29. Deputy Gino Kenny asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment if he will be attending the Bonn COP conference in November 2017; if he will be able to give a commitment that the State will meet its obligations under the Paris treaty; and if he will make a statement on the matter. (Question 41844/17 asked on 04 Oct 2017)

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Speaking of Ardnacrusha, that was a moment when the State made a radical decision which worked to build a hydro-electric energy station.

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Will the Minister be attending the Bonn climate conference and will he have to admit there that on the critical question of climate change, the Government is failing to take the kind of radical action necessary to avoid massive fines for the State’s failure to meet emission targets, and to take seriously the move to transition to a low carbon economy that will protect our environment and help to protect the entire planet? Does he agree that we are failing disastrously in this regard? We are nowhere close to meeting our targets.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Deputy has two minutes to answer.

Deputy Denis Naughten: We will be here for a while if we propose to take Questions Nos. 30, 33, 48 and 65 together.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Which questions is the Minister answering?

Deputy Denis Naughten: I apologise, I am one question ahead of myself.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: We are on Question No. 29, which stands alone.

(Deputy Denis Naughten): The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, UNFCCC, will hold its 23rd Conference of the Parties, COP 23, in Bonn, Germany, from 6 to 17 November 2017. This meeting will be the second since the adoption of the Paris Agreement in December 2015, with negotiations since then focusing on developing the rule book necessary to give full effect to the Paris Agreement. I expect to attend the high level segment of the conference and my Department will lead Ireland’s delegation for the full conference. The Paris Agreement sets out a long-term goal to put the world on track to limit global warming to well below 2° Centigrade above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5° Centigrade. Additionally, the agreement aims to strengthen the ability of countries to deal with the impacts of climate change through resilience and adaptation, and to make finance flows consistent with a pathway towards low greenhouse gas emissions and climate-resilient development.

Ireland will contribute to meeting the objectives of the Paris Agreement via the commitment tabled by the EU on behalf of its Member States in 2015. This commits to a reduction of at least 40% in EU-wide emissions by 2030 compared with 1990 levels, which will be met through reductions of 43% in the EU Emissions Trading System, ETS, and 30% in the non-ETS sector compared with 2005 levels. The specific details of Ireland’s contribution, as well as the contributions to be made by other member states, are currently being negotiated at EU level.

The parties to the UNFCCC are committed to finalising, in 2018, the structures through which the Paris Agreement will drive adaptation, mitigation, transparency and capacity-building action. The agreement also provides for a facilitative dialogue, scheduled for 2018, which will assess the adequacy of global efforts to date to meet the agreement’s objectives. This will, in turn, lay the foundations for a global stocktake process which will drive, on a five year basis beginning in 2023, continual progress and increased ambition by all parties towards the achievement of the goals of the agreement.

The ambition of Ireland for the forthcoming COP meeting, together with our European Union partners, is to ensure that sufficient progress is made, across the full range of issues, to ensure that COP 24 in 2018 is in a position to formally adopt the key elements of the Paris Agreement rule book.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

This will, among other things, provide that the Global Stocktake process  will be able to commence and operate effectively towards meeting the overall objectives of the agreement.   In addition, I expect that this COP will provide additional clarity on how the facilitative dialogue process will operate, as well as on the role of non-State actors in implementing the Paris Agreement through the Global Climate Action Agenda.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: The Minister has not answered the question in so far as it applies to Ireland and this State’s ability to meet its targets, to take climate change seriously and do something about it. Does the Minister accept that we are failing disastrously? Carbon emissions are increasing. They have increased from 56 million tonnes of carbon during the 1990s to almost 60 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent now, so it is worsening. The EPA says Ireland faces significant fines and that we are nowhere near meeting our targets. We can forget about the 20% target, as it says we would be lucky to get as much as a 4%, 5% or 6% reduction in emissions. Friends of the Earth says that we are denial.

It is clear what is happening. I raised the matter of forestry recently. We are pathetically underperforming in our afforestation programme. We are nowhere close to targets we had in the past. Our public transport is very expensive. We have some of the lowest levels of subsidy in Europe and there has been no serious reduction in car use because we are not doing anything to significantly reduce the cost of public transport and improve its quality. We are still awarding licences for gas and oil exploration. The renewable energy scheme appears focused on big corporations and is not available to small businesses and communities. Is it not the case that we are failing?

Deputy Denis Naughten: I agree with the Deputy that we are coming from a very difficult position. Over the previous decade, the money was not available to make the investments that were needed. The targets that were set for 2020 did not accurately reflect from where we were coming. Nevertheless, my focus is on ensuring we can not only achieve our 2030 targets but exceed them. Undoubtedly, we face a very challenging road ahead in this regard. We are making significant progress in some areas. For example, we are a global leader in the development of ocean energy technology. We are also the global leader in variable renewable energy, such as wind on the grid, where we can take a 60% loading on an isolated grid, which is something that no other country in the world has done to date. We have genotyped 1 million cattle, which will have a direct impact in beef production. We are making progress. It is not as quick as it should be and it is correct that it will have to be increased significantly from here on.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: The Minister mentioned a number of things. Take the area of forestry. We are all aware of the carbon sink but I am not aware of any attempt to ramp that up. There has been talk about it but nothing has been done. There will be no increase in the current levels of investment or changes in policy. Why is it that we do not slash public transport fares? If we want to get people out of cars, we should slash fares. They are very expensive. Where is a big insulation programme being rolled out, one that is easy and affordable for people to reduce their energy use? Why are all the R&D tax credits going to multinational corporations instead of into universities to develop sustainable renewable energy sources?

Deputy Denis Naughten: The Government has renewed focus in this area. We had a full day discussion on the area of climate and related aspects and that will be reflected in the budget next week. We will roll out the renewable heat incentive scheme later this year which will have an impact not only in stimulating biomass but also making the forestry crop far more valuable. I met Coilte yesterday in regard to mobilising forestry and timber production. Things are happening in the area. I understand the Deputy’s frustration, and I equally share that frustration and the belief that things need to move and must move faster. It will take not merely a whole of Government approach but a whole of society approach. That is why the national dialogue on climate change is so vitally important to engage communities across the country. I met a group of young people from Ballinasloe last week who were talking about climate refugees. Each second, nine people are moving from their homes because of climate. That starts here in Ireland. We have it in the Shannon Callows where families who have been there for generations have had to move. It is happening in our own communities and we must motivate them.