roscommon and Longford and even for parts of counties Offaly and Galway.
I will make a brief point on the power stations. I am probably fighting a losing battle but I think the demolition of the power stations at Shannonbridge and Lanesborough, which is still in planning, will be a major opportunity lost. We have an opportunity to keep the power houses and develop them as a tourism museum. We could keep some of the railway tracks to bring people onto our bogs and talk to them about flora and fauna. That would be a massive project but it would be environmentally friendly and good for the area. The planning states clearly that the power stations have to be demolished. I would like that requirement to be reviewed and the power stations retained, certainly in the short term.
I implore the Minister to push the N5 national primary route. It is a €200 million project that is ready to go between Ballaghaderreen and Scramoge near Strokestown and not far from the Longford border. This section of road has a poor safety record and many lives have been lost on it. We need to get the works done. The project must be committed to and I hope capital funding will be provided for it next year.
On biodiversity, just transition and ideas around that, about 25 years ago, my husband was involved in pioneering the plantation of blueberries in Allenwood and the peatlands. It was an idea to see if this fruit would take in Irish soil and it was a great success. There are ideas that have been out there for years and it is great to see them being embraced now. When I was a councillor, I asked South Dublin County Council why we were not planting on top of bus shelters. We could do with a redesign of bus shelters to bring additional flora into areas and encourage bees, as Senator Martin has said.
I am a member of the Joint Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage. We are working our way through the marine planning and development management Bill, which is a big tome. In the course of our deliberations, the future of green energy and the careers it promises have come up. I have a five-year-old who talks about what she will be when she grows up. I tell her she will not decide that now because we do not know what careers will be available. I find it exciting to hear different experts at the committee forecast what will happen in wind energy and other areas and talk about the careers that have not yet been invented. These careers will be available by the time my daughter is a teenager and, hopefully, goes to college. It brings to mind that we need an education and vision-casting programme in schools for our young people, who already are visionaries and who challenge us on recycling and everything connected with our carbon use. They need a vision for the careers that lie ahead and what they might do with that vision.
My second main point concerns public consultation. Tonight I will leave here, and following my meeting with the parliamentary party, I will participate in a zoom call with a number of residents' associations on the issue of BusConnects routes, because we are trying to get as many people informed as possible as to what is going on. I have written to the Minister's office and spoken to his officials, and in that regard, I believe that the six-week consultation period has been far too short, and that it needs to be extended because we need a longer period of time. The descriptions and the meetings in respect of these bus corridors have been for representatives only, then those representatives have to go and get that information out into the community. In the middle of a pandemic that has been very difficult. Not everybody has access to the technology required to participate, so the period of consultation must be extended past 16 December 2020 in order to ensure that we have a true and full public consultation.
Where I live, there is a very small area that is impacted by three bus corridors, and of the six conduits into the city, up to four of them are now closed off. Therefore, it is one thing to get people to change how they use transport and to start using public transport, but it is another thing to deny them the opportunity to understand it and speak about it. I hosted a meeting last Monday evening, and in the course of it I had people from all sides who made constructive descriptions and points. Indeed, one participant pointed out that for those coming into Dublin from Kildare on the M50 via Templeogue, there is no park and ride service, but yet commuters still have to get into the city, so services like that need to be created. There are positive things that can be done; not everything has to be negative in respect of BusConnects. There are positive suggestions that must be taken on board. However, if we are in the last dash of public consultation on this issue, there have been some fairly dramatic changes around the Kimmage corridor that are resulting in roads being closed and all traffic being diverted down Stannaway Road that people need to be made aware of. Older people in the community are now going to travel longer distances just to get shops. These aspects must be dealt with.
I wish to thank the Minister as his officials have confirmed that in respect of the metro feasibility study that is currently being conducted, it is not confined to any one route, it is open to several suggestions in respect of the route, and there will not be a terminus at Knocklyon, which is what it would appear to suggest. However, the suggestion of that metro route finishing at Knocklyon is also repeated in the transport strategy for the greater Dublin area. That needs to be changed in order for people to have confidence that they are being heard. I thank the Minister for the confirmation it is not a case of one singular, linear route being considered, and the route will be decided should the feasibility study prove to be fruitful and worthwhile.
I thank Members for their contributions; I was slightly blushing behind my mask at some of the compliments.
The Minister was feeling the love.
I was, and while I am unable to respond to all the points, I will respond to some of the comments raised.
Senator Boyhan is right on what he said in his contribution. The purpose of the structure of the Climate and Low Carbon Development Act 2015 is to hold the Government to account, and perhaps I could and should have done a more detailed assessment of what happened last year. The circumstances are difficult, because I understand that the annual transition statement was made before the House in December and I do not know why it has taken this long for it to lead to these oral statements, but the Senator's point is correct that we need to follow proper process.
In response, some of the facts from 2019, which perhaps I should have provided earlier, as Senator Martin has said, do give us some hope, in that there was around a 4.5% reduction in emissions in 2019. There was around a 9% reduction in emissions in the emissions trading system, ETS, sector. We are effectively starting to switch away from the use of coal in Moneypoint Power Station and to stop using peat, and that is where the big reduction was made. There was also a reduction in agriculture and domestic dwellings, mainly because of a mild winter, which came out of a drought in 2018 and reduced the amount of fertiliser being used. It is complex, but while there was not an underlying shift, it was a welcome reduction. The 8% to 9% reduction of emissions in the ETS sector showed us what is possible, and that kind of reduction in one year gives me a certain amount of hope.
Senator Byrne raised a number of points, some of which I will address in my other comments, but he is absolutely right on his point about the clean-air legislation. It is a clean-air policy and it is critical that we have win-win situations when we are dealing with climate issues. We are expecting to launch a new clean air strategy in January, and that will be followed fairly quickly by a consultation process, with a view to imposing a complete ban on the use of smoky fuels across the country. The way regulation will be carried out will not be by having the Garda check people's houses, but a the point of sale, which will simplify the process. We will add to that the phasing out, over time, and in the same way, the use of other smoky fuels, so that we are not beset by legal challenges in terms of favouring the use of one fuel over another. These developments will be critical in terms of saving lives, but they will also help us with climate emissions reductions.
I very much appreciate Senator McGahon's comments on the electric vehicle, EV, charging network, and he is right that that will be the critical element in the transport sector. It will not be the only element, because as others have said, we must see modal shifts and start getting out planning right so that we can achieve the balance that will enable people to have shorter commutes and access a community within 15 minutes of where they live so that they do not need to drive everywhere. However, for those who do drive, changes are coming. The electric car will improve, its range will get longer, there will be more choice available and the price will come down. Electric cars also provide certainty for divers because they are better cars. I had a meeting recently with the oil industry representatives from the filling stations across the country, and I told them that we need to see progress in advance of those vehicles coming. There must be an up-front investment made, because we cannot wait until the cars have arrived before we realise we have a huge problem and then invest. Some of the climate fund was invested in a project with the ESB, working with various filling stations to see if we can put in high-speed charging ahead of the arrival of this new fleet of cars in the next two to three years. I will be honest, and admit that the pace of delivery on that work has been slower than we would have hoped, and I have passed that message on to the filling station representatives. We must get this right, or else we will have to look at alternatives, such as passing a regulation which states, for example, that we will use supermarkets for the charging of EVs. We will have to put in place new infrastructure if we cannot use existing infrastructure, which seems to me to be the more sensible way to go.
I very much agree with Senator Moynihan's comments. I posted a tweet last week stating that the switch to cycling is central to the Just Transition. My former colleague Saoirse McHugh pointed out that it is more of a spoke of the change rather than being the hub, and she is probably correct - it is one of the strands of the Just Transition, but it is an important one. When I was a City Councillor before I became a Deputy, I recall the high percentage of those working in Dublin City Council who did not own a car, and it has not changed that much. Almost half of the households in Dublin do not own a car already. When it comes to transport planning, everyone assumes that everyone has a car, but actually a large proportion of those in Dublin do not. I always thought that the provision of public transport, cycling and walking infrastructure is for those sections of society who do not have access to a car. It is a social justice issue, as I see it, in that those who typically live without a car in the most central parts of our city are those who suffer most from the poor air quality that results from the cars passing through. It is a social justice issue, and it always has been, but I take the point that the switch to cycling is only one of the spokes in the change brought by Just Transition.
It is is not regarded as unfair, I will take the comments of Senators Boylan, Higgins and Dooley together, because all three spoke well about the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Bill 2020, which is passing through the Houses at the present time. I had the pleasure of working with Senators Higgins and Dooley on the joint Oireachtas committee on climate action, and I am aware of Senator Boylan's work in the area. Senator Boylan stated that the aim was to rush the Bill through, but there was not any expectation of it being rushed. There is a timing issue, but I do not believe that there has been fundamental disagreement in the committee about some of the structural changes being brought in, namely, the three five-year iterations, which are similar to those in place under the UK legislation, and represent an appropriate development and iteration of the original 2015 Act.
I read the Supreme Court judgment as stating that the plan needed a level of step-by-step enhancement in ambition as we go. The reason I am keen on the time aspect is that if we can get it up and running as soon as possible, that will allow us to include 2021 in the first of the five-year cycles and that would have the benefit of starting straightaway.
It seems that the process of pre-legislative scrutiny has turned into a legislative process, which is strange and may have worked out well, we will have to wait and see at the end of the process. We presented a full draft text which I do not think is ordinarily the situation for pre-legislative scrutiny. Perhaps, in some ways, much of the deliberation that has been done would ordinarily have been done on Committee Stage or Report Stage. It is a strange process in which I am not directly involved, but am just following from a distance. I thought it was a useful chance to outline some of the background.
Senator Higgins said that to bring people with us, we have to be going somewhere, and that is absolutely true. I agree with Senator Dooley and others about no false consensus. There cannot be too weak a consensus but I think there is an appetite for consensus. What I hear in this Chamber is that desire exists.
I will use Senator's Dooley's contribution as a chance to branch into the issue of agriculture. Burrenbeo is a good example of how to bring the agricultural community with us in west Clare. I will connect that to what Senator Dolan said. She cited her father, who was a drystock, small farmer in Ballinasloe. She said that farming is a vocation and she is right, but we would all agree that it cannot be a vocation that comes with a vow of poverty. We need to pay our young people. We need to get young people into farming. The truth is that our drystock and suckler farmers get all the blame on the climate front but they are not the enemy or the problem. We need to get them to pass on their skills in the next ten or 15 years. Their average age is in late 50s or 60s. We need a generation of 20 somethings to learn from the other generation and we need to pay them both, one to teach and one to learn and take it on. Where we get the money for that is going to be key. It will come from Europe under the Common Agricultural Policy. Some of it is already coming from some of the funds that we get from the climate fund to which we have committed in advance. It comes down to what we value and if we value natural system services, carbon storage, good quality food, high quality water and preserving biodiversity, we are going to have to make political decisions around their funding. That is where the consensus becomes difficult because people have so many different resource requests. We will have to commit to funding because there is not an urban-rural divide. We need good nature and food. We want a balanced country and do not want to live in a land of industrial factories. I think, therefore, we can steer the consensus in the direction of considering how we pay our young farmers.
Senator Fitzpatrick mentioned various issues. I will pick up on one specific detail relating to national retrofit and how we deal with householders. She is right that much of the funding so far is being targeted at the warmer homes scheme and those in receipt of fuel allowance, by definition targeting people who are less well off, and it is absolutely right to do that. I expect that by June of next year, we will have a package for those in ownership of their own house. I expect that we will maintain a grant but it will not be the only or key element. The retrofit scheme will also come with the potential for a loan finance package which will be open for a variety of financial institutions to opt into. That will have a guaranteed mechanism whereby the State, perhaps with the support of the European Investment Bank, EIB, will provide a capital fund to guarantee a certain tranche of the loans. That then de-risks some of the loans from default and brings down the cost of interest, which starts to make the numbers make sense, coupled with the grant. This is a significant investment in a home and could cost €30,000, €40,000 or more but will transform a home and people's health for the better. That mechanism of a guaranteed loan system, available through a variety of lenders, and mixed with the national retrofit office, is one of the ways that I hope we will progress.
In response to Senator Martin, I love going from hope to honey bees. I will pick up on one of the things that he said about consensus and the potential to build back better after the Covid-19 crisis. I think the pandemic has transformed the sense of the local and the importance of the local environment. To face the climate challenge, we have to translate the insurmountably large-scale problem back to something about people's homes, communities, streets and local environment to which they can relate. I absolutely agree with the Senator.
May I offer the Minister a point of information?
By all means.
The Senator should speak through the Chair, but I will allow it.
Through the Chair, the consensus has to start in the Oireachtas. I would love to see climate action receive the same scale of cross-party support as our approach to Brexit and the Good Friday Agreement. It is too big to mess around with. I know the Minister would agree with that.
I absolutely agree. I will speak to my colleague, the Minister of State with responsibility for heritage and electoral reform, Deputy Noonan, about those Italian honey bees and see what can be done about the matter.
I hope I will not leave anyone out and will respond to most Senators. I appreciate the comments of Senator Conway. I am glad to hear that the lift at Ennis train station is going to be fixed. The Senator, and a number of others, raised the wider issue of Moneypoint. We are going to stop burning coal, everyone knows that, and we have to do it quickly. There is considerable potential for the Shannon Estuary. Floating offshore wind is not quite commercial yet but it will be in the coming five years. Everyone is betting on it and investing in it. Our sea area is ten times our land area and we have windy conditions off the west coast. It seems to me that the Shannon Estuary is one of the areas where that will come home to roost and whether in the form of hydrogen storage or connecting to the grid at Moneypoint, it will require significant investment, potentially including the use of port facilities to service and deliver the industry in the first place. I mentioned one of the things that will come with that in my earlier contribution. We will need to locate industry close to the power. We will have a competitive advantage in our power supply at scale, approximately 30 GW or more. It is not quite 20% of our energy needs but it is not small. Take, for example, Aughinish Alumina. Instead of heating it by gas, as is done at the moment, can we look to use electricity or hydrogen? Are there other applications that could be applied in a similar way? Similar to what we spoke about in relation to the western rail corridor, my urge is to ask if we can put that location close to the clean power supply, together with other infrastructure, the likes of the harbour infrastructure. In Moneypoint, we have a large quay, a jetty, deep water connection and electricity grid. That is a combination with which we can go to industry players and offer clean power, good logistics and international connectivity. Surely we will create new industry for the west in that way. That is absolutely possible.
I will turn to Senator Murphy's contribution. At the launch in Bord na Móna of the approximately €150 million we are putting into the re-wetting of bogs, the chairman of Bord na Móna put it well when he said that it was an historic day for the company because it was the day it became a climate-solutions company. It is not just those 350 jobs, or the 33,000 ha that will be re-wet, or the hundreds of thousands of tonnes of carbon, it is the potential for future development of the company, the potential investment in new products. Some of it will be power and Bord na Móna will still be based in producing power but it will not be through centralised power stations. We will have to wait and see what those power stations turn into and we are open to all sorts of ideas. Its new business will be a combination of power, carbon storage and the growing of new products in bogs as horticultural produce, as the company is committing to. It will learn. It has been a tough old practice. As I understand, it started with perfumes last year and it was going well until it rained at the wrong time, or the sun came out at the wrong time. We have to learn by doing. It is not easy. I believe in the company and that the people in the midlands can do it. The path to a just transition is to invest in the future and to be good at this.
That is what the chief executive and the chairperson said on the day, that is, that the company was now a climate-solutions company. That gives companies a future, and it gives the midlands a real future too.
To respond to Senator Seery Kearney, we will go local. I also attended a BusConnects meeting last night in respect of Terenure and Templeogue. We got right down to the level of local bus stops. While Senator Martin was focusing on bees and so on, Senator Seery Kearney has gone from blueberries to bus stops and BusConnects. This all comes down to the real world and how, in that junction in Terenure, there are two junctions beside each other, with a Y formation. It is really tough. Last night, when I met the various combined residents' groups of Rathfarnham, Terenure, Rathgar and so on, I pointed out that the NTA has done a good job in the consultation. It has been open to listening. This is the third round of consultation and I have encouraged the agency to continue examining every specific area to see what we could still do better. It is a slight leap in the dark. People do not realise the scale of the change that is coming in Dublin. It is very significant and will be potentially really good. It will be really good if it delivers, as Senator Fitzpatrick suggested, a system where people can use car shares or where that 30% of rush hour traffic, which at the moment is caused by us driving our kids to school, may not be necessary. If that happens, villages will be freed up and it will all start to work in a positive way.
I will finish with a message of hope. I do not know about the Senators, and perhaps I am biased because I come from a cycling-campaigning and BusConnects route in my area of interest, but I now see people out there with their young kids trying to get them safely to school. We have an obligation. This is not just about BusConnects or cycling but about creating a public realm that is fairly radically different and that is a safe, healthy, clean-air space. I think that is doable.
I wish to raise-----
I cannot allow anyone in. We were supposed to finish at 6 p.m. but it has gone past 6 p.m.
What about the issue of global policy?
The Senator is absolutely correct. Part of the global issues will be addressed by the Taoiseach tomorrow at the European Council, where we will have to decide on the level of European ambition. I hope that can be agreed to be as ambitious as possible. There is a technical issue with how we define land use in the system as an overall percentage. Europe has led and China has responded in recent months. With the change of US Administration, there is a possibility that the world will row in behind this. We can go from the bus stop in Rathfarnham to the bigger picture in a way that really works.
I have to leave now because I have to speak at an online climate event in the next few minutes.
Of course. I thank the Minister for his interest, his openness and his commitment to consulting. It is very important. When we talk about social justice and people who do not have cars, we have to talk about the social choice as well. Many people make a choice not to have a car and, therefore, need public transport and so on.