Tuesday, 21 May 2019

Ceisteanna (50)

Timmy Dooley

Ceist:

50. Deputy Timmy Dooley asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment the position with regard to the declaration of a climate and biodiversity emergency; the actions he will take in view of this decision; the status of the response to the report of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Climate Action; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22061/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Oral answers (6 contributions) (Ceist ar Communications)

Two weeks ago the Dáil declared a climate and biodiversity emergency. The Taoiseach subsequently described the declaration as a mere symbolic gesture. He failed to note that the declaration was part of a motion which endorsed immediate action in the form of implementation of the report of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Climate Action. Will the Minister confirm that the Government's forthcoming plan will reflect all recommendations and timelines set out in the committee's report?

All of us in the House will agree that tackling climate change is one of the greatest challenges facing humanity. The deliberations of the committee and the very lively participation of all members, including the questioner, is testimony to the interest of the Oireachtas. As the Deputy recognises, I have been asked to prepare an all-of-Government climate action plan to ensure Ireland makes an effective transition to a low-carbon economy and creates a climate resilient society. This will involve radical change in every home and workplace with regard to how we generate power, how we travel, and how we farm our land. It is a collective challenge of enormous scale and importance.

I warmly welcome the unanimous vote of the Oireachtas to endorse the all-party report and to declare a climate and biodiversity emergency. This builds on the work of the Citizens' Assembly and provides a strong platform on which to build an effective implementation plan.

Every Department has been asked to examine the recommendations of the Oireachtas committee which fall within its remit and I will be seeking to integrate proposals put forward by the Oireachtas committee into the climate action plan. I have signalled our commitment to achieving 70% of supply from renewables in the electricity sector and to building an electric vehicle, EV, charging network to facilitate transition to no non-zero emission vehicles being purchased in Ireland from 2030 onwards. In respect of biodiversity, primary responsibility in this area lies with my colleague, the Minister, Deputy Madigan, who has engaged with me and my Department on the preparation of the climate action plan but who has also developed specific policy initiatives for biodiversity and who has recently hosted Ireland's first biodiversity conference.

It has already been widely reported that the Minister's plan will be different in including new measures and responsibilities to be introduced across the public sector. Indeed the Minister has used the word "radical" on a number of occasions. This would be a welcome development but this plan will be this Government's third climate related strategy. Previous strategies have lacked not only substantive measures but also commitment to implementation and a clear idea of impact. We cannot accept a business as usual approach that allows industries to use sustainability and efficiency as buzzwords while failing to ensure measurable progress in other sectors. Has the Minister's plan been analysed by the Environmental Protection Agency or the Climate Change Advisory Council to provide an independent analysis of its effectiveness? If such analysis has not been carried out, I hope that it will be before the plan is published, particularly with regard to the emissions reduction that will be achieved. Will the Minister also confirm that the necessary legislation will be enacted this year, especially amending legislation to provide for necessary targets and a new accountability regime? Will the Minister set out how the Oireachtas committee's recommendations will be reflected in the national energy and climate plan to be finalised at EU level by the end of the year?

I assure the Deputy that I recognise the importance of the work done by the Oireachtas committee and that I absolutely accept the importance of a much greater level of transparency and accountability and the importance of setting of clear targets which will be adopted by each sector. We will be adopting legislative proposals to ensure that the Oireachtas plays a far greater role. I assure the Deputy that we are drawing on the very best analytic support from the Climate Change Advisory Council, the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, SEAI, and many other public agencies to assist us in developing this plan. I am also fully conscious that success will involve every home, enterprise, workplace, pupil, and worker getting involved. One of the challenges we face is how to mobilise that much wider group. I fully accept that Government must lead the way and that it must lead by example and create the framework, but we must also work collectively to draw people into the challenge we mutually face.

It is well accepted that this cannot be solved through legislation alone, but the legislation will have to show leadership, as will all of us in this House. While I know issues of biodiversity are somewhat outside the Minister's sphere of influence, the declaration of this House was significant in asserting a biodiversity emergency and in calling for a citizens' assembly to address the equally disturbing ecological crisis. A major global assessment recently found that ecosystems are rapidly declining and that 1 million species are at risk of extinction, including several species native to Ireland. The necessity for a citizens' assembly to examine this crisis is a reflection of the failure of the Government to integrate biodiversity protections adequately into our policymaking.

I hope that can be achieved and such a discussion can take place in a citizens' assembly. That, of course, will require the Government to ask for that to happen.

How will the Government amend departmental strategies, increase investment in habitat conservation and protection and ensure that necessary resources are made available to relevant State agencies? While it is not in the Minister's sphere of influence, he might be able to pass it on to the relevant Minister, noting that it is part of the wider climate change issue. I know the Minister has ongoing dialogue with other Departments in that regard.

I understand that the Minister, Deputy Madigan, has introduced to the House in the Wildlife (Amendment) Bill a new biodiversity duty, obliging public bodies to work to reduce the impacts of their activities on biodiversity. She has also published the National Biodiversity Action Plan 2017-2021. She convened the national conference, which I attended. It is interesting that a number of public bodies made substantial commitments to habitat restoration as part of that conference. The work is ongoing on the biodiversity sectoral climate change adaptation plan, which is part of the obligations we have undertaken. I will convey to the Minister the Deputy's desire to see wider citizens' involvement in the initiatives in this area.