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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 Holly Cairns: Information on Holly Cairns Zoom on Holly Cairns] We also have to live up to our responsibilities to the people of the global south who are already enduring some of the most extreme climatic changes. Obviously, the part we can play is not as big as much larger countries, but it is not any less significant. All countries and communities are being called on to do their bit to avert the climate crisis. The Irish people know this and want this. We must deliver legislation that matches their commitment to a just transition and climate justice.

  We need sustainability and equality to go hand in hand. Social and environmental policies are not contradictory - they can and should be complementary. We need progressive and ambitious measures to support low-income households and rural areas. Most importantly, we need joined-up thinking. A carbon tax is a necessary tool to reduce emissions, but it will only work if there are alternatives in place. Poor public transport in rural areas and a lack of active travel infrastructure means people have no choice but to use cars. It does not matter how expensive petrol or diesel is - they will still need cars. Without alternatives, carbon taxes are merely punitive and help build up resentment and anti-climate science rhetoric. A just transition recognises the supports needed for families and communities, but it also holds polluters to account. The majority of global emissions come from large corporations, especially fossil fuel companies. We need a tax regime that targets them rather than ordinary people.

  Climate legislation must make transformative changes in the necessary time. Climate action requires systematic change - change in behaviour, change in the way we do business, change in the way the economy works. We have a choice to be proactive and lead the way in a green economy or stick to a business-as-usual model involving some greenwashing, which will inevitably lead to irreparable damage and job losses.

  Climate action has to be understood and pursued as a necessity and an opportunity. Too often, Deputies and even Ministers present this as a cliff edge for farmers and fishing communities. As a farmer and a scientist, that is disappointing. Farmers and fishing communities need to be treated with respect, not fed such platitudes. The way we farm is shaped directly by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine's policies. Deputies tirelessly defending farmers when it is not the latter's fault only serves to reinforce the false narrative that it is somehow farmers' fault, a narrative that supports a policy that does not support the majority of farmers. We need climate science-informed approaches that support all farms, not just the big players, and value practices that enhance the landscape and generate sustainable produce. The same is true of fishing. Many small-scale fishermen and fisherwomen can feel as though the Government is working against them rather than fighting for them. Inshore fishing represents the type of sustainable fishing that has been practised for generations in west Cork and other coastal and island communities. We need transformational change and plans that outline how we can guarantee that there is a viable future for small farms and fishing communities in Ireland, especially family farms and small family fishing communities.

  Regrettably, the Environmental Pillar's recent withdrawal from the 2030 agrifood strategy committee reveals that the Government remains committed to a business-as-usual approach. The pillar highlighted that vested interests were prioritised from the establishment of the committee rather than the development of agricultural policy that could cut pollution and emissions while ensuring a just transition for farmers. The palpable frustration at the recently announced results-based environment-agri pilot project, REAP, is another example of the Government blatantly failing to provide the necessary change in the sector. Constantly clinging to increased efficiencies as a response was never good enough and, at a crucial point like this when we need timely transformative change, is disgraceful.

  Most people agree that the Green Party has good intentions, and I commend it on introducing this Bill, but what we need to know is how, if at all, those intentions will be realised. Where exactly will emissions be reduced? When and how will that happen? Crucially, how will it happen in a fair and just way?

  We are living with the effects of climate change. Ireland is 0.5oC warmer than it was in the period 1960 to 1990, it is wetter and we are seeing more extreme weather events, which are having significant social and economic costs. We have experienced the stormiest winter in over a century and one of the wettest winters since records began. We are experiencing extreme weather events like flooding time and again in west Cork.   Farmers and fishermen can see the impacts of a changing climate. Young people have been taking to the streets demanding substantial and meaningful action. Climate scientists and legal experts have provided the frameworks and targets we need to work towards.

  This legislation needs clearer commitments and more robust definitions of "just transition" and "climate justice" and must explicitly address issues around liquefied natural gas, LNG, fracked gas and the biodiversity crisis.

  Dr. Andrew Jackson, assistant professor in environmental law at UCD, told the Joint Committee on Climate Action:

In conclusion, to stand a chance of limiting heating to 1.5°C, our emissions need to fall very deeply and very rapidly, starting immediately. We have just one shot at getting this legislation right.

We cannot throw away that shot.

Minister of State at the Department of Rural and Community Development (Deputy Joe O'Brien): Information on Joe O'Brien Zoom on Joe O'Brien Civil society, NGOs, the community and voluntary sector or however one wants to frame it - normal people coming together in an organised way around a particular cause - have been at the forefront of much positive change in Irish society down the generations. That has been the case with the causes of social justice and equality, but it has also been the case with the environmental movement and, more recently, the climate movement. People coming together and speaking with a coherent voice and in large numbers telling the powers that be that something is not good enough are a powerful force. They have got us to this point where we can progress the process of ensuring that climate action, for which they campaigned, becomes law. I met some of the organisations recently. It is a reassurance to me, the future of the planet and my children's future that they will keep pressing for faster and fairer action and implementation of current and future climate action plans. They will be there if Departments do not meet their commitments and they will help to ensure accountability for the future of the planet and the future of our children.

  It is my honour, as Minister of State with responsibility for community development and charities, to acknowledge the role of the climate movement and the various organisations that comprise it and thank them for their determination and persistence. The movement and the people in it are the last people who need to hear that the Bill is only a first step and the majority of the work is still ahead of us, but the Bill is an important first step. I thank the movement for pressing for more. Please continue to do so for all our sake and the planet's.

  As the Minister of State with responsibility for community development and charities, I have responsibility for the five-year strategy to support the community and voluntary sector. The strategy, Sustainable, Inclusive and Empowered Communities, contains 11 core objectives, one of which is to support community development and local development in engaging with climate change, adaptation and mitigation strategies. More specifically, it commits to:

- provide training and capacity building in relation to Climate Change to community development and local development organisations,

- pilot and develop models of good practice on Climate Change adaptation and mitigation at community level, and

- include a focus on Climate Change in all community development and local development programmes and initiatives.

Under the strategy, priority commitments for 2021 are the training needs of the sector. We commenced a needs analysis process recently, starting with local community development committees, LCDCs. LCDCs are key in terms of climate action. They are the mechanism that links local reality with national policy.

  I received support for our public participation networks, PPNs, nationally. They are a major asset in terms of building a ground-up, grassroots force to help enact climate action in a fair way that ensures those who are marginalised are not left behind. There are 16,000 PPN member organisations across the country working in the areas of social inclusion, the community and voluntary sector and the environment. PPNs allow member organisations to connect with one another and their local authorities, but they also ensure that normal people have a greater say in local decisions that affect their communities. This is key to climate action. PPNs are already contributing to climate policy by taking part in focus group consultations on the Climate Action Plan, which commenced last month. These consultations were held in the local authority areas of Offaly, Meath, Monaghan, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown, Galway, Clare, Wicklow, Donegal, Carlow, Kilkenny, Fingal, Limerick, Kildare, Sligo and Kerry. Through these focus groups, volunteers are bringing a local perspective into the national conversation, a perspective that will help us as a nation to address climate change and its impact on our daily lives.

  A review of how to improve the operation of PPNs will begin soon.

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