Tuesday, 21 May 2019

Ceisteanna (51)

Peter Fitzpatrick


51. Deputy Peter Fitzpatrick asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment the measures he is putting in place to combat air pollution (details supplied); and the measures he is taking to reduce domestic solid fuel burning. [21787/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (6 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Communications)

What measures is the Minister putting in place to combat air pollution to reassure GPs that it is safe for their patients to breathe in fresh air? Emissions from solid fuel burning throughout the country and transport emissions in large urban areas should not be taken for granted.

Recent scientific evidence indicates that air pollution is more damaging at lower concentrations than was previously understood. With this in mind, we are committed to publishing the national clean air strategy this year, which will provide the policy framework necessary to identify and promote integrated measures across Government that are required to reduce air pollution and promote cleaner air, while delivering on wider national objectives.

Under the national emission ceilings directive, Directive (EU) 2016/2284, more stringent emission reduction targets for 2020 and 2030 have been set, as percentage reductions from 2005 emission levels, for five key pollutants, namely, sulphur dioxide, 65% reduction by 2020 and 85% reduction by 2030; nitrogen oxides, NOx, 49% reduction by 2020 and 69% reduction by 2030; non-methane volatile organic compounds, NMVOCs, 25% reduction by 2020 and 32% reduction by 2030; ammonia, 1% reduction by 2020 and 5% reduction by 2030; and fine particulate matter, 18% reduction by 2020 and 41% reduction by 2030. The directive requires member states to prepare a national air pollution control programme, NAPCP, to identify the programmes and measures that will deliver on these reduction targets. Ireland’s NAPCP is currently open for public consultation.

While Ireland’s air quality compares favourably with more industrialised and urbanised countries, we have specific challenges which need attention. In terms of overall annual emissions, we have a particular problem with ammonia from agriculture and, to a lesser extent, with NMVOCs and NOx.

Separate from annual emission levels, Ireland faces challenges with ambient air pollution - the concentration of a particular pollutant at a particular place and time. Thresholds for ambient air are established in the clean air for Europe directive, 2008/50/EC. We have a problem with particulate matter in our smaller towns and villages, associated with the burning of solid fuel for domestic heating. In this regard, I am disappointed that a number of coal firms have indicated that they would challenge the decision of two former Ministers to extend the smoky coal ban nationwide.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

There is also some concern about how increased economic activity may impact on levels of NOx from transport in our cities.

As many air pollutants come from the combustion of fossil fuels, there is a significant potential for the successful execution of a climate action plan to positively impact air quality both in ambient terms and overall emissions. A key focus of work in my Department is to ensure that synergies are maximised between climate plans and the national clean air strategy with the purpose of reducing the health and environmental impacts of air pollution in the most efficient manner.

The air we breathe is growing dangerously polluted. According to the World Health Organization, nine out of ten people now breathe polluted air which kills 7 million people across the world every year. In Ireland premature deaths caused by air pollution are estimated at 1,200 people per year. Air pollution is an invisible killer. One in five children in Ireland suffers from asthma and four deaths a day are directly associated with poor air quality. The health effects are serious. One third of deaths from stroke, lung cancer and heart disease are from air pollution. This has the same effect as someone smoking tobacco and it is higher than the effect of eating too much salt.

I agree that it is a very serious issue. Air quality in Ireland compares favourably with more industrialised and urbanised countries but it is not without challenges. The Environmental Protection Agency's most recent annual air quality report was published in November 2018 and provides an assessment of air quality in Ireland in 2017. Values for all network sites were below the EU annual limit but exceeded the stricter World Health Organization guidelines for a number of pollutants at individual sites. I accept we have an issue that needs to be dealt with.

The EPA also reports that particulate matter from solid fuel burning remains the greatest threat to good air quality in Ireland, closely followed by nitrogen dioxide from transport emissions in urban areas. The report can be found on the EPA's website. It is a problem we are taking very seriously.

Air pollution is hard to escape as it is all around us. In my Louth constituency doctors are advising people not to go out walking as the air is polluted, which is very serious. The true cost of climate change is felt in our hospitals and in our lungs. Air pollution is harmful to everyone's health. What is the Government doing to combat the problem? What measures is it taking to reduce domestic solid fuel burning?

Like the Minister of State, I like walking and running. Over recent years in the small town where I live I can actually feel the pollution in the air. The country has a serious problem with obesity and we are trying to encourage people to go out. I ask the Minister of State to let people know what the Government is doing to combat this issue. I feel that it is a neglected area. My six year old grandson is a David Attenborough fanatic and he is asking me these questions. I want the next generation to realise that we are doing our best. When will this start? We need to start today.

Recent scientific evidence indicates that air pollution is more damaging at lower concentrations than was previously understood. Tackling the sources and causes of air pollution is a significant challenge and will form part of the overall climate action plan we will put in place. It involves emissions from transport, industry, agriculture and shipping and the use of solid fuels in homes. It goes across a wide spectrum and is a major challenge. Given the wide range of pollutants, it is important that action is co-ordinated across these sectors. A number of plans are under development, including the national air pollution control programme and the national energy and climate plan, which is relevant to the clean air agenda. As part of this renewed emphasis on the importance of air quality, the Department is also funding the ambient air quality monitoring programme which will greatly improve the data available on air pollution in Ireland, facilitating the design and targeting of policy measures to tackle it.