Thursday, 28 November 2019

Ceisteanna (4)

Bríd Smith

Ceist:

4. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment if support for liquefied natural gas, LNG, projects that are destined to bring fracked gas imports from North America here will be reconsidered in view of the recent European Investment Bank, EIB, statement regarding the funding of fossil fuel infrastructure and projects; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49380/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

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

I again ask the Minister, as I have done many times in the Chamber, whether he supports the LNG projects that are destined to bring fracked gas from North America to this country, via the hubs at Shannon and in Cork. If so, will he reconsider that in view of the recent European Investment Bank statement on fossil fuel industry projects and the funding of same? Will he make a statement on the matter?

As the Deputy will be aware and as I have stated clearly, I will not support any funding for the proposed LNG terminals unless and until I am satisfied they pass the sustainability and security review I am putting in place. She has to be aware that the LNG projects, including that at Shannon, have been proposed by commercial developers. They are private sector projects and final investment decisions for them, including the sources of their funding and their compliance with legal and regulatory requirements for consents or permits, are the responsibility of the project promoters. In that context, I have no plans to intervene in individual commercial projects. I recognise that the revised EIB policy will no longer consider new financing for unabated fossil fuel energy projects from the end of 2021. The EIB recognises, however, the necessary role that gas will continue to play in the transition to decarbonisation. Within the gas sector, the bank will focus its support on projects aligned to the transition.

Shannon LNG has been on the list of projects of common interest since 2013, and while Ireland supported its inclusion on the fourth list, I have made it clear the Government will not consider any application for the EU Connecting Europe Facility unless and until it passes the tests I have set for it. In addition, I have instructed my officials to request that the European Commission review the implications of importing LNG, both conventionally and unconventionally extracted, into the EU, in terms of a sustainable, secure and competitive European energy policy.

The climate action plan I launched in June sets out an ambitious course of action over the coming years to address the climate challenge and to transition to a carbon-neutral economy. In the context of the transition, a comprehensive independent energy security and sustainability review will be carried out. It will examine the fuel mix necessary, including the role of gas in electricity generation, how and from where it is sourced, as well as the role of other technologies such as interconnection and battery storage as backup for renewables to ensure security of supply.

Only a few weeks ago, the Chamber was full of school students who were invited in to explore what could be done about climate change. One of the ten recommendations that came out of that experiment was not to allow the importation of fracked gas and to oppose the Shannon and Cork LNG projects. Tomorrow, the same students will take another day of strike action, and at approximately 12 noon they will be on Merrion Square. I intend to join them and I wonder whether the Minister can tell them with a straight face what he just stated to me, or support their demand to end the importation of North American fracked gas.

I listened to the Minister's response, in which he paid no attention to the two reports published this week that suggest we may have crossed the tipping points and thresholds that will lock us into catastrophic climate change because emissions are soaring all the time. Without allowing the climate emergency measures Bill to go forward or banning LNG projects, we will be certain to have done nothing. Although the Minister denies we have anything to do with LNG facilities and that they are private, we facilitated the fast-track planning and building of the projects in Cork and at Shannon, and have allowed for their inclusion on the list of European projects of common interest. It is not as though his hands are clean and he has nothing to do it.

I am undertaking an evaluation of the role that gas should have, in particular LNG. In the interim, I have signalled very clearly that the Government will not support such a project in any way.

However, being able to stop a private sector project going through the planning process is not a power available to the Government, nor is the power to block its importation. I understand that is a matter for the European Commission because it would be a trade issue. I have undertaken the evaluation that is necessary so we can have a proper examination of the science to determine whether this has any role to play and how we should treat it. In the interim, I will not support any such project.

I do not know if the Minister realises how helpless and useless he sounds when he says that the Government has no role in any of this because it is a private sector project. This is fracked gas from an area of North America that is suffering severely in terms of health and the environment. We have banned it in this country for those reasons, yet we are willing to facilitate its importation into this country. I repeat that we are facilitating it through our planning structure and the fact that the Government is allowing it to remain on a list of projects of common interest in Europe.

Gas and fracked gas is driving the spike in methane emissions. One third of this is coming from the industry in North America, from where fracked gas will arrive in Shannon. Businesses are looking for a market. If they succeed in building LNG here and across Europe, we can kiss goodbye to the Paris targets and any hope of limiting temperature rises to under 2°C. The science is there. Robert Howarth of Cornell University gave evidence at climate change committee meetings that if we could reduce methane emissions we could buy ourselves more time to try to deal with the climate catastrophe we are facing. Methane leaks at a significant level from fracked gas and traps heat at a much more intense level. Will the Minister listen to school students and do something about LNG?

Deputy Smith is very flaithiúlacht when she throws out accusations that I am useless. The truth is that I was the first Minister to put in place a climate action plan which will see us move from a figure of 30% of renewables and is putting State money into building interconnectors, facilitating additional wind farms and solar capacity to make our power clean, helping homeowners to improve their homes and helping people to switch to cleaner and better forms of transport. We are putting substantial resources in place and making regulatory changes to bring about a much cleaner environment. That is in contrast to many of the proposals the Deputy advocates, which would not have any impact on our carbon emissions.