Thursday, 14 November 2019

Ceisteanna (5)

Thomas Pringle


5. Deputy Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the role of his Department in 2019 and 2020 in the implementation of the Climate Action Plan 2019 for his Department and throughout Departments generally; if estimates of the net cost of the plan are available; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46785/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (9 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Public)

This question relates to the cost of implementation of the climate action plan. What is the Minister's view on it?

My Department has been assigned direct responsibility for the implementation of 18 steps across 12 separate actions under the Government’s climate action plan. These actions are due for completion in 2019 and 2020.

To give the Deputy a flavour of the actions already completed, my Department is looking at reforms to the public spending code that will require a more realistic cost of carbon to be used in all Government investment appraisals. A circular has been issued requiring all public bodies to consider the use of green criteria in how they purchase goods and services. I had a meeting about this yesterday afternoon. Additional carbon tax revenues have been ring-fenced for climate expenditure in 2020.

Before the end of the year, my Department will introduce a carbon offsetting regime for all Government air travel, issue guidance for Departments on the correct application of the public spending code and undertake an examination of the scope for funding climate initiatives through EU Structural Funds. My Department is also listed as a key stakeholder in the delivery of a further 20 steps across 11 actions in the climate action plan.

Regarding the net cost of the plan, the Government has agreed that the cumulative Exchequer costs of the commitments included in the climate action plan will be delivered though multi-annual ceilings and the funding commitments made in the national development plan. It includes more than €30 billion in investment to fund the transition to a low carbon and climate resilient society and initiatives in sustainable mobility. To complement this funding, the revenue raised from the €6 increase in the carbon tax in 2020 will be ring-fenced to fund climate measures next year. It will deliver an additional €90 million.

The Minister's response is interesting. I take it from what he has said that he wants to introduce a more realistic view of the carbon tax and that he does not believe the actual carbon tax is realistic, which is a very interesting Government statement. The reality is that €400 million of carbon tax revenue is not used for climate actions. Only €90 million of carbon tax revenue is actually used for carbon reduction projects, which is very worrying. It shows a lack of commitment on the part of the Government to ensure we will meet climate action targets and be climate resilient. During the week I heard that the Government had recently approved an increase in the PSO levy on gas to offset the cost of refurbishment of Bord na Móna's bogs. This has been approved by the Department and is very worrying because the carbon tax was supposed to do that, but here we have an additional tax on top of it, which is wrong.

I am not sure how the Deputy can make the claim from my answer that I am changing my thinking on the carbon tax. I did not say that in the answer I gave him. What I did say was that we were looking at the role of pricing in the context of the public spending code to ensure, for example, that we would better evaluate road projects against what might be a public transport alternative. In terms of carbon pricing, the approach I outlined on budget day still stands. It is absolutely my approach. The Deputy is making a point about how we will collect the €400 million in the context of carbon pricing and taxation. The Government has spent well in excess of €400 million on many schemes in recent years to respond to climate change and fund public transport and other changes in our society.

To respond to the point made by the Deputy about a recent Government decision to increase the PSO levy, I will have to check the position. I met the workers in Loughrea on Monday afternoon and they are clear - I understand why - that there is a need for funding and investment. We have committed through carbon pricing to help them in the very difficult transition that lies ahead for them.

There is no doubt that the transition will be very difficult for them, but it will also be difficult for citizens throughout the country. By increasing the PSO levy the Minister is targeting the most vulnerable citizens who must pay the levy. We have a carbon tax that is supposed to meet those requirements. There is no doubt that there is a need to fund the cost of the changeover for Bord na Móna staff. We have the mechanism for this with reference to the €490 million paid in carbon tax but now the Minister is introducing an additional PSO levy, although it may not be a new such levy. It may be a reconfiguration of the existing levy, but the fact that we are getting out of a PSO levy on turf burning should help to ease the burden on people and it should not be continued.

I believe - I will confirm it with the Minister, Deputy Bruton - that what we are talking about is making different use of the existing PSO levy. The Deputy sounds very like somebody who believes we need to make a transition to a low carbon economy and that we need to respond to climate change but is denying that there will be costs involved.

There will be costs involved. I do not know whether the format allows me to hear the Deputy's views on an increase in carbon tax, but if he is saying we can make the change to a low carbon economy without it involving changes for many citizens, respectfully, he is wrong. Even through what we have done on carbon pricing, we have put in place additional measures to try to support and protect vulnerable citizens on low incomes.

The rules of engagement are evident in what has happened. I thank the Deputies for their co-operation.