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Annual Transition Statement presented by Minister Naughten to Seanad Éireann

 

 

Annual Transition Statement

Presented to Seanad Éireann by Denis Naughten T.D.

Minister for Communications Climate Action and Environment

7 December 2016

 

 

It is an honour. It is a long time since I addressed the Seanad two days in a row. I am delighted to be here again today.

 

The Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act 2015 provides that an annual transition statement must be presented to both Houses of the Oireachtas. This is the first such statement. In addition to this oral report, I have arranged for a written statement to be laid in the Oireachtas Library. The 2015 Act prescribes that the annual transition statement must include an overview of climate change mitigation and adaptation policy measures adopted to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and to adapt to the effects of climate change to enable the achievement of the objective of transitioning to a low-carbon, climate-resilient and environmentally-sustainable economy by the end of 2050. The statement must also include a record of emissions of greenhouse gases set out in the most recent inventory prepared by the Environmental Protection Agency, a projection of future greenhouse gases emissions and a report on compliance with obligations of the State under EU law or an international agreement referred to in section 2 of the 2015 Act. I will pick up on each of these areas in the course of my address.

 

There is incontrovertible evidence that global warming is threatening life on our planet. The planet is heating up and our activity is the main cause. Observations show that global average temperatures have increased by 0.85° Celsius since 1850. The atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished and sea levels have risen as the concentrations of greenhouse gases have increased.

 

We might think we are immune here in Ireland. Let us make no mistake about it: Ireland's climate is already changing too. Winters will become wetter and summers drier. We may see milder winter temperatures benefiting certain sections of the community. However, this will be offset by the potential for heat waves during summer. Rising seas will also increase the risk of coastal inundation. Storm surge events will increase in frequency. There is likely to be increased flows in our river catchments with obvious consequences for flooding. Let us think back to this day 12 months ago and the discussions we had in this House following Storm Desmond and the subsequent severe winter and serious flooding.

 

Further impacts include a heightened risk of water shortages in summer, an increased risk of new pests and diseases, poor water quality and changes in the types of plants and animals on our land and in our oceans. No one in the House requires reminding of the consequences. Let us be clear that the potential impacts for Ireland are serious and they have already partially arrived.

 

Where is Ireland now in terms of emissions? The Environmental Protection Agency has reported in its most recent inventory that emissions for 2015 are estimated to be 59.84 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent - some 3.7% higher than emissions in 2014. According to the agency, these figures indicate that Ireland will be in compliance with its 2015 annual limit, set under the EU 2009 effort sharing decision, but is on course to exceed the limit in 2016 or 2017.

 

The most recent projections were published by the agency in March 2016. They provide an updated assessment of Ireland's progress towards achieving its emission reduction targets set in the 2009 EU effort sharing decision for the years 2013-20. Ireland's 2020 target is to be achieved by a 20% reduction in non-EU-ETS sector emissions on 2005 levels with annual binding limits set for each year over the period 2013-20.

 

The March 2016 EPA projections indicate that emissions for 2020 will be in the range of 6% to 11% below 2005 levels, depending on whether additional policies or measures beyond those already in place by the end of 2014 are implemented. This shortfall reflects our constrained investment capacity over the decade between 2008 and 2019 due to the economic crisis, including the impact of the troika programme and the EU fiscal governance requirements. All of this means we will not meet our 2020 target, which may, in any case, be inappropriate in terms of cost-effectiveness.

 

I and a number of my colleagues are actively engaged at Council level to try to release the purse strings in respect of the accountancy treatment of investment in the energy efficiency area and in the climate area in general. In fact, we had a discussion on Monday at the EU Council energy meeting in which the Spanish, Portuguese, Maltese, Cypriots and ourselves were positively disposed to pushing this further, as is the European Commission. The Commission has been taking up these matters directly with EUROSTAT. We are hoping to make progress on it. At the moment we can access finance cheaply. The difficulty is that, because of fiscal rules, we are not allowed to undertake certain borrowing. I hope we can make progress on that in the short term.

 

The Programme for a Partnership Government recognises the importance of meeting the challenges Ireland is facing on climate. As the first Minister with responsibility for climate action, which incorporates responsibility for environment and energy, I steered Irish ratification of the Paris Agreement through the Dáil, which completed the process on 4 November. The Paris Agreement is the basis for doing more and for allowing communities here, in concert with countries throughout the world, to take decisive actions which will ultimately safeguard our shared future on this planet.

 

The word "global" in the term "global warming" accurately summarises the incontrovertible science underlying the threat facing our planet. It also underlines the vastness and potentially daunting, if even discouraging, challenge we face. How can any one country, especially a small country, make a difference? How can any one of us make a meaningful contribution? The task of politics is to bridge the chasm between the global challenge and national responsibility, between Ireland's obligation and the responsibility of every citizen. It may be a tired truism that we cannot change the world. However, when it comes to climate change, it is a pressing fact that the world cannot change without us.

 

Our obligations under the Paris Agreement will be undertaken through a range of climate action plans known as nationally determined contributions. These will address 95% of the world's emissions. Ireland will make a technically feasible, cost-effective and fair contribution to this global effort with the EU and member states. The EU commits overall to at least a 40% reduction in EU-wide emissions by 2030, compared to 1990 levels, based on reductions in the emissions trading system sector of 43% and the non-ETS sector of 30%.

 

In budget 2017, a significant start was made. More than €100 million will be invested in energy projects that will save over 116,000 tonnes in carbon emissions each year. These will support approximately 3,000 jobs and reduce our overall dependence on imported fossil fuels. A total of €7 million is being allocated to kick-start a new renewable heat incentive and the biofuels industry. We expect to see this developed significantly in the coming years. More energy-efficient homes mean people spend less money on energy, enjoy a more comfortable lifestyle in their homes and gain health benefits. That, in turn, will take pressure off our health services. Tomorrow morning, we will be launching one of those pilot initiatives in Tallaght with the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Zappone, and the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris. It is a warmth and well-being scheme. The idea is to carry out a deep retrofit investment in Dublin 12 and Dublin 24. We will be identifying people over the age of 55 years with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and looking at the impact of the initiative not only on the comfort of their homes and energy use, but the impact on the health service and on their quality of life as well.It will be interesting to see the returns from the research in this respect. Anecdotally, we are getting very positive feedback from the investment we have already carried out this year.

 

This is not just about investment. There is also a need to think differently in areas like waste. We have a long road ahead of us with regard to waste. We discard four fifths of everything we produce after one use. We recycle just 1g out of every 100g of valuable rare earth resources that are in products. We have to treat waste as a resource rather than as something that is just thrown away, as we have done in the past. The discussion on waste is quite topical at the moment. Waste policy must become a model for resource efficiency. We need to use less and live better. When waste is viewed from a life cycle perspective, it is estimated that greenhouse gas emissions arising from materials management activities account for over half of all emissions in developed economies. This suggests that there are significant opportunities potentially to reduce emissions through modifications and expansion of material management policies. Using fewer resources means less energy needs to be produced and fewer emissions are discharged.

 

Food is a raw material that we have in abundance in this country. Ireland generates 2 tonnes of food waste every minute of every day. The aim of the Stop Food Waste programme, which is funded under the Environmental Protection Agency, is for householders and businesses to target food waste reductions. We have a long way to go. According to statistics, Ireland is the fifth worst country in Europe from a food waste perspective. I want to see us being the best country in Europe not only in terms of quality food production but also in food efficiency. I will announce an initiative in this area shortly.

 

I know that transport emissions are of great concern. We need to find different ways of looking at the challenges we face. A far more radical way of addressing this country's unique transport challenges would be to reduce the need to travel in the first instance. The national broadband plan allows people to work from home and in their own communities, thereby removing the need for long commutes. All three bidders involved in the current tendering process under the national broadband plan propose a predominantly fibre-to-the-home network solution to connect rural Ireland. I want people to understand that this means the vast majority of consumers in rural areas will be able to access a broadband service of up to 1,000 Mbps. This will radically transform the economy of provincial towns in rural Ireland. It will take pressure off our congested roads and major urban centres. It will reduce emissions and improve air quality.

 

We are developing a new public sector energy efficiency action plan which will be in place before the end of the year, subject to Government approval. The plan will look radically at how we drive energy efficiency in the public sector. We are looking at how to incentivise individual schools, hospitals and public sector buildings throughout the country to become more energy efficient. It is easy to do that in private business where the direct savings can be seen when there is additional money in the cashflow of businesses. It is far more complex in the public sector. I look forward to making an announcement in this regard in the coming weeks. Work is also under way on the development of a renewable electricity support scheme, a renewable electricity policy and development framework, and new planning guidelines for wind farms.

 

While climate policy has been primarily focused on the issue of reducing emissions, I am also prioritising the development of a national adaptation framework to ensure we address climate resilience. Progress is being made with the first national framework and, at sectoral level, with the development of sectoral adaptation plans, including a plan for the local government sector. I know many Members of the House have a significant interest in the local authority sector. We are focusing on public sector lighting, which accounts for approximately 50% of the electricity bills of local authorities. We are working closely with the ESB on an initiative to reduce dramatically the electricity consumption of local authorities. The money that will be saved as a consequence of lower electricity bills will be reinvested in communities rather than being used to worsen our emissions record.

 

I am fully committed to addressing the challenges ahead. I intend to adopt a consultative approach as I do so. I hope to be in a position to publish shortly the first national mitigation plan, which must be finalised by next June. This will ensure everyone can contribute fully to the societal transformation process and inform the actions identified by key sectors in developing a coherent and effective plan. Under the plan, every Department will have to take steps to meet the challenges in front of us. In the coming weeks, I will publish an initial consultation on the clean air strategy for Ireland with a view to developing an ambitious plan in line with EU policy that seeks to protect the health of our citizens and fully recognises the links between energy use and the quality of the air we breathe.

 

I would like to mention one statistic in this context. Poor air quality in Ireland contributes to the deaths of four people every single day, which has a consequential impact on our health service and puts pressure on our hospital system. If significant progress is made with air quality, not only will it save lives and take pressure off our health service, it will also have short-term and long-term impacts on our environment and our climate.

 

Regarding renewable energy, I intend to begin a process of public consultation on the renewable heat incentive scheme in the next couple of weeks. I will also give details of a joint venture between two of our semi-State companies that seeks to optimise the supply and management of a sustainable biomass industry for Ireland. All of these elements will comprise a key part of Ireland's national climate dialogue which I hope to launch formally early in 2017. We need to recognise fully the seriousness of the threat that climate change represents. It is important we embrace and maximise the opportunities that the low-carbon transition will present. Young people will be central to this because they will inherit the consequences of our actions today. Our collective ambition cannot fail them. They will live in the transformed sustainable economy of the future, which will be underpinned by green growth and jobs.

 

In making this transition, we must also be mindful of today's reality. We must harness the potential of the green economy to create alternative jobs for people working in industries that will become displaced over time. For example, I am planning a transition from peat-fired electricity generation to generation supported by indigenous sustainable biomass. New jobs will replace old jobs. Our rural communities will be sustained and will prosper. It is only if we manage the change in this way that we will maintain the faith of civil society and bring people with us in addressing the threat to our planet and our country that climate change represents. I commend Ireland's first annual transition statement to the House.

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