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Establishment of Special Joint Committee on Climate Action: Motion (Continued)

Tuesday, 3 July 2018

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 971 No. 1

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Sean Sherlock: Information on Seán Sherlock Zoom on Seán Sherlock]  I understand the European Union is looking for large-scale carbon capture and storage, CCS, projects, for which significant funding is available. That represents a potentially good opportunity for Ireland and will help to decarbonise electricity generation on our island. It could act as a potential for further foreign direct investment into Ireland on the basis that many multinational companies are now considering opportunities for decarbonisation and we have to be practical and pragmatic about those opportunities if they come before us. Could the Minister, in his response, give us some indication as to where stands the feasibility study on carbon capture and storage? I tabled a specific parliamentary question to him on that issue. I met Ervia yesterday, which is very interested in this space. As we know, Ervia is our own company. It has a big interest in this area and it is something on which we should engage with it.

I share the sentiments of other speakers. We have a massive opportunity on this island to send a message globally on meeting targets and realising opportunities. We are a small, innovative island and the networks created as between industry and academia in terms of scientific research and the person to person and business to business networks probably allows for people to come together more easily than in other parts of the European Union. That represents an opportunity for us.

I am hopeful we could also have regard to the work of Science Foundation Ireland on the previous investment by the taxpayer in the marine renewable energy space. When I was Minister of State with responsibility for research and innovation, we launched the Marine and Renewable Energy Ireland, MaREI, centre in Cork. There was a significant investment by the taxpayer in the area of marine renewable energy. We need to kick the tyres, so to speak, in terms of where that entity currently stands. It is one of the few entities looking specifically at marine renewable energy and as an island nation, and an Atlantic nation, we have to start leveraging more opportunities to make greater investments to ensure our energy mix moves further into the renewable space. I believe the marine renewable sector represents a major opportunity in that regard.

I look forward to working as part of the committee. I am hopeful it will not be just a talking shop. As a Parliament we have an opportunity through this committee, working collaboratively across parties, to try to make some serious changes in the direction this island goes in its responsibilities regarding climate change. We are all green now. Nobody has ownership of green issues. There are existential issues facing us now, as well as future generations, and we all need to collaborate politically in that space for action.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl I call Deputy Boyd Barrett, who is sharing with Deputy Paul Murphy.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett We will have two and a half minutes each.

While we are happy to participate in this special committee, I have to say that we need more than special committees if we are to do something about Ireland's disastrous failure to address the issue of climate change and play its part in contributing to the reduction in CO2 emissions. We have many targets and aspirations that are simply not being matched by reality. In the past two years, carbon emissions in this country went up by 7%, not down. We are facing fines of €440 million for failing to meet our emission reduction targets in two years' time. Even on issues like the Heritage Bill that Members will discuss tonight, the Government is supporting moves to allow greater and earlier cutting of hedgerows when we need more forestry, hedgerows and scrub to act as carbon sinks and to reduce carbon emissions.

There is no sign of radical action in these areas. The Citizens' Assembly made all the right recommendations, in particular a pet issue of mine which I have raised about 60 times since 2011, namely, the need to do something about our pathetic levels of forest cover. We have some of the lowest in Europe, at 11%, even though we have the most favourable conditions in Europe bar none for growing trees but we do not do anything about it. In fact, the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, says there is evidence of deforestation in Ireland because we are kowtowing to certain lobbies in agriculture who see forestry as a threat to them when they should not.

If we invested in, and supported areas, like agroforestry, afforestation could complement Irish agriculture. We need radical action in terms of shifting towards public transport use. That would mean much more investment in that area, reducing fares dramatically, if we are serious about getting people out of their cars, and in many other areas. We need the rhetoric to be matched with genuinely radical action by the Government. There is not much sign of that but let us hope this committee can go some way towards pushing the Government on in that regard.

I commend Deputy Bríd Smith's Bill, which is being discussed in committee to stop further extraction of fossil fuels here. I hope the Government will support that too.

Deputy Paul Murphy: Information on Paul Murphy Zoom on Paul Murphy The outcome of the Citizens' Assembly on the environment, as it was on the eighth amendment, shows how progressive ordinary people are when asked their opinions about issues and how it contrasts very favourably with the attitudes of the political establishment. What struck me strongest was the 98% who said that climate change should be put centre stage in policy making. That cannot be done by tinkering around the edges. It cannot be done with some electric cars or with some consumption charges. It has to be done with a radical break in how our society is organised in the areas of energy, agriculture and in transport centrally.

How radical a break is needed is reflected in the report that came out last week from the Climate Action Network that is utterly damning in terms of the approach of the Government. It has all the EU countries listed and grouped into the good, the bad and the ugly. Estonia, Ireland and Poland rank lowest in the ugly category because of their stiff opposition to climate action nationally and in the European Union. They are ranked second lowest in the EU, confirming what the former Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, said - incredibly, in Paris when the Paris Agreement was being signed - that climate change is not a priority for Ireland. Unfortunately, that remains the case.

On energy, we currently have five times as many known fossil fuels as can be burned without the temperature rising above 2° Celsius. The idea that we should be issuing any more exploration licences is utterly mad and, therefore, the Government should drop its opposition to the Bill proposing that fossil fuels be kept in the ground sponsored by Deputy Bríd Smith and the Solidarity-People Before Profit alliance.

Only last week, the Minister of State, Deputy Kyne, spoke about the need for an increase in drilling and the realisation of our oil and gas potential. We need there to be an end to the use of fossil fuels and a radical shift to renewable energies.

On transport, the push for the shift to electric cars is not the answer. I am for electric cars. They are better than petrol cars but the issue is the mode of transport, the way that people move from place to place. Massive investment in public transport is required to make it more accessible, realistic, achievable and affordable for people to use as a mode of travel. The example of Estonia is worth considering. It now has free public transport across the country. We estimated in our last budget proposal that it would take €500 million to halve the cost of public transport.

On the point about agriculture, Ireland is unusual in that agriculture, as opposed to transport, is the number one emitter in this regard. Having 6.7 million cows in Ireland currently using over 150 l of water each is not a sustainable model of organising agriculture and we need a break from that.

Deputy Denis Naughten: Information on Denis Naughten Zoom on Denis Naughten They are not all cows.

Deputy Eugene Murphy: Information on Eugene Murphy Zoom on Eugene Murphy That is for sure.

Deputy Eamon Scanlon: Information on Eamon Scanlon Zoom on Eamon Scanlon We have to live down there too.

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