Wednesday, 10 March 2021

Ceisteanna (42)

Gino Kenny


42. Deputy Gino Kenny asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications his views on the use of negative emissions technology in reaching Ireland's climate targets; if concerns regarding the climate action and low-carbon development (amendment) Bill 2020 that, as first drafted, may rely too much on unproven technology to achieve reduction needed in greenhouse gas emissions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13287/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

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

By prior arrangement I will take Deputy Kenny's question for him.

Like many others we are alarmed at the use of and over-reliance on negative emissions technology, NETs, in the climate action Bill. We have been warned repeatedly by the science and by the scientists that over-reliance on technology that does not actually exist and that gives us hope for the future without dealing with the here and now is the wrong way to go. I would like the Minister to make a statement on that. If we are over-reliant on NETs we may never see an avoidance of a 2°C rise in temperature.

The Government is committed to an average 7% per annum reduction in overall greenhouse gas emissions from 2021 to 2030, equivalent to a 51% reduction over the decade, and to achieving net zero emissions by 2050 at the latest. A key aspect of delivering on this ambition will be enacting the climate action and low carbon development (amendment) Bill, which will underpin our policies.

The Bill will significantly strengthen the statutory framework for climate governance, with appropriate oversight by the Government, the Oireachtas and the Climate Change Advisory Council.

It would introduce new obligations including enacting an objective to achieve a carbon neutral economy by 2050 at the latest and providing for an annual update to the climate action plan and a national long-term climate strategy every five years.

The increased scale and depth of our climate ambition is consistent with the approach being taken at EU level. Both domestically and at the EU, it is recognised that we are not yet in a position to identify all the emerging technologies or policies to meet our full ambition. However, committed research in the area and the continued intensive updating of mitigation measures over the decade, and beyond, will ensure that we remain on course to achieve our climate goals. Investment in research to support Ireland’s efforts to decarbonise and achieve our climate ambition will also be an important element of the national economic plan and is an important commitment in the programme for Government.

While negative emissions technologies will likely be needed to deliver Ireland’s net-zero ambition, the carbon budget structure will serve to determine the scale of negative emissions that may be required to achieve the national climate objective. This will inform investments in such solutions and thereby inform policy responses.  In this regard, it will be necessary for Ireland to develop pathways for removals of carbon dioxide related to land use and to protect carbon sinks and stocks.

New strategies will be needed, with additional policy attention across multiple sectors, to sustain an emissions reduction trajectory that will increase over the next decade and beyond. However, the potential for negative emissions technology should not be seen as a means to avoid making the necessary reductions in emissions across the different sectors of the economy.

That is fair enough as an answer but it does not get to the point I am making, which is that the Bill the Minister published had an over-reliance on negative emissions technology. That is a sort of dream into the future because when one unpicks the models of negative emissions technologies, NETs, and a large-scale deployment of them, if it was possible, in the words of the scientist, Kevin Anderson, it is taking a high-stakes gamble in the hope that such technology can be invented in time and on scale but the problem is that we do not have that technology. Moreover, the touting of negative emissions technology often comes from the same sources of existing fossil fuel interests and much of what we hope and are promised seems to be a version of medieval indulgences - sin today with the promise of atonement tomorrow or the next few decades. In this case, NETs allow the continued sinning and profiteering of the fossil fuel industry and big agri-industry and allows us to continue with the fiction that it is okay to issue or renew licences like Barryroe or to build liquefied natural gas plants because somewhere down the line we will have new technology that can carbon capture and store that. It is not there.

It is starting to develop carbon. The Deputy spoke lastly about carbon capture and storage. It is very expensive. We do not have many examples of large industrial applications but I believe it is likely that by the end of this decade we will start to see deployment at scale for both industrial production purposes, power generation and potentially in other areas. We have to be very careful about that. It should not in any way be a continuation of a fossil fuels pass. We know that in the likes of our industrial emissions, which is some 8 million tonnes at the moment, we will need a 50% reduction in emissions. Could the use of carbon capture technologies in some of the large industrial processes help us? It probably could, and that is something I would not rule out. Similarly, in power generation, we will have some backup, whether it is hydrogen powered or gas and so on. If there are mechanisms where we could safely, in terms of geological storage, put that carbon I do not believe we should rule that out. It is one of the elements but it is not any sort of flag for the secure future of the fossil fuel industry because it will be more expensive, primarily backup and is only one small element in the overall mix.

I admire the Minister's optimism but as we know the reality is that for decades carbon capture and storage has been proposed as the silver bullet solution for cutting carbon emissions. Despite billions of dollars in funding and years of research there are no carbon capture storage, CSS, plants anywhere in the world that effectively capture and store carbon. Relying on a hope that it will do so in the future is a fundamental mistake. My question to the Minister is whether his refined and changed Bill that he is about to publish will take that into account and cut out the over-reliance on these negative emissions technologies as a way forward because they are not in existence to a scale where they will work. They have been touted by the fossil fuel industry and there is no evidence anywhere in the world that they will help us reduce our carbon emissions. Obviously, some things do help us do that, such as plants and trees and re-wetting bogs but the false reliance on this technology that does not exist has to be removed from the new Bill. Otherwise, it is not a functioning Bill to deal with the climate catastrophe.

I look forward to the Dáil debate on that aspect of the Bill and whether there is such an over-reliance. In any climate action plan we are developing now I do not believe there will be an over-reliance on that because what the Deputy said is true. The real cost, scale and widespread deployment of carbon capture and storage is still evolving in the same way that, for example, there is huge investment, which is going on in both areas now, in the use of hydrogen fuels. I refer to green hydrogen as a potential replacement for existing fossil assets. It has to be green and not blue to ensure that it is not just another pass for the fossil fuel industry. Again, in that sector it is not exactly clear what the cost and an optimal deployment will be but almost every country I look at is investing massively on the expectation that that will evolve and be part of it. We will need a suite of measures. We will need every tool in the tool box to solve the scale of this challenge. If one does not work, which may be the case in terms of finding that CCS proves not technically as easy to develop, then we will have to switch to alternatives. That flexibility and being open to a variety of options is the right strategic approach.