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Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Bill 2021: Second Stage (Resumed) (Continued)

Thursday, 29 April 2021

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 1006 No. 3

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Emer Higgins: Information on Emer Higgins Zoom on Emer Higgins] Every aspect of life has been impacted. If allowed to run away from us, this climate crisis will have an even greater and more detrimental impact on us all. Dr. Mike Ryan of the World Health Organization has clearly stated that we are pushing nature to its limits. By doing so, we are creating the conditions for new epidemics to grow and thrive. We need to face up to the climate crisis and we need to find a way to limit the real damage already being done. Protecting the world in which we live needs to be a top priority for everyone everywhere. This Bill is a welcome and significant step in tackling that crisis.

Deputy Michael Lowry: Information on Michael Lowry Zoom on Michael Lowry I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach for her consideration. The entire world is aware of the need to enact change to prevent global warming. The human, environmental and economic costs of global warming are becoming increasingly clear each year. Every year, we witness the global results of, and the damage caused by, climate change. Major flooding, hurricanes, droughts and wildfires are not fears for the future but the realities of the present. Climate action is critical. We must stop the inexorable rise in global temperatures. We owe it to this generation and to those who will come after to protect our planet. In doing so, we must also remain conscious that a one-size-fits-all approach to climate action cannot be taken across the globe. Put simply, what can be achieved with relative ease by one country may have the potential to cause significant change and upheaval in another. It falls on every country to address the growing problem but it falls on the government of each country to introduce change in a fair and equitable manner. Ultimately, it falls to each of us to play our part.

When talks on the urgent need to take climate action were headline news during talks on the formation of this Government, a number of fingers were pointed towards the agricultural sector. We were led to believe reducing our national herd would be a quick-fix solution in reducing Ireland's emissions profile. Very few acknowledged the enormous volume of CO2 that Irish grasslands and farms actually remove from the atmosphere. Even fewer highlighted the fact that Ireland's agrifood industry remains a global leader in sustainability. Ireland is the most carbon-efficient country in which to produce dairy products. Limiting milk production here will shift production to less sustainable and less regulated markets. The Irish sector continues to break new ground every year due to cutting-edge research on carbon-neutral beef and dairy farming. The Irish dairy industry should not be damned for pursuing a livelihood from livestock. Farmers should not be scapegoated.

While many challenges remain for the agricultural sector in the quest to positively address climate issues, it is vital that we recognise the enormous change taking place. Ireland's agrifood sector is transforming. With financial and educational support, this sector will not be a major stumbling block with regard to Ireland's contribution to proactive climate action.

Rather than pointing the finger at agriculture and industry, as many have chosen to do, the key to taking positive climate action lies within our own daily lives. Every one of us can play a part and, in many cases, this can involve saving money as well as our planet. Homes, businesses, farms, industry and educational centres all have a role to play. Small daily changes to the way we live will accumulate and have a major impact. Turning down the heating, reducing water and food waste, switching off lights, not leaving appliances plugged in and using public transport instead of driving are all little things that can help. If we had the collective will to change little things, the impact would be enormous. In fact, it would have a similar effect to culling the national herd.

When we speak of taking climate action, our thoughts revolve around major changes that will most certainly come our way in the future. We seldom concentrate on the simple things we can do to help today. By doing things differently, we can all be part of the solution. This analogy also applies to Government. The aim must be to bring people willingly on board rather than to bombard them with dramatic scenarios as happened in respect of the farming sector. There is no for and against saving our planet. It is a universal objective. Each one of us has a shared responsibility.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Catherine Connolly Zoom on Catherine Connolly In case there is any misunderstanding, the Regional Group's slot will come up in due course. I now call on Deputy Cairns for the Social Democrats.

Deputy Holly Cairns: Information on Holly Cairns Zoom on Holly Cairns One of the lessons learned from the past year has to be the utter unpredictability of events. If we had been warned five or ten years ago that Covid-19 was on the way, what would we have done? We would have made the drastic changes necessary to avoid the turmoil and suffering of the past year. It is not an exaggeration to say we are in a similar place today. We know the science. We know climate change is happening. We know that, without proper action, it will have devastating impacts on society and the economy. We know.

  This could be the most significant legislation this Dáil will pass. It has the potential to establish a clear and fair framework to make the changes necessary to protect our society and economy. Equally, it could contain fudges that will damn future generations to severe consequences. Addressing the Joint Committee on Climate Action in October, Dr. Áine Ryall, co-director of UCC’s centre for law and the environment, said:

We must deliver robust, workable climate legislation that supports a just transition and protects human rights. We must ensure that the new legislation has the necessary impact across society and the economy to deliver the transformative changes required within the necessary timeframes.

She outlined clear principles that have to be present in the legislation and climate action plans. They must be robust and workable, there must be a just transition and transformative changes must take place within the necessary timeframe.

  Climate legislation must be robust and workable. Our plan to curb our emissions and reach our international obligations needs to be clear, achievable and guided by climate science. The much-lauded target of 2050 to reach net zero-carbon emissions is too late. We need to significantly reduce our emissions before then if we are to do our part to halt a significant and irreversible temperature rise. What is the actual plan to achieve this? Our current approach is failing badly. The Government’s 2019 transition statement states that our target for 2020 was to reduce emissions to 20% below their 2005 value. Instead, it was in the range of 5% to 6%. Successive Governments have been kicking the can down the road and passing the buck to the next Minister. We are operating on borrowed time, time which we are taking from future generations.

  Last year, the Supreme Court’s ruling in the climate case found that the Government failed to specify credible measures for addressing climate change. Part of the finding is the need for each climate action plan to have clear targets. The public is entitled to know how the current Government, not the next Government or the one after, will actually implement emissions reductions and other measures within its lifespan.

  Climate law experts have expressed concern about the target for 2030, which is included in the proposed new section 6A(5) to the principal Act, as lacking in legal certainty. There needs to be legal minimum interim targets that establish the basis for an average reduction in emissions of 7%. Otherwise, the reductions will just be rolled over from year to year, with responsibility passed from this Government to the next. If this Bill is to be all it claims to be, then any such ambiguities need to be removed. This legislation has to have robust and workable commitments that demand plans which will meet annual targets in a transparent and accountable manner.

  The climate legislation must be just. A just transition must be at the heart of climate legislation. We need an approach of leaving no one behind. I welcome the inclusion of references to just transition in the Bill but the definition of climate justice is much too loose and the policies proposed and opposed by this Government thus far do not indicate a willingness to pursue this Bill or any kind of progressive change.

  I echo the calls of Community Law and Mediation, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and the Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice in Ireland to include more robust definitions for climate justice that would ensure just transition, such as appear in Scotland’s climate change legislation. We cannot allow the burden of climate action to fall on the shoulders of those least responsible for the crisis. Climate action needs to be based in workers' rights, healthcare, housing and transport.

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