Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Bill 2015: Second Stage
I welcome the Minister of State to the House. We are all aware that climate change poses a serious threat to this island nation across a broad remit of areas ranging from agricultural infrastructure to massive coastal erosion. This Bill does not confront the scale of that threat. It is time the Government got serious about climate change and started to take real action to protect Ireland’s long-term interests in global responsibility.
The Government’s climate Bill continues to lack real teeth and has no clear targets. The input from the exhaustive hearings of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht and its subsequent consensus recommendations in effect have been ignored by the Government, contrary to what the Minister of State has said. The Bill is a regressive move that steps back from the ambitious framework of targets up to 2050 contained in previous legislation such as the all-party 2010 Bill and the Labour Party 2009 Bill. This Bill delays action on climate change for a further two years, which means the Government is kicking the can down the road on this issue.
The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Kelly, is following hard on his predecessor’s footsteps, the former Minister and now Commissioner Phil Hogan, in his failure to include a strategic target for 2050, and this exposes the failure to rise to the pressing challenge of climate change. To remove responsibility for the targets and instead leave it to the EU is an abrogation of duty. Environmental groups have roundly criticised the heads of the Bill for the lack of vision contained in them. The Bill in no way sets out a meaningful strategic framework to address climate change. It does not, for example, include the Government’s own definition of low carbon, guarantee the independence of the climate change advisory council nor provide for the principle of climate justice.
The failure to include specific 2050 targets will give rise to the potential of sectoral interests hijacking the process and depriving the Bill of its long-term impact in shaping policy formation. Attaching targets to EU and international agreements alone is a cop-out. This was previously the Labour Party’s position before it performed a U-turn on the issue upon coming into Government. The Bill is in effect toothless.
An expert advisory council is a welcome idea, but it must be given real resources and clear powers if it is to have any real impact on climate change policy. The council proposed in this Bill lacks any real independence. The Oireachtas must debate the advice and reports of the council and, unlike in the current Bill, the Government must consult the body when developing a carbon strategy.
Fianna Fáil is committed to an ambitious environmental programme which includes tackling climate change. We published the Climate Change Response Bill 2010 on 23 December 2010, which was on Second Stage in the Seanad when the Dáil was dissolved. Ireland should be consistent with EU targets and we have consistently supported the international process under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.
A major change in our approach to climate change policy is a new national priority on carbon transition. While they are important indicators of progress, we must also have a longer-term and wider vision for creating a prosperous, sustainable Ireland. We support the broad thrust of the findings and recommendations of the NESC report entitled the Five Guiding Principles for Climate Action. These are economic prosperity, recovery and social development; incremental and permanent decarbonisation; responsibility, integrity and leadership; reform of public institutions and governance; and social engagement.
In terms of the impact of climate change, the fifth International Panel on Climate Change report revealed the massive scale of the challenge facing the world in respect of climate change. It is a serious wake-up call in terms of the need for us to recognise the overwhelming scientific evidence and impact that climate change will have. It must give fresh impetus to the need for an international climate change framework to be agreed in Paris by the end of 2015 following the failure of the Copenhagen talks. The EU, and within that framework the Irish Government, must take the lead in these matters. Every country must do its bit. To date, the Government has delayed on the issue and has now produced a toothless Bill which can do little to deal with the central issues involved.
The seminal and comprehensive 2006 UK Stern report points out the massive threats that climate change represents and the pressing need for decisive action. It highlighted that all countries will be affected by climate change, but the poorest countries will suffer earliest and most; average temperatures could rise by 5° Celsius from pre-industrial levels if climate change goes unchecked; a warming of between 3° and 4° Celsius will result in many millions more people being flooded and by the middle of the century as many as 200 million people may be permanently displaced due to rising sea levels, heavier floods and drought; a warming of 4° Celsius or more is likely to affect global food production seriously; a warming of 2° Celsius could leave between 15% and 40% of species facing extinction; and before the Industrial Revolution the level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere was 280 parts per million and the current level is 430 parts per million but the level should be limited to between 450 to 550 parts per mission of CO2. Anything higher would substantially increase risks of very harmful impacts and anything lower would impose very high adjustment costs in the near term and might not even be feasible.
Climate change is the greatest and widest ranging market failure ever seen. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reiterated the thrust of the Stern report when it issued its damming fifth report which declared that the evidence of a global warming trend is unequivocal and that human activity has very likely been the driving force in that change. The fifth report built on the previous publications and I highlighted the deepening impact of climate change. It is crunch time in terms of climate change. Former President Mary Robinson, as a leader in the world, has highlighted the serious challenges facing us. I am pessimistic about the state of our planet unless we do something dramatic.
Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Bill 2015: Committee Stage (Resumed)
Thursday, 5 November 2015
It gives me great pleasure to support Senator Barrett’s points. I will be hosting a public meeting on climate change – under the title “Climate Change Crunch Time” – next week in the Goat Bar & Grill in Dundrum. The implications of climate change and the warming of the atmosphere, in addition to the potential trouble we are walking into, are only beginning to dawn on people. We are about to face what is possibly the biggest calamity this planet has faced. I agree with Senator Barrett that there should be more consultation and political connection. In fact, work should be done by local authority areas, or local electoral areas, to get the councillors and people involved to discuss the issue and drive home the agenda. I am very privileged to be associated with Professor John Sweeney, who is one of the foremost authorities on climate change in Ireland. He has been a professor in NUI Maynooth for 30 years and was rapporteur for the Oireachtas committee in the review of the heads of the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Bill. More importantly, he contributed to the reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007. I agree with Senator Barrett’s view that everyone in the country has to be involved on this issue because of its social and economic implications for everyone.