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Climate Change Policy

Dáil Éireann Debate, Wednesday - 26 October 2016

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Ceisteanna (14, 17)

Bríd Smith

Ceist:

14. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment if his Department's budget allocation is sufficient to ensure targets for reductions in CO2 emissions under the Paris treaty are met; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32124/16]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Bríd Smith

Ceist:

17. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment the additional resources he plans to use for climate action; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32125/16]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (22 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Communications)

I want to discuss something that needs quick attention, which is the question of the scorching of the earth. The planet is warming at a pace not experienced in the past 1,000 years according to NASA, a very reputable agency with the best scientists in the world. This is not Bríd Smith or the left saying it. The planet is scorching and warming at an unforeseen pace. The response of this Government and governments across the world is insufficient. Does the Minister believe it is sufficient? Does he have sufficient resources in the budget to deal with the issue of climate change?

I propose to take Questions Nos. 14 and 17 together.

I suggest that the Deputy should do the lotto this evening. Questions Nos. 14 and 17 are being taken together, so she is doing quite well today.

The Paris Agreement aims to hold the increase in global average temperature to well below 2° C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5° C above pre-industrial levels. It also aims to increase the ability to adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change and foster climate resilience.

The agreement puts in place the necessary framework for all countries to take ambitious action, as well as providing for transparency to ensure that all countries can have confidence in each other’s efforts. The agreement aims to tackle 95% of global emissions through 188 intended nationally-determined contributions, INDCs, which will set out how parties intend to meet their own emission reduction targets. The Paris Agreement itself does not set specific targets for CO2 emissions. Ireland will contribute to the agreement via the INDC tabled by the EU on behalf of its member states, which commits the EU to a 40% reduction in EU-wide emissions by 2030 compared with 1990. The specific details of the contribution to be made by each member state to this overall ambition remains to be finalised and Ireland is currently examining proposals made by the European Commission in this regard.

The extent of the challenge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, in line with the Paris Agreement and other international commitments, is well understood by the Government, as reflected in the national policy position on climate action and low carbon development, published in April 2014, and now underpinned by the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act 2015, which was enacted in December of last year. The national policy position provides a high-level policy direction for the adoption and implementation by Government of plans to enable the State to move to a low-carbon, climate-resilient economy by 2050.  Statutory authority for the plans is set out in the Act.

In accordance with section 4 of the Act, and in line with responsibilities assigned to me as Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, I intend to make a draft national mitigation plan available for public consultation by the end of the year followed by submission of a final plan to Government for approval at the latest by June 2017. The preparation of the national mitigation plan is statutorily designed to be a whole-of-Government approach to tackling greenhouse gas emissions.  In particular, Ministers with responsibility for the largest-emitting sectors, namely, agriculture, transport, electricity and the built environment, are required by Government to develop sectoral mitigation measures for inclusion in the plan.

A key element of the development process of the national mitigation plan is the identification of the most cost-effective measures with the optimal mitigation potential, which safeguard Ireland’s competitiveness and ideally support sustainable economic growth. Work is ongoing on this complex task by all relevant Departments and will culminate in a master list of potential measures being produced, from which the most appropriate measures will be selected for inclusion in the national mitigation plan. As this process is yet to be finalised, detailed costings are currently unavailable.  In recognising the whole-of-Government approach under way, it is noted that the cyclical process of preparing appropriate policies and measures for both 2020 and 2030 will require a range of budgetary measures across a range of relevant Government Departments over the period concerned.

My Department has received an allocation of €100 million for energy projects in the Estimates for 2017, the bulk of which will be allocated to energy efficiency and renewable energy, which represents an increase of  35% on last year's allocation. My Department will target the upgrading of up to 30,000 homes in 2017 that will, together with the €22 million retrofitting fund announced by my colleague, the Minister, Deputy Coveney, for local authority dwellings, have a significant impact on reducing carbon emissions as well as supporting the creation of jobs in the sector. About 4% of the total housing stock will be upgraded in 2017.

Just to clarify, as both questions grouped are Deputy Smith's questions, she and the Minister will have four one minute slots. There will be plenty of time to go backwards and forwards.

We will have great craic.

The Deputy will have me battered and bruised.

The Minister will be battered. I wish to reiterate the urgency of action needed on climate change. I am on the Joint Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment. From what I have seen both at the committee yesterday and in the past, there is double-speak going on. On the one hand, we acknowledge verbally in our dialogue that we have a problem. We have had a 1.38° Celsius increase in temperature this year, which is the highest on record. According to the Paris deal, we are to stay below 2° Celsius, but we are hurtling in the opposite direction. We are in a very serious situation. When we compare the budget which has been given to deal with this situation with all the sweetheart deals that have been given to developers and landlords to encourage private development to so-called "deal" with the housing crisis, it leaves a lot to be desired. I do not believe, as the Minister tried to argue, that the two things complement each other. Au contraire, what we are actually doing is assisting the heating of the planet to the detriment of what goes on here. In my next minute, I will get to the question of land usage and what we do with our bogs, trees, etc.

The Deputy might come back in on the contradiction as well. I am not exactly sure what she is talking about there-----

I am talking about the billions of euro given to landlords to build houses and the tiny amount of the budget allocated to climate change.

The Deputy will be back in.

One of the big challenges we have is to try to improve the energy efficiency of the built environment. That includes public and private buildings. We will be putting people in new houses that are far more energy-efficient under the current building regulations than the building regulations that would have applied heretofore. The energy efficiency of those buildings is far greater. The amount of energy that is used to heat them is far less and, therefore, there are fewer emissions. The focus at the moment has to be on the three big challenges that we have, none of which is actually carbon dioxide. They are hydrofluorocarbon, HFC, black carbon and methane. They are the ones that are warming up our environment at a rapid pace at the moment. They are going to become a far bigger challenge between now and 2035 than the challenges that we have to face by 2050. There was the Kigali agreement on HFCs last week, which is going to deal with and tackle that issue. We now need to look at the other two issues as well.

I have to take the Minister up again on the question of global warming. In yesterday's committee debate on land usage, there was a real contradiction in what the committee was being told by the Department. On the one hand, there is this ambition to adhere to the EU regulations on land usage and to use it better for absorbing carbon and, on the other hand, there is great excitement when it comes to CETA or trade deals with Egypt, for example, for live cattle. How do we get live cattle reared in Ireland on to boats to transport them to Canada or Egypt? We have to produce and grow them here. That leads to a huge increase in methane, which is one of the problems we have. I am told that the average farm has 16 cattle. That gives an indication of the size of the big ones. When one looks at the graph, there are a huge number of ranchers in Leinster and Munster producing incredible amounts of beef. That has an impact on the climate. This is what I mean about the contradiction. On the one hand, we are saying that we are doing something and, on the other hand, we are increasing agricultural beef production. There is no joined-up thinking-----

Thank you, Deputy. You will be back in twice more.

-----and I think the Minister's Department has to take some responsibility for that.

I will deal with the land use and the agricultural issues first. We have the best carbon footprint for milk production anywhere in the EU. There are less carbon emissions from dairy production in Ireland than in anywhere else in the EU. We are equal to one other member state. With regard to beef, we are the fifth-best in the EU and are working towards becoming not only EU leaders but world leaders in this. Only last month, I had a detailed bilateral discussion with my colleague from New Zealand on this very issue. We can have beef produced in other parts of the world in a far less efficient manner that is transported either on the hoof or in carcass form, or we can actually produce it quite efficiently here in Ireland. Can agriculture help in regard to the fight against climate change? Yes, it can. What we want to see is a situation in which our food production in this country is carbon neutral. By working through the forestry sector, through better land use, through better management of agricultural slurries and so forth, and through more efficient rearing of animals that makes agricultural production itself far more efficient and profitable in returns to the farmer, we can reduce emissions.

Is this my last minute?

Great. I will go all day at this. Let me go over it again. The Minister should be concerned about the budget, but he does not seem to be. He seems to be happy enough that he has €500,000 for a national dialogue.

There were 15,000 young people on the streets protesting during the Paris deal on climate change. They have had the dialogue and they know what they are talking about. They are extraordinarily concerned about the future of the planet. The €24 million on energy efficiency and renewables will go nowhere towards having an impact. There is €2 million for better homes energy, €4 million for better energy communities and €8 million for warmth and well-being schemes. This just is not sufficient to take this seriously. Where does the Minister think he can get additional resources? Has he thought of looking at the fact our pension reserves give a chunk of money to oil companies and to researching companies which extract gas and oil instead of trying to reduce such activities?

The objective behind the dialogue on climate change is to take the concern and convert it into action. We have had concern over the past two decades and we have not seen the action. Now we need to convert it into action and have real engagement with communities throughout the country rather than the approach that has been taken until now to lecture people on it.

With regard to the budget, €100 million was invested in energy projects through the Department, with €63 million for the better energy homes and communities scheme, €9 million for electric vehicles, €7 million on the renewable heat incentive scheme, €111 million on the GLAS scheme, €112 million on the afforestation scheme and €52 million on the beef genomic scheme. A total of €430 million has been allocated to the OPW with regard to flooding and €22 million to the Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government for the retrofitting of local authority homes. Relief for the VRT on electric vehicles has been extended for another five years. The VRT on hybrid vehicles has been extended for another two years. The natural gas used in vehicles has been reduced to the EU minimum. We have introduced reductions through the abolition of carbon tax with regard to biomass fuels.

We have gone over time for this and I ask Deputy Smith to be very brief.

I want the House to note the Minister have given us a rationale for privatising the national broadband plan, and the money is to be used for key issues such as climate action. I will hold the Minister to this for as long as I can stay in the House to do so, and I will keep a close eye on it. It was a big mistake to privatise broadband, but if the Minister is going to do it and put the money into climate action then let us see the colour of this money.

We need a plan for public transport to see it not as a burden but an opportunity to stop hiving off State routes to top private operators. As an essential part of any plan to deal with climate change we have to get carbon emissions and cars off the road. We also need to think strongly about our targets. We are way off target and the EPA report yesterday, just so people do not get too alarmed about it, is a disaster. We will be 14% below our targets by 2020. This is a very worrying development for us. There is much to be addressed.

We are in the process of drafting the national mitigation plan. The draft will be completed before the end of the year and will go for public consultation. It will be finalised next year. This will set down the blueprint and not just in my Department with regard to energy. It will also involve the built environment, with regard to the Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government and the Minister, Deputy Coveney, and will also involve transport and agriculture. The capital plan that will be finalised next year will have to feed into this. As part of the discussions in the run-up to the budget this year, I made it clear to the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, that the capital plan will have to reflect what we are doing with regard to the mitigation plan. Yes, we have big challenge ahead of us. There is no doubt about this, but we have made a start this year. Everyone is always looking at the glass as half empty. Let us start to look at it as half full. We have been a world leader with regard to hydrofluorocarbons. We were one of the first countries to put forward money on this. We are a world leader with regard to our dairy industry. We will be a world leader with regard to our beef industry. We are engaging with countries such as Tanzania, Costa Rica and New Zealand to see how we can improve agriculture efficiency and reduce emissions, not just for ourselves but for farmers throughout the world, particularly in the developing world where there will be a huge challenge post-2030.

Questions Nos. 15 and 16 replied to with Written Answers.
Question No. 17 replied to with Question No. 14.
Question No. 18 replied to with Written Answers.

I ask Members and the Minister to try to stick to the times, in fairness to people coming after them so their questions will be taken.

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