Energy Security and Climate Change Bill 2013

Go raibh maith agat a Ceann Comhairle

I am speaking in place of my colleague the Fianna Fáil Spokesperson on the Environment Deputy Barry Cowen who is unable to attend to this bill due to a family bereavement.

Climate change is one of the gravest challenges of our time, a challenge that will define the legacy we leave to future generations.

In the continuing absence of even the Heads of a long promised bill by the government I would like to take this opportunity to commend Deputy Murphy for taking the initiative in publishing a detailed bill that draws on the work and legacy of the Climate Bill that was published by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security as well as the Labour Party’s proposed legislation in the area while they were on these benches. That bill had the backing of all the members of that committee including Ministers Phil Hogan and Simon Coveney while they sat on the opposition benches.

However the current prevarication of the Government on the issue despite the existence of an all party supported bill does not bode well for the vigorous pursuit of a climate change policy. Labour’s enthusiasm for the project has been strangely sapped by their time in power.

The de-prioritisation of the bill in 2011,

The Broken promises of a bill in 2012

The continued failure to publish even the heads of a bill,

all indicate a dangerous level of complacency.

That inaction demonstrates clearly that this government does not take Climate Change seriously.

This bill hits all the right notes in drawing up a feasible climate change strategy. Clear targets defined by a set timeframe and interim measures, a climate change commission, regular reports by the government to ensure accountability and transparency will all combine to create a long term framework for Ireland to meet the pressing challenges of our responsibilities to a planet in turmoil and to the future generations that will inherit it.

The impact of the recession has touched upon the lives of all of our citizens. The blight of high unemployment, tragedy of spiralling emigration and burden of mortgage arrears have rightly caused us to concentrate our minds on the immediate problems we face.

However as Prime Minister Cameron put it earlier this week, for those who say we cannot afford to deal with climate change the simple truth is

– we cannot afford not to.

The consequences of failing to deal with the problem are far too wide-reaching and profound to adapt a short-termist ostrich approach of burying our heads in the sand.

It is worth reflecting upon the immense challenges that we face from the unprecedented man made changes we are enduring.

The pressing global challenge of climate change is the backdrop to our efforts to encourage environmentally friendly driving. The seminal, comprehensive 2006 UK Stern Report points out the massive threats that climate change represents and what action we need to take to rise to those challenges. These are lessons that we all need to reflect upon and accept.

1. All countries will be affected by climate change, but the poorest countries will suffer earliest and most.

2. Average temperatures could rise by 5C from pre-industrial levels if climate change goes unchecked.

3. Warming of 3 or 4C will result in many millions more people being flooded. By the middle of the century 200 million people may be permanently displaced due to rising sea levels, heavier floods and drought.

4. Warming of 4C or more is likely to seriously affect global food production.

5. Warming of 2C could leave 15-40% species facing extinction.

6. Before the industrial revolution the level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere was 280 parts per million (ppm) CO2 equivalent (CO2e); the current level is 430ppm CO2e. The level should be limited to 450-550ppm CO2.

7. Anything higher would substantially increase risks of very harmful impacts. Anything lower would impose very high adjustment costs in the near term and might not even be feasible.

8. Climate change is the greatest and widest-ranging market failure ever seen.

The few years since that report have borne out its findings and fears. The pan – generational geo-biological threats of climate change is evident in the deteriorating and erratic weather conditions we have witnessed across the globe over the past number of years.

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change re-iterated the thrust of the Stern report when it issued its fourth report.  It 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 due over the coming 12 months will further chart the deep impact of climate change.

Yet despite this dramatic, arresting burden of proof the government continues to hesitate.

The government is not starting from scratch in shaping a climate change strategy. It has inherited a bill from the previous Oireachtas and a base of target through international agreements. The previous government had undertaken the spade work and was ready to publish a bill before the last general election.  Very substantial work had been undertaken by all Departments on that proposed legislation.

Under the Kyoto Protocol, Ireland agreed to limit greenhouse gas emissions to a level 13% above the level of our emissions in 1990. The EU Climate Change and Energy Package has set out a number of targets that ensure Ireland has the highest level of target set under the EU burden sharing arrangements. By 2020, our target is to reduce our national greenhouse gas emissions by 20%, compared to 2005 levels. Ireland has also agreed that, again, by 2020, 16% of our overall energy consumption will come from renewable sources.

Against this backdrop the government has plenty to work with. It is their reluctance to tackle the issue that is preventing action and nothing else.

I would like to say a few words about the role of the agricultural sector which produces some 28% of our greenhouse gases and is in a particularly sensitive position with regard to a climate strategy and set targets for emission reduction.

In my previous role as Minister for Agriculture in July 2010 we set out an ambitious plan for the agri-food sector. Food Harvest 2020 set an ambitious but achievable series of specific targets to drive on employment in the agricultural area and to increase our food and beverage exports on an annual basis.  As it stands the Agri-food sector in Ireland contributes a value of €24 billion to the national economy, generates 6.3% of gross value added and provides over 7.4% of national employment. Agriculture provides 60% of employment within the Agri-food sector which supports over 300,000 jobs across the country. In short, agriculture is the engine of the rural economy.

The context of the complex difficulties confronting the agriculture sector is simply the need to produce more food to feed more people.

Global demand for food will increase, by 70%, to meet the demands of a rapidly expanding world population that is projected to increase by 2.1 billion people, from 7 billion today, to 9.1 billion by 2050.  To give some sense of the scale of the task this presents, that increase  is equal to, what was the entire population of the world in 1950. Adding to the rising demand for food from the increased population is the ongoing task of addressing endemic hunger amongst vast swathes of the world’s population. The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United nations estimate that, every day, over one billion people across the globe, or one person in seven, do not have enough food to eat. According to the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report the increase in demand for food will result in an increase in agricultural emissions worldwide estimated to be of the order of 48% up to 2030.

The pressing question is how we can avoid a Malthusian nightmare while meeting our increased food production requirements.

Achieving sweeping reductions in national emissions by 80 to 95% while simultaneously maintaining a vibrant productive agriculture sector will be a major challenge.

The fact is that in the Irish agriculture sector, emissions reductions of such a scale cannot be achieved without downward pressure on livestock activity, which would, in turn, have negative implication for the world food supply and on worldwide GHG emissions.

If we are pursuing the goal of reducing emissions we cannot taker a short sighted national approach that ignores the broader international situation. Focusing only on our own national issues and ignoring the consequences of our decision in terms of the international context will only lead to increased emissions across the globe and defeat the propose of the whole endeavour.

The end result of eroding our own national herd would be a growth in beef imported into the EU, which would be produced in countries with less sustainable farming systems than ours. A decrease in the quantity of Irish produced beef and the correlating rise in its price would inevitably lead to larger quantities of Mercursor country beef products being imported at cheaper prices but with far greater environmental costs.

It does not make sense to reduce beef production in Ireland that adheres to cross compliance and greening targets under the CAP in order to import greater quantities of beef from unsustainable practises in other continents and ship them half way across the world to reach our market.

This does not mean abandoning any hope of greater carbon efficiencies amongst the agricultural sector.  Progress has been made in the farming and agri-food sector in reducing emissions through better farming techniques and improved animal husbandry.  The very substantial level of investment in innovation, research and development in farming and in the agri-food sector in the period 2000-2011 has assisted very considerably in the development of new techniques and the work being done both on farm and in processing in a smarter and more environmentally friendly way.

In 2009 Ireland joined the Global Research Alliance which is committed to the mitigation of greenhouse gases in the agriculture sector. Ireland fully supported this initiative and is a founding member of the alliance. Members of the Alliance aim to deepen and broaden mitigation research efforts across the agricultural sub-sectors of paddy rice, cropping and livestock, and the cross-cutting themes of soil carbon and nitrogen cycling and inventories and measurement issues.

Groups have been set up to address these areas of work. These Groups have developed work plans that bring countries and other partners together in research collaborations, as well as to share knowledge and best practices, build capacity and capability amongst scientists and other practitioners, and move towards breakthrough solutions in addressing agricultural greenhouse gas emissions.

Aside from that enterprising work internationally there is much work being undertaken on the domestic front. The AEOS scheme which the Minister unfortunately slashed last year enhanced the environmentally friendly focus of farm life. The cross compliance and under CAP post 2013, the Greening aspect of EU agricultural supports places environmentally friendly practices at the heart of Irish farming.

Fostering research and innovation to develop new and exciting strategies to reduce emissions must be a central part of the overall strategy to tackle climate change. We must utilise human ingenuity to develop new ways and ideas to reduce the emissions of agriculture. Our climate change strategy should harness the deep potential of humans to innovate in order to address pressing problems.

It’s time we stand up to the demands of climate change, make the most of our resources, set out a clear framework to meet our targets and incentivise innovation in addressing the challenges it generates.

I welcome this bill as a step towards those goals and as a measure towards the obligations we have to the future generations who will share this planet.