I welcome the focus given by the Joint Committee on Climate Action in its report to the future of Bord na Mona and the Midlands region.
The Committee correctly identified that, while all sectors face challenges transitioning to a low carbon economy, immediate interventions must be put in place in those locations and for those sectors imminently under threat, such as those whose livelihoods are dependent on Bord na Móna peat extraction activities. The Committee also highlighted the importance of exploring opportunities to green existing jobs, and create new jobs in areas such as energy retrofitting for buildings, sustainable forestry and peatland restoration.
The Government has responded to this challenge in its Climate Action Plan, and subsequently with funding allocated through Budget 2020 and the appointment of Just Transition Commissioner for the Midlands.
The Climate Action Plan identifies the need to plan appropriately to ensure that those most affected by our transition to a low-carbon, climate resilient society are supported and equipped to contribute to this transition.
The Plan sets out a number of actions to support this objective, including:
- a programme of analysis to assess the economic and employment implications of the transition to a low-carbon economy
- the establishment of a Just Transition Review Group under NESC working group structures to advise the Climate Action Delivery Board
- supporting the work of the Midlands Regional Transition Team, the Midlands Regional Enterprise Strategy and the Midlands Regional Skills Forum
- identifying sources of funding that could be used to support the transition to a low-carbon economy and society, including inclusion of peat in the EU Coal Platform on transition.
Building on the actions in the Climate Action Plan, Budget 2020 allocated funding to support a Just Transition in the Midlands region, comprising:
- €20 million for a new energy efficiency retrofitting scheme with the social housing stock in the region at its core, but enabling private homeowners to opt-in
- €5 million for peatland rehabilitation
- €6 million for a dedicated new Just Transition Fund, with ESB agreeing to contribute an additional €5 million to this fund bringing its total value to €11m.
My Department is in discussions with the European Commission with a view to making a state aid application for PSO support for an enhanced peat land restoration and rehabilitation scheme in the midlands. This is currently being processed through the State Aid pre-notification procedure.
The Government has appointed Mr Kieran Mulvey as the Just Transition Commissioner to facilitate discussions and work with stakeholders to develop, mobilise, and deliver opportunities for the Midlands. The Commissioner will collaborate with, and build on the work undertaken by, the existing local taskforces to ensure that locally generated ideas and projects are brought forward for consideration for funding from the Just Transition Fund. I published the terms of reference for the work of the Just Transition Commissioner on 19 November 2019.