I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Ossian Smyth.
Annual Transition Statement: Statements
I thank the Cathaoirleach for inviting me to this session to present the 2020 Annual Transition Statement. I am pleased to have the opportunity today to update the House on this matter.
Climate change is one of the key challenges of this century and failure to address it effectively will result in major adverse impacts that will affect all countries. The latest climate science has observed unprecedented changes in the climate system. The challenges we face are stark. Only recently, the World Meteorological Organization published a report showing that four key climate indicators - greenhouse gas concentration, sea level rises, ocean heat and ocean acidification - all broke records in 2021. This is another clear sign we are observing planetary scale changes, caused by human activities, that are harming our land, seas and atmosphere.
I am pleased to present this annual transition statement as provided for under section 14(1) of the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act 2015. This is the fifth annual transition statement, and it is being presented to both Houses in line with the requirements of the 2015 Act. The statement includes an overview of Ireland's climate change mitigation and adaptation policy measures, including specific updates for the various sectors designated in the 2015 Act. The 2020 Annual Transition Statement also sets out a record of greenhouse gas emissions from the most recent inventory prepared by the Environmental Protection Agency and projections of future emissions, together with a report on the State's compliance with its obligations under EU law and international agreements.
While the 2020 Annual Transition Statement must predominately contain information in respect of 2019, it also records more recent policy developments in relation to climate mitigation and adaptation. This strengthened climate governance framework provided for under the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Act 2021 means annual transition statements are now replaced by climate action plans and long-term climate strategies, supported by a system of carbon budgeting and sectoral targets with appropriate oversight by Government, the Oireachtas and the Climate Change Advisory Council. Therefore, this will be the final annual transition statement.
To give a brief overview of the various development and policy measures adopted to mitigate and reduce emissions, I will highlight some of the key items included within the 2020 Annual Transition Statement. The above mentioned 2021 climate Act was signed into law in July 2021, setting Ireland on a legally binding path to net zero emissions not later than 2050, and to a 51% reduction in emissions, relative to 2018 levels, by the end of this decade. To deliver on the ambition set out in the Act, the Government published the Climate Action Plan 2021 last November. The plan includes policies and measures in every sector to bring about the significant changes needed to transform our society and to meet our climate ambition for 2030 and beyond.
The 2021 climate Act establishes a system of carbon budgeting as a key element of a strengthened legislative framework. In April, after an extensive consultation process, a programme of carbon budgets was approved by both Houses of the Oireachtas and thus came into effect. The Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications is currently preparing the sectoral emissions ceilings for Government approval in the coming weeks. This process has included extensive engagement with all relevant Departments and agencies.
Carbon pricing is a key pillar of Ireland's overall decarbonisation strategy. The Climate Action Plan 2021 reiterates the Government's commitment to carbon pricing playing a key role in supporting the transition to a low-carbon economy. The 2020 Finance Act sets a statutory trajectory for carbon prices in Ireland, with these set to rase an additional €9.5 billion in revenue by 2030. This revenue is being allocated to programmes that support sustainability and those most vulnerable to rising costs. This includes €5 billion for energy efficient retrofits, €3 billion to address fuel poverty and a just transition, as well as €1.5 billion to promote sustainable agriculture practices.
In terms of the electricity generation sector, the 2020 Annual Transition Statement highlights progress made while also noting our increasing ambition, with a target of 80% of our energy to come from renewable sources by 2030. This fundamental shift will require major changes to the electricity generation mix, transmission and distribution grids alongside significant changes to our national demand profiles and storage capacity. The statement identifies measures adopted and progress made across a number of areas including via the renewable electricity support scheme, the enactment of the Maritime Area Planning Act 2021, ongoing work to develop a new offshore renewable energy development plan, and efforts to support microgeneration and small-scale solar. The 2020 statement also highlighted ongoing work to enhance our electricity interconnection and upgrade our electricity grid, with €4 billion allocated for capital investment over the period 2021 to 2025.
With regard to the enterprise sector, the statement notes that approximately 68% of enterprise emissions are accounted for under the EU's emissions trading system, ETS. Reforms to the ETS, such as those proposed in the 2019 European Green Deal, seek to ensure the ETS can effectively deliver reductions in emissions while addressing the challenges faced by sectors most exposed to international competition. The statement lists progress made in the sector through a number of the measures to meet our 2030 targets. These measures have included the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment engaging with representatives of the cement sector to identify opportunities for further introduction of alternative fuel sources, Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland introducing strategies that focus on decarbonisation and sustainability, the launch of the ClimateToolKit4Business website, the extension of the accelerated capital allowance scheme for energy efficient equipment, and the introduction of the disruptive technologies innovation fund and the climate enterprise action fund. Furthermore, the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, SEAI, continues to support the adoption of renewable heating systems by commercial and industrial heat users not covered by the ETS through the support scheme for renewable heat.
In our built environment, the statement provides updates on progress made to decarbonise our commercial buildings with a range of supports and funding. In addition, support was provided to our SMEs through the excellence in energy efficient design, EXEED, programme to provide energy savings and emissions reductions. Our public sector is looking to lead by example in increasing the energy efficiency of its activities and buildings with the public sector energy efficiency programme, led by the SEAI, providing comprehensive support and engagement to guide public bodies to achieve their energy efficiency targets. The annual statement also notes how the Climate Action Plan 2021 supports measures to develop our district heating potential and to ensure our retrofit ambitions align with the Housing for All strategy in areas such as compact growth, nearly zero energy buildings and retrofitting.
The 2020 Annual Transition Statement details how our transport sector is playing a significant role in the national mitigation effort. The decarbonisation pathway in transport is multilayered and will primarily focus on shifting to more sustainable transport modes, reducing the overall number of kilometres driven by fossil fuel-powered cars, accelerating the electrification of road transport, and an increased use of biofuels.
A number of key public transport projects have been progressed to enhance and expand the capacity of the network and provide viable alternatives to private car travel. This includes 261 new buses delivered in 2021, with progress also made on delivering BusConnects in Dublin and Cork, as well as the launch of the National Transport Authority's Connecting Ireland rural mobility plan, which will seek to provide better connections between villages and towns through enhanced and new local routes.
A low-emission vehicle task force was established to accelerate the deployment of low-carbon transport technologies and a national electric vehicle charging infrastructure strategy is in development to prioritise the delivery of fast and rapid-charge point infrastructure over the next five years. Each local authority has been mandated to develop active travel routes that will improve the level of safety and attractiveness of using active travel modes in rural towns and villages. An additional 248 staff were allocated across the 31 local authorities and national roads offices to assist with the delivery of the significantly increased number of projects. The launch of the sustainable mobility policy in April set out the framework to deliver at least 500,000 additional daily active travel and public transport journeys by 2030 and a 10% reduction in the number of kilometres driven by fossil-fuelled cars.
The freight sector, which is critical to economic activity on an island economy, is heavily dependent on imported oil. The Department of Transport is developing a ten-year strategy for the haulage sector focused on improving efficiencies and standards and helping the sector move to a low-carbon future. In November 2021, the Minister, Deputy Ryan, published the Renewable Fuels for Transport Policy, which sets out the pathway for increasing the supply and use of renewable fuels in transport, including extending the biofuel obligation to 2024.
The 2020 annual transition statement highlights a number of developments in terms of how our agriculture and land use, land use change and forestry, LULUCF, sector is committing to reducing its emissions. The sector will also contribute by reducing land-based emissions through managing our soils in a better way. Food Vision, launched in August 2021, is a landmark for the Irish agrifood sector and has the potential to transform the agriculture, food, forestry and marine sectors, with sustainability at its core. The strategy is honest and upfront about the challenges ahead and, crucially, it proposes solutions and charts a pathway to sustainability in all its dimensions.
The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine has overseen a number of programmes and initiatives to support the farming community in adopting and expanding sustainable practices. This has included collaboration with the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage on the nitrates action programme. The most recent iteration of this programme will seek to contribute to a number of measures, including reducing chemical nitrogen use, establishing a national fertiliser register, reducing crude protein content of livestock feed and upskilling farmers and advisers to ensure they have the knowledge and tools to implement climate mitigation, biodiversity enhancement and adaptation practices.
Other initiatives and programmes to support cost savings and more efficient and sustainable farming have included: the targeted agricultural modernisation scheme to support a range of energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies at farm level; the young farmer capital investment scheme; the green, low-carbon, agri-environment scheme; and the agricultural catchments programme, which will significantly enhance the monitoring of impacts of agriculture on our environment. Further work is also ongoing on the promotion of protected urea fertilisers.
There has been significant improvement in grant and premium rates for the forestry for fibre scheme, which has been extended to the end of 2022. The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine is currently preparing a new forest strategy that will continue to take into account the important role forest biomass will play in climate change mitigation and adaptation. Furthermore, in 2020, €79.2 million of capital expenditure was invested in forestry development, including afforestation, the mobilisation of private timber resources, substantial investment in forest roads, continued support for knowledge transfer groups and the promotion of timber products.
The 2020 annual transition statement also highlights our ongoing work on climate adaptation to address current and future risks posed by a changing climate. Ireland’s robust adaptation strategies will also have positive co-benefits through fostering green growth, innovation, jobs, ecosystem enhancement and improvements in water and air quality. Ireland’s first statutory national adaptation framework represents Ireland's current national policy response to the challenges posed by the impacts of climate change. It identifies 12 key sectors requiring sectoral adaptation plans, and these plans were approved by the Government and published in October 2019. I will briefly mention some of these plans.
The agriculture, forest and seafood adaptation plan aims to reduce climate risk and build resilience through awareness-raising and integrating adaptation planning. Progress on implementation has been made both within the Department and externally. Work has continued to raise the profile of adaptation by aligning the mitigation and adaptation reporting processes together.
Actions within this biodiversity sectoral adaptation plan build on the foundations of the national biodiversity action plan. These actions are aimed at improving sustainable agriculture and fisheries, better soil and land management and, most urgently, the restoration of natural systems. This adaptation plan will be reviewed on an ongoing basis with oversight by the biodiversity working group and the Minister.
Climate change can also cause major infrastructural damage to transport networks, as well as disruptions to operations and unsafe travel conditions. The adaptation plan for transport infrastructure identifies key risks in the area and serves as a step towards building Ireland's long-term vision of a low-carbon, environmentally sustainable and resilient transport sector by 2050. The energy and gas networks adaptation plan seeks to identify options that will help build resilience against the impacts of climate change and in assessing our vulnerability to likely climate impacts on our electricity and gas networks.
As noted by the Climate Change Advisory Council annual review of 2021, good progress is being made in implementing the sectoral adaptation plan for flood risk management. The long-term goal for climate adaptation for flooding and flood risk management is to promote sustainable communities and support our environment through the effective management of the potential impacts of climate change.
The adaptation plan for the water quality and water services infrastructure presents an assessment of key future climate risks to the sectors. The plan outlines the measures available to build resilience against the effects of climate change and weather-related events and other socioeconomic developments in both sectors. Under the national adaptation framework, each local authority was required to make and adopt a local adaptation strategy. Whereas implementation of each strategy is a matter for each individual local authority, a progress reporting template was developed by the climate action regional offices to enable local authorities to report on their progress. The Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications is currently working with the regional offices, the Environmental Protection Agency and other stakeholders to develop appropriate guidelines for the making of local authority climate action plans, which are required under the Climate Act 2021. Another key development noted in the 2020 annual report is Ireland’s climate information platform, Climate Ireland, being introduced on a phased basis under the EPA research programme as a "one-stop shop" of information, data and knowledge to support those preparing for and adapting to the consequences of climate change.
The 2020 annual transition statement refers to the EPA's provisional greenhouse gases emissions report for 2019, emissions and projections for 2020 to 2040. However, as there are now more up-to-date figures available, I will provide a brief overview of these. In November 2021, the EPA reported that for 2020, total emissions in Ireland were estimated to have declined by roughly 3.6% compared with 2019. This reduction was driven by a drop in the use of peat for electricity generation and Covid-19's impact on transport. In this period our energy sector saw an almost 8% reduction in emissions while transport fell by almost 16%. In the same period, agriculture emissions increased by 1.4% and emissions from the residential sector rose by 9%, highlighting the need for retrofitting to decarbonise home heating. This relatively small overall reduction, given the substantial impact Covid-19 has had on our society, further highlights the transformative nature of the measures required to meet our 2030 and 2050 targets.
In May of this year, the EPA released its emissions projections out to 2040. These projections estimate that in 2021, Ireland’s emissions rose by 6% compared with 2020, in some part driven by our emergence from Covid-19 and associated restrictions. The EPA also estimated that we were not on course to meet our 2030 targets, although its modelling could not fully factor in all actions and measures in our climate action plan, given further technical details are still to be developed.
We must consider how to accelerate the delivery of measures and actions that can not only reduce our emissions but also support new ways of conducting business and encouraging innovation. Achieving these targets will provide numerous benefits to the country in terms of health, competitiveness, employment opportunities, biodiversity and climate impact. To reverse the current trajectory of emissions and to meet our targets, a significant shift is required in the speed at which we roll out the measures and actions that will decarbonise our economy. As part of the process to deliver the next climate action plan, the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications will engage with other Departments and State agencies to identify opportunities for accelerating our climate action.
As a party to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, UNFCCC, Ireland is required to report regularly on its implementation of the convention, preparing and submitting a national communication every four years and a biennial report every two years. Ireland submitted its seventh national communication and third biennial report in March 2018. Ireland submitted its fourth biennial report in February 2020. We are currently preparing our eighth national communication for submission.
Ireland’s national reports are subject to an in-country technical review process and a multilateral assessment process. Ireland participated in multilateral assessments by the UNFCCC on its seventh national communication in Bonn in June 2019. The technical review of Ireland’s fourth biennial report took place virtually in April 2020 and multilateral assessment also took place virtually in June 2021.
The transition to a carbon-neutral economy will provide huge opportunities to foster innovation, create new jobs and grow businesses in areas such as offshore wind, cutting-edge sustainable agriculture and low-carbon construction.
Finally, while we all must act together and work towards our climate objective, I realise that the costs of climate action will be more acutely felt by some than by others. As a Government, we are committed to protecting those most vulnerable and ensuring a just transition to a low-carbon economy. I thank Members for their time and welcome their comments.
I thank the Minister of State for his comprehensive opening statement. I advice all Senators that I will not give them the same latitude that I gave him.
For which I thank the Acting Chairperson.
Each Senator has eight minutes and I hope that there will be time for the Minister of State to contribute again. I call Senator Pauline O'Reilly.
I welcome the Minister of State. I am going to talk about the last point that he made about the most vulnerable and the impact that climate is having on the most vulnerable. I am particularly talking about our global responsibilities.
I was involved in negotiations on the programme for Government when it came to foreign affairs. Of particular importance to me was the sense that we need to really ramp things up when it comes to our global responsibilities. I will point to three things in particular. The first relates to the overseas development aid, ODA, budget, which I will come back to. The second is climate finance and the increased commitment by the Government and, in particular, Deputy Eamon Ryan, at COP26 last year. Where are we with that? The third point is that we use our seat on the UN Security Council for climate action reasons. I have me doubts about whether that is what is actually happening with that UN Security Council seat. I would like to see some evidence and some transparency across government as to how that is being used.
It is really important that we bring those global responsibilities to this Chamber because when it comes to famines right across the world, it can seem so far removed from the everyday life experiences of all of us. We all have struggles and all of our constituents across the country have struggles but Ireland is one of the richest countries in the world in terms of what is in the pot when it comes to our budget. That is why I want to ensure the budget is used effectively for the poorest people in the world.
Greenhouse gas emissions in Ireland are 54 times that of Somalia, which I am particularly going to talk about. Right now, the Horn of Africa is in crisis. Up to this point, one in five children under the age of five dies from malnutrition in this world on this planet which we are all here to protect wherever we live. Those of us in the richest part of the world, those of us who have those high emissions, have a greater responsibility to those children. Trócaire and Dóchas, in particular, are suggesting to us that 350,000 children are likely to die in the Horn of Africa this summer alone. Even to think of one child dying from malnutrition is absolutely devastating to me. Therefore, we cannot, as a Government, knowing the reality as we do for these people turn a blind eye.
These transitional statements afford us an opportunity to bring up all aspects of climate so this is the one I have decided to talk about today because I really want to be a spokesperson in this Chamber for Dóchas and Trócaire to make sure the message comes across. Last week, I appeared on television with Ms Caoimhe de Barra and I gave a commitment that I would present their budget submission. They are seeking an additional €233 million in budget 2023 to put us on the path to our ODA target. The Minister of State was in the room with me when we were negotiating, and we made sure that the programme for Government contained our commitment to get us to 0.7% by 2030 and we are still way off. Even with the increase in the budget of €176 million in 2021 that still only brings us to 0.32% of GNI. We are way off and need to do much better in budget 2023.
It is really important to say that there has been a doubling of climate finance. That is really important and the commitment of this Government is recognised by these organisations. Let us make sure that we get the message out loud and clear that this has to be a reality. By 2025, we are to get to €225 million per year in climate finance and, therefore, there must be a real step up in the next budget.
When people ask me how we deal with this situation there are two issues. This hunger and drought are predominantly because of climate. The region comprising Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia is experiencing its fourth consecutive rainy season in a row and it is likely to be the worst on record. How do we deal with that? There has to be two things. Number one is everything that the Minister of State has outlined. The reason the Green Party went into government is because we have to make the changes in our countries that emit the most. Some 10% of the richest countries in the world emit 52% of greenhouse gas emissions. That is a massive job and it cannot be done by Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia. It has to be done by us. We take that responsibility really seriously.
The other part is adaptation. We must ensure that we have the finance and are assisting people to get beyond where they are now. When one lives in a country on the Equator and cannot rely on one's seasons, one has no ability, no backup and no economy behind one that can ensure one can put food on the table. We are now seeing the crisis in trying to get grain out of Ukraine. That impacts us. We talk about our farmers and the impact of that grain not getting to our agriculture and our farmers. It really does deeply impact them. However, those most impacted are the people who are already living in extreme poverty and malnutrition. That is the people of Africa. That is why we have an obligation to bring Ukrainians to our country who are fleeing war but also to deal with the global knock-on for the most vulnerable people in the world.
Finally, I thank the Minister of State for this opportunity to raise these issues.
I thank the Senator for her timely delivery of her words.
I will try to stay within the allocated time as well.
Having listened to Senator O'Reilly and the Minister of State, I was struck by their eloquence and the importance of what they have said, particularly what the former said about the most vulnerable people in the world. I empathise deeply with what they have said but I find myself feeling that there are things that I must say here because they are the truth and hence I feel a need to put them on the record.
Today is the feast day of St. Thomas More, who is the patron saint of statesmen and politicians. His name is synonymous with the strength of his conscience and for speaking his mind instead of just going along with the crowd. I have all of that in mind when I say that there are things sometimes that one feels the need to say that one would rather not say but one must as one thinks they are true. St. Thomas More once wrote:
By applying a remedy to one sore, you provoke another. That which removes one ill symptom, produces others.
That observation could be made about our climate policy at the moment. In addressing the serious running sore of climate change and carbon emissions, we are spawning a growing list of other problems, which, in turn, damages both the effectiveness of measures taken and public support, which is also important.
Our targets for environmental policies have a tendency to be unachievable and, therefore, we should focus our limited resources on ways to protect the people who are most at risk from climate change such as those who live in coastal communities. I find myself much more sympathetic to the comments that have been made about adaptation rather than about mitigation. Let us consider the task of cutting Irish carbon emissions by 51% by 2030. If we are honest, is that not wildly optimistic? Is it something that sounds good on a poster?
In 2020, it was acknowledged that the two main Government parties agreed to it just to get the current coalition agreement over the line. One does not need to be a climatologist or a mathematician to see that reaching the target would require very deep cuts to all areas of society, particularly agriculture. It seems to me that the EPA has now effectively confirmed that the target is a pipe dream, even if it does not say it out loud. We see that emissions rose by 6% in 2021, despite at least an 8% fall year-on-year being needed to reach the 2030 target. The EPA says that the urgent implementation of "all climate plans and policies, plus further new measures" will be needed to meet the target. That statement by the EPA will send chills down the spine of people struggling to pay their ESB bills and to fill their cars.
Let us look at other targets. Is the target of 1 million electric vehicles on Irish roads by 2030 not completely unrealistic? Surely it will be missed. Electric vehicles are very expensive, and those who can afford them are currently on waiting lists to get them. We want to retrofit 500,000 homes and install 680,000 heat pumps, and this at a time when tradesmen and women are desperately needed to construct new homes, and people are waiting weeks or months for an electrician or plumber to do small jobs. It seems to me that we simply cannot afford to do all of it at the one time, and something is going to have to give. That is what I mean by saying, by treating one sore we seem to create others.
On oil, we must be willing to accept the fact that regardless of how quickly we change, Ireland is going to be dependent on fossil fuels for many years and decades to come. There are moral, as well as economic, considerations to make. President Biden is travelling to Saudi Arabia next month to ask the Saudis to increase oil production to try to push down international prices. Rather than allowing new exploration within the United States, he would prefer to import it from the Gulf, with all the issues around human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia, not to mention the carbon cost of transporting oil, which his policy raises. It seems to me that this is the ridiculous and almost morally bankrupt pass to which climate policy has brought the United States.
I wonder whether we are following a similar policy in Ireland. We have banned any new licences for oil exploration, preferring instead to depend on costly imports from abroad, which have a higher carbon cost. Where is the sense in that? A third of our gas comes from the Corrib field, which will be gone within the decade, but by then our use of gas will not decrease by a third, which means we will need to find new sources of imported gas. While we are adopting renewables, should we not try to utilise new domestic sources that may exist, such as the Barryroe field off west Cork, instead of relying more and more on questionable sources of oil from abroad? I worry that we are cutting off our nose to spite our face.
The phrase "just transition" is regularly used in discussing this issue, but what does it even mean? There are no climate measures which do not involve very unjust outcomes for some people, in terms of their lifestyles or their pockets. Rightly or wrongly, large sections of rural Ireland believe that an urban Dublin-based elite is intent on waging war on the way they live their lives. This is corroding public support for necessary environmental policies. Nowhere is that more evident than in relation to the carbon tax. Surely the entire basis of that tax has been wiped by the soaring cost of fossil fuels in recent months. Although it may be small, what moral basis do we have for expecting people to pay it at a time of soaring fossil fuel prices, while expecting them to support climate-change policies generally? The carbon tax is treating one sore but creating others.
Even worse, is the surreal fact that VAT is charged on the carbon tax, which is effectively a tax on a tax. How on earth is this justifiable? That raises a further question about the injustice of charging VAT on electricity bills. VAT is designed to tax luxury items. Electricity is not a luxury item. In this day and age, it is absolutely necessary for people to live. VAT is a competence of the EU as I understand it, but I find it impossible to fathom how all that is morally justified.
I realise that most of what I have said is very easy to say. It is easy to be the Cassandra, the person heralding disaster, who says that this is not going to work. What I am getting at is that there needs to be integrity not just in our policies but in our communications about policies. We need to continue to soul-search as to how much of what we are talking about as being among our goals is realistic and how much of it will happen. My strong belief is that there is a certain amount of undesirable outcomes that we simply must accept at this stage and that we must focus our effort much more on supporting the most vulnerable people in the world, who will be most at risk from things that are going to happen in the area of climate change. I greatly fear that it simply is not in our capacity to bring about some of the changes that are being talked about. Rather than adopting a set of unrealistic targets as dogma and denouncing those who might question them as deniers of one kind or another, we need to be realistic about what we can do to prevent climate change, given our small size and our limited resources. What we do must be done in a way that garners support from the public at large, and not their resentment and hostility, which I am sorry to say, I increasingly observe.
I thank the Minister of State for his comprehensive statement. At the outset, the Chair opined that he had gone well over time, which helps all of us, because it means he has covered most of the bases. I listened with interest to the two previous speakers, two people for whom I have great respect. They both spoke about the social justice aspect of climate change and also the concerns Senator Mullen rightly identified.
I am reminded of the old saying that it is impossible to make an omelette without breaking eggs. The reality is that unless we dismantle the structure that we have become dependent on, we are not going to reach a point where we are going to respect the climate for future generations. How we do that is really at issue. I take the point that both speakers made on the necessity to ensure that those who will feel the greatest impact from the actions we must take must be protected to the greatest extent possible. Ireland has done that well through successive Governments and over the generations. Our social protection code, by comparison with others throughout the world, is very good. Of course, it could be better. I accept there are issues. We must ensure that, as we make the changes, we are mindful of the people who will be impacted the most.
Going back ten or 12 years, I was probably one of the more lonely voices in this House when I talked about climate change and the necessity to address it. At that stage, it was a debate for environmentalists or academics, although I did not come from either background, but I saw the necessity to address the issue then. It was not something that was discussed by the public when the Minister of State's colleague, Roger Garland, was elected as the first Green Party representative to the Dáil. People again took the view that it was more to do with dogs fouling the walkways around Dún Laoghaire that had attracted such a popular vote for respect for the environment rather than fully understanding what he was talking about. Things have moved on and climate change is discussed everywhere now - in the pub by elderly people, in the playground by children, and in colleges and schools by the young. They are demanding us as politicians to change the way we do business. Like most matters, the public are well ahead of us.
We have got to move from what the academics and environmentalists would have had as their mantra, which was all about stopping and what we could not and should not do any more. We must look to the opportunities that exist in climate change. There are significant opportunities to do things right and in a respectful way. That is the case with agriculture. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy McConalogue, announced a significant budget yesterday of €1.5 billion, under the ACRES programme, to do agriculture in a more sustainable way that is sympathetic to land use and the environment, and beneficial to farmers.
I hate the term win-win, but if I was ever to use it, that is the context in which I would use it. We see it in the opportunities around cleaning and greening our energy base. I take the point Senator Mullen made, but if we get strung up in that area we will never get to the solution. We must look at the potential opportunities along the western seaboard to serve rural communities. I accept that we need to move away from harvesting peat the way we did in the midlands, but there are massive opportunities from Donegal to Kerry in capturing offshore wind. The only point I would make to the Minister of State is that this Government and the previous one have somehow lacked ambition in terms of moving to floating offshore wind. While I accept there are projects on the east coast, the real opportunity is floating offshore wind. Other countries have started.
If we can, we have an opportunity to be net exporters not just of energy but of the technologies associated with the floating pontoons. This would create jobs in places such as Kilrush, Kilkee and Miltown Malbay and help to address the urban-rural divide to give people an opportunity to have gainful employment back in their communities. That is a win. Is it protecting the environment? Absolutely. Is it having a pop at geopolitics? Yes, because never again will we need to be dependent on a dictator like Vladimir Putin or the issues in the Middle East or the Gulf or wherever.
Let us become energy independent and become energy exporters. Let us not say it will take another ten years because we must wait for technologies. Let us embrace it as a small country. We did it before in many other fields. We did it when we set a trend under Seán Lemass to develop an industrial zone around a small airport some suggested would not survive at Shannon Airport. There are 10,000 people working there today because of the vision of somebody like Seán Lemass, who said to hell with the official reports - this is a good idea that can happen and is sustainable, which it is. That area went from light engineering to the most sophisticated technologies now on the face of the earth. We have companies like Intel and Jaguar Land Rover developing the next wave of technologies around autonomous vehicles. They are way out there in terms of what they can do. If we sow the seed, it can grow and it will deliver.
I am really hopeful that this Government, for the length of time it has left, sows that seed for offshore wind capture. It benefits so much more domestically and locally in a region in terms of job creation and gives families an opportunity to stay and come back. It changes and removes Europe’s dependence on people like Putin and others, who have shown that once they weave their way into our economies, they exercise control in the most heinous way. What Putin - not the Russian people - is doing in Ukraine is absolutely abominable. We have seen the destruction of people's homes, migration, the undermining of human dignity and rape and plunder. To think that is happening in Europe in this day and age is an abhorrence and we have all played into it because we have used the cheap oil. We have kept it going and now he has us by the neck. Sadly, this is not being addressed on a worldwide basis by the Chinese, for example, and I am really disappointed with the way the Indians have provided an outlet for Russian oil. That is obviously their decision but it is wrong. While the price of oil has spiralled out of control, there has been no reduction in the output of oil between now and 12 months ago. The same volume of oil is being used and the same volume is being pumped. The fear around the war of aggression by Russia has spooked the markets, however, and we are paying twice what we should be paying for it. We cannot let that happen again. Here is one of the positives from our approach to climate change. Let us capture our own wind and let us do so in stable democracies. However one might view the Government from time to time, we have a stable democracy. We can export that into the European market and we will all benefit.
I supported the carbon tax when it was not popular. I supported it from an Opposition perspective. I managed to get the Fianna Fáil team on board at the time as we ran into the local elections. Notwithstanding what Senator Mullen said, and there is absolute truth in what he said, that does provide a pool of money. The deal about carbon tax at the time was that it was to be sequestered. It was not to go into the black hole of the Departments of Finance or Public Expenditure and Reform. It was money that would be allocated to climate action measures. The €1.5 billion the Minister, Deputy McConalogue, is investing is going back into the greening of the agricultural sector. It will go into the retrofitting of homes where people have very low incomes and are dependent on social welfare. That to me is a justification, notwithstanding the pushback from certain sections of the community. It is a benefit to the least well-off and I hope we can continue to maintain support for it.
I thank the Minister of State for coming in to speak with us today on the 2020 Annual Transition Statement. How our society is going to have to adapt to change behaviours in respect of climate is crucial. We know every person in this country will have to change how they live, work, travel and run his or her home. I very much appreciate the very detailed update the Minister of State gave us. I will go through a couple of the points he mentioned in his opening statement.
My concern lies with the most vulnerable and always has. The support for the measures that will have to be delivered will need to ensure that those who are most vulnerable can be covered and supported as well. We live in an equal society and "equal society" does not mean that some people who are perhaps in more secure employment, with better access to public transport, are somehow immune to a certain extent to the challenges that are faced by people who live in rural areas. This is a real concern.
On agriculture, our colleague, Senator Reilly, spoke about famines in the world and what will potentially happen in a number of months. This comes down to food security and how important it is that agriculture in many ways provides food security. That has been acknowledged. I went on a Teagasc walk in Ballydangan outside where I live in Ballinasloe where it was showing farmers about how the planting of red clover will put nitrogen back into the soil. It is looking at ways to do this and farmers are taking the lead here.
The key message is that farmers are seeking to change practices that will bring a benefit to them and benefits in the quality of beef and the way they are able to sell their beef into new markets, which is crucial. We must understand that Ireland is a world-class producer of food. One would be hard put to find another country that would compete with Ireland in terms of the level of dedication, commitment and young people who are involved. It is a family-run business in many cases but it is also generational. I do not know how to put it but coming from a farming background, it is a vocation to the land. This is unique. What Ireland can achieve in food security and supporting countries needs to be recognised as well. The challenge we have are the supports we need to put in place now for farmers with higher costs, particularly under the fodder scheme. The new agri-climate rural environmental scheme, ACRES, was also mentioned.
The Minister of State mentioned innovations with research and development and the disruptive technologies innovation fund, DTIF, of course, while strategies introduced through Enterprise Ireland and Teagasc will be crucial. It is not only low-emission slurry spreading and the different types of equipment that farmers can use but that the costs of equipment will be brought down. How are we looking at reducing the costs of equipment, particularly for newer and young farmers, to put these measures in place?
My second point is the Minister of State mentioned that the rise in emissions is residential. He said emissions went up by 6% and that was residential. Yes, of course; I am sure people working from home over the past two years had a major impact but again, I mention the just transition. The Minister of State will, of course, be very aware of the area I come from in Ballinasloe, east Galway, near Roscommon. The SEAI comes under the Minister of State's Department. Its officials appeared before a committee recently where they stated that the authority's budget allocation is now more than €440 million and of that, €267 million is allocated specifically to energy retrofits in homes and communities.
I ask the Minister of State to comment on why the response time is still 24 months for people who apply under the warmer homes scheme. People in the scheme are getting the fuel allowance. We have already seen how the Government has supported people by giving additional fuel allowance payments and supports to families and households. When is this response time going to reduce? When can we give a better timeline to families who are really struggling? Can the Minister of State also comment on the contracts or providers for the one-stop shop through the SEAI? What is the timeline for people who are looking to avail of the one-stop shop? Are they going to be different from those on the warmer homes scheme? If that is the case, then we have a serious issue here.
A small pool of people are able to provide the retrofits. I know the Minister of State is fully aware of this; we all are. I am on the Joint Committee on Education, Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science and, obviously, we are fighting to increase the number of apprenticeships. We have four retrofitting centres of excellence across the country. We are ramping up very fast. I know this has been in the past year or two but we must be able to have targets in place to say that 24-month response time is coming down. In no shape or form are we going to be able to challenge those homes and those people in particular if we cannot deliver for those warmer homes. I do not have the exact numbers but I believe 60,000 people might be on the fuel allowance.
I do not know the precise figures but the majority of buildings being retrofitted are residential. We also have tens of thousands of public buildings, however. What is being done in that regard? Are they being retrofitted? Will they be brought up to spec prior to us then going out and saying look at what is going to happen on the residential side as well?
We are supporting the one-stop shop across many of our areas. We are having many public information meetings in rural areas to promote the scheme. This is very important. However, I would like a comment on how we are managing with our public buildings.
To me, coming from a rural area, transport is another issue. We attended the West on Track meeting this morning and it was wonderful to see how we could potentially get rail in the west and north west, but the real challenge for me concerns how we will get buses to bring people to hospital and back again when a significant percentage of people do not have access to cars. There is no form of transport other than the car in many rural areas. There is no train station or stop in small areas. In my constituency, the towns have between 6,000 and 7,500 inhabitants. Most of the people live in very rural areas and need taxis. They pay extra money for a taxi to get them from A to B because there is no public transport. The Connecting Ireland rural mobility plan was announced and mentioned here by the Minister of State. When will it be phased in? What is the position on the new routes we have spoken about, considering that Bus Éireann reduced the number of routes during the Covid pandemic? For example, the X20 service from Galway to Roscommon was taken away because of what Bus Éireann said was competition from private bus services. That is grand — there you go — but where are the other new services that are supposed to be available? There was to be one from Castlerea to Ballinasloe via Mountbellew and Caltra that would have brought people to Portiuncula hospital, never mind students travelling to Tús in Athlone or those going to town to shop. That is what we want to see. We want to see our smaller towns and villages being vital. Will the Minister of State comment on the phase-in of the Connecting Ireland rural mobility plan?
The last point I wanted to mention has gone straight out of my head. I will probably remember it but the Chair will not let me make it later.
The Senator should not feel bad.
I thank the Minister of State for his time.
Senator Buttimer might give the Senator some of his time if she remembers her point.
Teamwork makes the dream work.
The Minister is very welcome. Before I get into the content of the annual transition statement, I would like the record to reflect why we are here in 2022 discussing the statement from 2020. There are legal obligations upon the Minister compelling him to be here under the Climate and Low Carbon Development Act 2015. According to section 14(1), an annual transition statement shall be presented to each House of the Oireachtas not later than each anniversary of the passing of the Act. That Act was passed on 10 December 2015. In a very orderly and lawful manner, an annual transition statement was laid before the Houses every December between 2016 and 2019, but in 2020 the deadline came and went without the annual transition statement.
Despite the legal obligations on the Minister, it was reported in the Irish Independent that the Minister did not propose to prepare an annual transition statement for 2020. In effect, the Minister was simply choosing what parts of the law he would like to follow. Such a brazen disregard for climate obligations was quite stunning and a worrying precedent to set for subsequent Ministers responsible for climate action.
It simply would not do for the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, to shirk his responsibility. After significant political pressure, he outlined in response to a parliamentary question, which was requested by my colleague Senator Boylan, that he intended to publish the statement by the end of 2021. Even though he was setting a deadline 12 months after the statutory deadline, this was a welcome U-turn. Unfortunately, that deadline was also missed, and the Climate Change Advisory Council rightfully reprimanded the Government in its annual review of the Government's climate efforts at the end of 2021. Then, at a meeting of the Joint Committee on the Environment and Climate Action in January 2022, a Department official told Senator Boylan it would be published by the end of March. Finally, on 10 June, we saw the annual transition statement, 547 days after the due date. It is a worrying precedent. We know that climate commitments are not worth the paper they are written on unless they are adhered to. If the Minister is casual about his obligations, how seriously can he expect other Ministers to take their legal commitments?
Now I would like to turn to the content of the annual transition statement. In the past, such statements have been criticised by the Climate Change Advisory Council for failing "to provide a balanced and coherent overview of the progress of the sectors, tending to highlight the positives, and under-emphasise measures where there are data gaps or challenges." Unfortunately, this year is no different.
One of the most glaring inconsistencies in climate policy is the drive for more and more data centres, yet data centres are mentioned only once in the statement. Data centres place a massive burden on our energy system through their insatiable demand for more and more generation capacity. The previous Fine Gael Government rolled out the red carpet for data centres. It sought to make Ireland, especially Dublin, the data centre capital of the world, with very little thought given to the impact this would have on our electricity supply or carbon emissions. Despite our more ambitious climate targets and the increased threat of electricity blackouts, the current Government has not changed its approach sufficiently. Data centres now use as much electricity as all the homes in rural Ireland combined. Their consumption is set to at least double by 2030. As a result of a failure to get a handle on supply and demand for electricity, including from data centres, the State is set to spend €350 million on new gas-powered generators. That is policy incoherence plain and simple, but it barely even gets a mention in the statement.
Reports from the Environmental Protection Agency tell us what we know already. The gap between stated ambition and actual emissions reductions continues to widen. Total greenhouse gas emissions are estimated to have increased by 6% in 2021 rather than to have decreased by the required 4.8%, as per the Climate Change Advisory Council's carbon budgets. The years 2019 and 2020 were supposed to be points of inflection, where we finally started getting a handle on the problem. However, we are still very far from that point. Earlier this year, the head of the EPA said emissions are again unlikely to fall in 2022. We are a good part of the way through the first carbon budget period and we are still pressing full steam ahead. I do not say all this to score political points, because it is in everyone's interest to meet the climate targets so we will have a liveable climate; rather, I say it in the political sense because each missed target only makes the path the next Government has to climb that bit steeper.
Our energy sector has huge potential to deliver significant carbon savings. Sinn Féin has called for an acceleration in the delivery of renewables, especially offshore wind and green hydrogen, and for the removal of barriers to solar, such as the prohibition on direct lines crossing roads and red tape preventing schools from installing solar. We need to speed up the process for wind generation. The Government can fully resource the agencies involved, such as An Bord Pleanála, EirGrid and the Commission for Regulation of Utilities, CRU.
At the same time, we need adequate resourcing for our marine planning departments, the National Parks and Wildlife Service, NPWS, and environmental NGOs so biodiversity is not unduly damaged in the race for offshore wind turbines. We are in a twin crisis of climate and biodiversity. We need to deliver on carbon budgets and protect our biodiversity, getting the balance right such that biodiversity will not be the sacrificial lamb of climate action.
There are many opportunities in this transition to make our society better. We need to bring people along with us, and that is why Sinn Féin believes the just transition is not just a bonus add-on to climate action but that it must be front and centre. We need to protect workers whose livelihoods will be affected by the transition and build a new sustainable economy around principles of community wealth building rather than just extraction. There will be no transition if it is not just.
I thank the Minister of State for attending and outlining the position on the annual emissions statement. It is worth pointing out that we are doing so at a stage when, as reported last week, one third of the population is in energy poverty. It is unfortunate that we are dealing with the figures from 2019 and not the present-day ones because it is difficult to have a look at an honest, realistic benchmark. I say that because the Government came into power in 2020. It has made significant progress from a green perspective in putting climate change on the agenda and trying to mainstream it across all Departments. From that perspective, the Minister of State and his party should be complimented.
It is quite ironic that we see today in The Irish Times that some of the Minister of State's partners in government, including the Tánaiste and Chief Whip, have forwarded emails they received from drivers about the Phoenix Park, which is one of the great green spaces in our city. The drivers said their cars were cutting out because they could not possibly drive at 30 km/h. I believe this is absolutely ridiculous. Sometimes I find that while some of the Green Party members of the Government have the best of ideas and intentions, they can be undermined by their Government partners, having regard to the ridiculous notions I have mentioned.
I want to focus on energy poverty and who is in energy poverty.
While the Government has done a lot to make grants available for people to retrofit their homes, there needs to be a focus on those who are at the lower end of the income scale and who are mainly living in rental accommodation through the HAP system or in social housing or AHB-supported housing. There needs to be a renewed focus put on that. I have concerns around retrofitting and I am concerned that some landlords will use Government grants to retrofit their homes, then claim substantial renovations have been made and make a move to either raise the rent or evict people from their rental accommodation. I would like to see a situation where Government explicitly outlaws anybody who has used Government-funded grants to upgrade their homes for energy reasons from raising the rent or evicting vulnerable tenants. We are seeing a greater number of people enter homelessness from the private rental sector, which is a concern of mine.
Another thing I want to focus on in the area of housing is the reuse of building material. The Minister of State was here last week when we discussed the circular economy and Senator Boylan and I both focused on the embodied carbon that is already in existing buildings. We see planning applications come up and come through and an awful lot of the time they are for the knocking or destruction of buildings that have embodied carbon already. The Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Noonan, was here to discuss the Planning and Development (Built Heritage Protection) Bill 2022. We see situations where developers or owners will sometimes allow buildings of significant heritage value to fall into disrepair so they can get the excuse to be able to knock them. That has heritage and housing implications but it also has significant climate implications because the emissions figures from the construction industry from building new housing are significant. We need to get used to reusing and reimagining buildings and to reimagining purpose within our cities with what already exists there to try to lessen the climate and emissions target from providing housing for our population.
I also want to echo some of the comments others have made on wind energy. We have not fully exploited the potential Ireland has. A lot of it is focused on the eastern seaboard because the technology has not developed to fully exploit the potential of the Atlantic for wind energy but we can also look at countries similar to ourselves, such as Scotland, which has done much better in meeting its energy needs from wind energy and in exporting it. With that in mind, I am glad to see energy and EirGrid connections to France coming, for example, so that we can potentially export the energy we have. We have a long way to go but it is one of the focuses we have to have in Ireland's potentially leading role in making Europe energy secure. The southern side of Europe can become energy secure with solar energy and the northern side of Europe can become energy secure with wind energy.
I notice that the statements are heavy on emissions from transport. The Minister of State knows that the cost of transport congestion is not just emissions but that it is also things like congestion. Sometimes people think that converting to 1 million electric cars is somehow a panacea and that they are single-handedly saving the environment by themselves because they drive a big and expensive electric car that probably took more carbon to produce and that uses more public space than otherwise. I know that the Minister for Transport has been working on improving our cycle infrastructure within our towns and cities and I would also like us to work on that in our rural areas. I would like us to have protected cycle infrastructure and we simply do not have that in Dublin. I cycle most days and it is extremely dangerous. What I have noticed in recent years is that the cars that are driving alongside me might be electric but they are silent, much bigger, take up more road space and think they are entitled to do so. We have to have a look at the size of cars. Even if we have to focus on what carbon they take to make in terms of charging them for congestion, that is another area we should look at.
I have to join with the points made by Senator Ó Donnghaile about regretting that we have not been having these transition statements in the way we should have done over the last few years. I was in the last Oireachtas and we had them at that point. There are two aspects of regret. It has been an opportunity missed by the Government in forwarding the climate debate to have these transition statements every year. I would also note the powers that were there under the 2015 Act for the relevant Minister to request other Ministers to come and present to the Houses of the Oireachtas. In the years when these transition statements were most effective and meaningful, Ministers from multiple different Departments were coming in to talk about what they were doing on climate change, which meant there was a more detailed discussion. With respect to the Minister of State and his comprehensive statement that tried to cover every single area and Department, the fact is it should be the case that the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine is having an annual debate in each House where he talks about what he is doing on climate action. It should be the case that the Minister for Transport and the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage are in and that each of them are answering questions on transition. I know they will have sectoral targets and the Minister of State might indicate in his response if it is intended that the statements will be dealt with in this way each year because he has said this will be the last year of this format. Will we be having those annual reports? There was capacity under the 2015 Act for the Minister with responsibility for the environment to request that other Ministers would present to the Houses. That would have been good and helpful with the challenge of making every Department take on this issue with the same level of vigour. Each Department could have been subject to the kind of detailed scrutiny on the kind of detailed decisions that we are facing into.
I also want to refer back to the other Senator who suggested that maybe we should just focus on adaptation or who seemed to prioritise adaptation because it would be too difficult. Adapting to 1.5°C, 2°C or 2.5°C of temperature increase are different and that is why mitigation and everything we can possibly do to reduce the impact and increase in carbon emissions to mitigate the devastating impacts, as well as adapt to them, is crucial. When I hear people saying the ship has sailed and let us adapt, it brings to mind one of the most chilling moments I have seen, which was at the climate talks in Madrid, when I accidentally wandered into the room where insurance companies were pitching to different cities. As different countries failed to set ambitious enough targets for their emission reductions the mayors of various cities were hearing from insurance companies about the moneys they could pay to try to deal with the impacts of climate change. The presenters were talking about how it would depend on whether one had 100,000 or 200,000 deductibles. This meant how many people in one's city would have to die before the insurance company might pay out for impacts from climate change.
When I hear people saying it is too difficult to do this and that we should focus on adaptation, what I hear is that we want a little survival ship for the wealthiest and that we are happy to let millions of people die. That is what the choice is. There is no status quo but if we have business as usual it is a small pool who will be able to maintain that because the impact on the global economy of a 2°C temperature change will be devastating, not simply for a few, the most marginal or those in coastal areas, but for the majority of the world. In that context, the top 1% of wealthy people have emissions that are equivalent to the bottom 50% of the world's population. Therefore, I am not happy enough that the bottom 50% of the world's population should take the hit for the top 1% of people to stay wealthy or even to get wealthier.
In that context I will join with the points that were well made by Senator Pauline O'Reilly on international justice because that is the crucial priority. I have opinions on all of the Departments but this is crucial. Ireland's fair share of the €100 billion that we have promised under the sustainable development goals is not €85 million or €95 million where we are now.
It is also not the €275 million we say we are moving to. It is €475 million. That is what would constitute a fair share of the €100 billion, which is, in itself, inadequate. I am concerned that we are not delivering what we need to. It is crucial that we do not muddy the line between overseas development aid, which will still be desperately needed, and climate funding and financing. Why is spending on the UN climate fund still such a small proportion of the moneys we intend to spend, at €4 million? We saw the EU seeking to block proper debate of the issues of loss and damage at the climate talks in Bonn and at the Conference of the Parties, COP. What will Ireland be doing to ensure that there is not only financing, but acknowledgement of loss and damage and payment for the very real and devastating damage that has been done to developing countries? I am not talking about adaptation funding, a few dollars to help countries adapt to the things we will continue doing, but about actual compensation for the damage being done.
I have a lot of opinions about the area of transport, although many of my points have already been well made. The ideas are there, as are the recommendations of the Joint Committee on Environment and Climate Action. There are two areas in which we need to scale up. One is the area of retrofitting. I am not just talking about the warmer homes scheme, but about local authority schemes. The figure of €85 million is not enough. We know that we can do more on that. That needs to be front-loaded. I would love to see a trebling of what we are doing with local authorities with regard to retrofitting given the energy crisis. Peatland rehabilitation was mentioned as a project to come out of that climate fund but that is not enough. While the funding for peatlands is increasing, this is an area where action needs to be front-loaded. A key principle of the transition is that it must be fast and fair so we must consider what are the early front-loaded actions that can deliver the greatest impact as quickly as possible. Some of those involve upfront public expenditure rather than a shift towards a new market model. That is something to be looked at with regard to retrofitting.
I regret that we have sought another derogation from the nitrates directive. We are again pushing out action on this issue. We need to be honest with regard to fodder and food security. We talk about feeding the world and, while our beef and dairy have a role in that regard, they are not the main mechanism in feeding the world and we need to be very honest about that. The current model does not work for 60% of farmers. It is about inventing new ways of rewarding and paying farmers to do something very different rather than propping up a model that does not work for the majority.
With regard to energy, we hear about a plan to begin to stop the development of data centres but we also see the energy they are consuming. Moving away from Russian fuel was also mentioned. I have to flag two important issues. If we are making that shift and getting rid of oil and gas from Russia, we need to ensure that we are not continuing to make ethical mistakes in other areas. I was extremely disappointed to hear this week that the EU has signed a deal for the importation of natural gas from Israel without including the language used in every previous trade agreement between the EU and Israel which specifically says that products shall not come from occupied territories. This is crucial given the massive natural gas reserves in the Levant basin which the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, UNCTAD, highlighted in the last year as a new discovery estimated to be worth €524 billion and holding the equivalent of 1.7 billion barrels. If we are contributing to an occupying country trading in or exploiting gas and fossil fuel reserves in an occupied territory, we are contributing to the exact same problem we say we want to challenge with regard to Russia and Ukraine. We must be morally consistent on that. It is a priority. Will the Minister of State tell us what position Ireland will take in challenging that decision of the EU?
I welcome the opportunity to say a few words on this very important topic. I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I know he is very much au fait with this topic. It is sometimes hard to understand what is happening. We were importing peat while at the same time producing peat for export, although that was shut down and we are now just importing peat. On the other hand, we were paying very significant fines to Europe in respect of a wind farm at Derrybrien in Galway. We are now taking down the wind turbines on that site. That should be looked at. The turbines are already there and the damage that was done will not be rectified. The facility should be handed over to the State. Perhaps the energy produced by this wind farm could be used to offset poverty in our country.
It is important to look at the way various Departments have acted over recent years and at how slowly the wheels turn within them. They can put great pressure on various business sectors and on the farming sector to make very significant changes while not acting as quickly themselves. We can see how slowly the wheels are turning in the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage with regard to foreshore licensing for offshore wind farms. There is only one offshore wind farm in the country and it is on the east coast while we are told the best wind speeds in Europe are those off the west coast. We have been hearing about this for the last ten or 11 years. We have been coming in here for transition statements and so forth year after year but, at the same time, there does not seem to be any great urgency with regard to this matter.
There are various other opportunities Departments, the Office of Public Works, OPW, and the local authorities could avail of. There is any number of lakes in this country where hydroelectric power could be generated. This could power public lighting for local authorities. In my own town of Castlebar, there are three connected lakes that come right into the town. We could put in a weir to produce that type of energy if the OPW and the local authority were to come together. It could be done as a pilot project. There are many such opportunities throughout the length and breadth of the country that could be looked at but the Departments, the local authority and the OPW all act too slowly. It has been a long time since Pat Rabbitte was the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources. He was in the same Department as the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, whom I welcome to the House, is in now. He talked about many of those issues. In many cases, there has been no movement on them. I must acknowledge the great strides the Minister is making.
We had a meeting with West on Track on its proposal to extend the line from Athenry to Claremorris, which would cost a minimal amount of money, €158 million. I have noticed a great increase in rail traffic over the last two or three years but the services must be in place before people will use them. A certain frequency of service is also required. There is not enough frequency on the lines from Westport and Ballina to Dublin to get to the required levels of participation, even though the capacity and usage of those lines has increased over the last two years in particular.
I will touch on the issue of domestic solar generation. I know the Minister is very au fait with this. There is an enormous difference between a good sunny day and a cloudy day with regard to producing energy. There is also a big difference in the amount of energy the same type of solar panel can produce in the north of the country and in the sunny south east.
At this stage, we should consider manufacturing small 2 kW and 3 kW wind turbines to complement house solar panels so people can become self-sufficient. Quite a number of houses, maybe up to 1 million throughout the country, could avail of small wind turbines, which would be very efficient. This country could manufacture them because we are world-class leaders in the production of some farm machinery. I have no doubt we could be world-class leaders in the production of those type of small wind turbines as well, if we only got our act together to produce them. The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment could play a major role in that.
I welcome the Minister to the House. I listened to the contribution made by Senator Mullen and I saw a lot of common sense in what he said. I do not think he wanted to be pessimistic but realistic about where we are. It is becoming clear we will struggle significantly to comply with the 2030 carbon reduction targets. That is not a happy situation because once a public perception develops that the targets are not achievable, we are into a very fluid situation where people will ask why they should bother, if the ultimate target to be achieved by the whole community is unlikely to be achieved.
I will say a couple of things about our general resources. Quite clearly, the Minister will be aware that we now need a very significant investment in the State's electricity transmission system, especially if the plan is to electrify transport on an increasing basis in the future. If we are to reconcile data centres with our reduction on electricity dependence and, at the same time, transfer carbon-based transport to electric-powered transport, a number of things will have to be balanced. At this stage, I am not sure that I see a coherent plan for all of this. The Minister is committed to producing a plan later in the year on many of these matters. I would like to see how it all adds up.
The best part of five years ago, I remember querying how we could reconcile - the Minister and I were sitting at a committee - what the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland was telling us about electricity demand and supply with the programme for building data centres. At the time, I got the flannel treatment of vague nonsense of a reassuring kind from the Department and the SEAI. It was clear to me then that there were two irreconcilable vectors at the centre of public policy. One Department was promoting data centres while another State body that had responsibility for reconciling our climate change targets with what was happening on the ground was apparently staying schtum on that issue.
I have a funny feeling that many different factors are now at work, which are again irreconcilable, for instance, in respect of the building industry at present. Anybody who talks to a builder will say he or she cannot even enter into a contract at present because fixed-price contracts mean nothing any more. I talked to a small builder in the west recently who said he just cannot quote for projects any more. That is one issue. There are real problems with inputs into building homes. There are then ambitious targets to retrofit homes and for some forms of infrastructure. Is the construction industry capable of delivering all these targets?
We talk about climate budgets but is there a great master plan? Is there in fact a spreadsheet at the heart of Government where all the conflicting demands, such as taxation and the end of hydrocarbon taxation and all the rest of it, are being worked out? Is somebody saying this is the plan, it all works out, it will all happen, we will have the alternative energy supplies and building of homes to deal with the housing crisis and, at the same time, we will build infrastructure, retrofit houses and the building and construction industry will be able to do all these things? Is it all thought through? The Minister can see and articulate some of the problems but is the whole of government actually being realistic with itself? Are we just hoping we will be able to achieve targets and deal with things such as the homelessness crisis, or are we actually planning to do so at an all-of-government level? I very much doubt it. I feel apprehensive that there is a gap between aspiration and achievement.
Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire. Senator McDowell's reference to aspiration versus ambition, plan, succession and implementation is a very apt place to begin. This is a very important debate but it is not just a debate. It is about changing how we do business and changing our lifestyles. That is why it is important this debate is healthy. As Senators Mullen and McDowell said, it is also about challenging whether we are right as a Government in how we are doing this and how we can achieve the climate action plan figures, which we have to do and which have to be attainable. If we look at the EPA report indicating that our emissions have increased by 6% in 2021 following the hiatus in 2020, it shows we have a job of work to do.
I compliment the Minister, his Department and the National Transport Authority on their very positive and ambitious plans - they are not just plans but are becoming realities - for the overhaul of the public transport network in Cork and the commitment of the Minister, on behalf of the Government, to those plans. In the context of Senator McDowell's remarks, that is an example of a Minister in a Government who is driving, with the local authority and key stakeholders in the region, the ambition to increase public transport use. I am genuinely upbeat about the BusConnects programme for Cork. We thought it was brilliant to have one 24-hour bus service. I have used it, both coming and going, at all hours of the day and night. To now have a second one, going from Carrigaline to Hollyhill, is welcome. What is even more important about the Cork routes is we now have routes that were never serviced before being included, which gives the option to make that modal shift from the car to the bus. It is to be hoped that in time, with Iarnród Éireann, we will see the transformation of light rail from Mallow to Cork and from Cork to Youghal, although that might be too ambitious.
What a pity we got rid of the west Cork railway. What short-sightedness. It would be a treasure to have now.
Under Ireland 2040, Cork is a growth area, as we know. It is the counterfoil to Dublin. Demand is growing and expectation is high. That is why the 24-hour bus service is important. It is more important to have high-frequency services. People will switch to buses because of their frequency. I live in an area with a good, frequent, reliable and on-time service. I thank Bus Éireann in Cork for that.
I know the Minister is committed to this. I hope he can persuade his Government colleagues during budget negotiations, if not before, that public transport fares should be further reduced and that the reduced fares should be retained beyond 2023, which I believe is the current plan. It is important that the 20% fare reduction we have introduced continues. There is a debate about whether public transport should be free and I know some people are very strong proponents of that proposal. I would be open to that but I acknowledge the Government must create revenue to pay for investment.
Senator McDowell in his contribution spoke about our targets for 2030. I have attended a number of events organised by the Society of the Irish Motor Industry and the car industry in Cork and Dublin. There are concerns that we will not meet our target for electric cars by 2030 or the targets outlined in the climate action plan. Some 774 battery-only electric vehicles were registered in May 2022. I know that 43.14% of the fleet is now electric, plug-in hybrid or hybrid. I wonder will we achieve the targets in the climate action plan.
I hope that as part of the budget we will continue to incentivise retrofitting. There are issues around retrofitting at the moment because of the lack of availability of work crews. There are also issues around gaining access to information. Cars are also an issue.
I commend the Minister on the work he is doing. I commend the whole-of-government approach that is being taken. To his credit, the Tánaiste, before he became a part of this three-party Government, was one of the first party leaders, other than the Minister to speak about the importance of climate action and climate change.
The Minister of State, Deputy Smyth, said that the challenges we face are stark. We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to help the next generation. That is our challenge. I am firmly convinced that we will do that, under the direction of the Minister. I thank him for being here and commend the statements to the House. As Senator McDowell said, we should continue to regularly debate different aspects of the whole-of-government approach to the issue of climate action.
We will move now to the Minister's address. It gives me pleasure to welcome him to the House. I echo what Senator Buttimer said. I am delighted to see the Minister, who will deliver the railway line to Navan and ensure swift transport, in the House. He has ten minutes for his summation.
I very much appreciate the various contributions I heard during the debate. I will look back at the record to read the earlier contributions.
To respond to Senator McDowell, we could easily lapse into despondency and ask why should we do anything because it is too late to address climate change. There is no doubt but that it will be a challenge beyond compare. What we need to do will require incredible change. We need to halve our emissions this decade and achieve net-zero in three decades. It is no small change. It will require considerable effort but various things make me confident that we can and will do it.
Our targets do not only exist because of commitments in the programme for Government. Those commitments were the right ones to make. They take a science-based approach to the Paris climate agreement we signed stating what we need to do to reduce the probability of, if not avoid completely, runaway climate change that would take us past the tipping point. The reasonable commitment for a developed country like Ireland to make is to halve our emissions in a decade. We are committed to that through the Paris climate agreement and our programme for Government. We are also committed to it in the European Union. Next week, I will attend a European energy Council meeting. Under the Fit for 55 package, Europe intends to reduce its emissions by 55%. The major legislative blocks of change coming from Europe is the European strategy. This is the European economic strategy as well as the climate strategy. It represents the entire effort. It is backed up by what is happening with the war in Ukraine. Our alternative is to remain reliant on imported fossil fuels, for which we do not set the price, for which we lose the balance of payments and for which we do not get the jobs. That would leave us exposed and is not a tenable approach to take. Even if these targets were not among our programme for Government commitments, we would be compelled towards them.
We are not in a good place because we had a lost decade from 2011 onwards. We did not manage the emission reductions that were achieved in other countries. That means what we have to do is more challenging than what is faced by some of our neighbouring countries, which have taken actions over the past decade. None of the actions of those countries have been perfect. In fact, none have been very good. If one looks under the hood of the changes that have been made, we are not too far behind. However, we are behind and need to catch up and overtake.
Senator McDowell asked whether there is a plan, and there is. The climate action plan is the plan. I believe it is a good structure and it is backed up by the climate law we passed last year. One of the most compelling reasons it is the right structure is that it came out of political consensus. It was not the strategy of this Government alone. It was built on the work done by the previous Minister, Deputy Bruton, in setting up such a structure and a planned approach. The approach includes hundreds of actions that test to see are we on track to meet our commitments. It is based on consensus more than any other public policy. We have climate law, the Climate Change Advisory Council, the carbon budgets we have set up and the action plan, which is designed to be revised every year, plus the sectoral targets that mean each Minister in every area knows what he or she must meet. The climate action plan, initiated last November, will be revised in the coming November. It is designed to be an iterative plan so we will know if we are falling behind in a particular area, which is a possibility to which the Senator drew attention. It is not the case that we will suddenly arrive in 2030 and be left in the position of saying things did not happen in the way we thought they would. If we are falling behind in a particular area, the plan requires Ministers to adjust and to change policies to achieve our targets. That is a real challenge but it is also an opportunity. The reason I believe we will meet the challenge is it will only work if we are moving towards a better system.
We need to change in a variety of key areas. Energy is probably the biggest such area. We must change from being a country that is among the most reliant on imported fossil fuels and with a high dependency on gas for our power generation. We have a record of massive increasing demand for oil in our transport sector over the past 20 or 30 years. We must switch to our own energy and fuel, which we have securely available. In fact, we have a comparative competitive advantage. We live in a very windy country. This is where all the investment, technological innovation and development is taking place. Why would we not want to tap into that comparative competitive advantage and switch from burning imported fuels brought from far away at enormous cost towards an alternative over which we have control? We are good at balancing variable supply. My father used to say that if you get a reputation as an early riser, you can lie in for the rest of your days. The Danes are very good at integrating renewables but I think we are better. We run our integrated renewables on an isolated synchronised system where we are good at managing variable supply and demand. We should build on what we are good at.
I heard Senator Buttimer's contribution and he is right that we are going to transform Cork for the better. Like many other Irish cities, Cork followed a sprawling model. There is nothing wrong with Ballincollig, Carrigaline, Midleton or any of the other towns that prospered as Cork hollowed out but now is the time to bring life back into the centre. We are building the metropolitan rail system for Cork. It is real and it is happening. There will be a new station in Tivoli. I met Land Development Agency officials the other day.
We could house 11,000 people in Tivoli, a stunning location right on the river, close to the train station with trains at ten- or 15-minute intervals, better than the DART service. What is not to like about that as a way of switching? The benefit of that is the emissions reduction is not just in the mode of transport but actually in a reduction of the volume of transport because people are living closer to the centre - the 15-minute city concept. I could go right across this country to cities, towns and villages where that transformation can, should and will apply, using our own power supply, using electricity rather than oil. Next week the European Council will agree the end of the internal combustion engine by 2035. I do not envisage anyone rejecting it. The European Parliament will approve it. This is coming and this is the better economy. This is something we can be good at.
The same applies with farming. The current farming system does not serve the vast majority of Irish farmers. Senator Higgins will recall the average income for beef farmer from our committee's work. Was it €13,000 or €16,000 year?
Could we not start to pay them for other nature-based services? That is where the market is going. The food industry relies on exports. The big companies, such as the Kerry Group, are committing to science-based targets because they know if they are not following science-based targets, they will not get finance in five or ten years and they will find it very difficult to sell on an Origin Green brand. Kerrygold will not get the premium if we are not truly green in everything we do. The Kerry Group has committed to a 30% reduction in its scope 3 emissions where farmers who provide it with goods need to deliver a 30% emissions reduction. One of the income streams going to Irish farming will be when co-operatives, processors, meat companies and dairy companies start to pay farmers more for delivering that 30% reduction which is what we need.
We need efficiency in everything and it will be really challenging. Next week we will go to the European Council where limits will be set on energy use. In Ireland with a growing economy the challenge is beyond compare. We also have the fastest growing population in Europe with workers coming in on work permits, displaced people from Ukraine, a significant increase in refugees as well as our own population growth. How will we do all that while also restricting the volume of energy we use which is what the European Commission is insisting on? It is a real challenge.
I accept there was a contradiction in our policy on data centres. We kept the door too wide open for too long. The easy trope out there that data centres are the evil responsible for all our woes on climate is just not true.
I do not say that.
Some 150,000 or 200,000 people work in the digital industry here. They want to see data centres as well as those jobs. We can design our data centres in a way that they are part of the solution. The energy use goes mainly on heat in data centres. By managing that heat, it can be used for district heating, leading to real efficiency.
Not in Athenry.
No. However, we can design it in Athenry where the backup power it has strengthens the grid and its demand-management capability gives us flexibility. Athenry is not too far from Moneypoint on the Shannon Estuary where all that offshore wind energy will come ashore and will be converted to hydrogen. When the wind is blowing the wind energy will run from Moneypoint up to Athenry or elsewhere and when the wind is not blowing, that hydrogen will be used in a zero-carbon power generation system that runs the data centre, homes or whatever. That is not impossible.
Will that happen?
It is not impossible, but will it happen?
Yes. I will tell the Senator the reason. It goes back to efficiency. We will get the workforce because the system before this was always stop-start, with building contractors working for six months and then stopped for six months, having to wait to find out whether there was more money. It is no wonder the industry did not scale up. Now that they know that they have €9 billion in funding guaranteed for the next ten years, they will scale up. For young people coming out of college or school this summer or doing their leaving certificate who want a career for 30 years, one that is helping to solve the key problems of our society and is deeply rewarding and fulfilling because it will improve the health of their homes, there will be nothing better. Those numbers will rise as well as being able to provide homes.
I will finish on the point of efficiency in everything. The switch to an electrified system backed up by hydrogen, to electric vehicles and to really clever use of our land will work and will be delivered because it is actually a better system. We will not crack the whip and turn people on political righteousness by saying they have done the right thing or wrong thing. However, the country can and will switch away from a burning system where we burn imported fuels to one where we use our own in very efficient digital systems. That is the new industrial revolution that is taking place across the world. We can and will be good at it. It will take us a while to ramp it up but it is happening.
The retrofitting is happening. It has massive applications beyond compare. People are looking to do it because they realise it actually makes sense. Just as we switched from open fires to central heating in three decades, we will switch in three decades from burning anything to having really well-insulated electrically powered homes. It will be the same with cars. There will not be internal combustion engine vehicles in three decades time because the alternative is better. It is just more efficient. That is why I am confident we will make this leap. It is a leap; it is beyond compare. The climate action plan sets out how we do it. It will be revised in November and again the following year.