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Speech on Climate Action Plan 2021: Statements

24 November 2021

I welcome the opportunity to join this debate today on behalf of Labour. It is timely, following the conclusion of COP26. Although many of us might have mixed feelings about what was agreed on COP26, undoubtedly some progress was made, albeit not, perhaps, as much as we would have liked. Certainly, the onus is now on countries such as our own to deliver on the climate commitments made.

I welcomed the recent publication of the Government's climate action plan which, as Members are aware, sets out 475 separate actions leading to the necessary emissions reductions that we have committed to, in other words, to halve our greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. It includes provision for extensive offshore wind power, the retrofitting of 500,000 homes and other targets, such as the putting of 1 million electric vehicles on Irish roads by 2030. These were ambitious but necessary targets which my party very much welcomed. Without sight of the detailed annexe, however, to which the Minister of State, Deputy Ossian Smith, referred and which apparently will be published shortly to support delivery of the plan, it is difficult to see how we can achieve those targets and what steps are to be taken. I am mindful of the Climate Change Advisory Council's clear recommendation that it is in the next two to three years that we need to see the necessary investment to develop the infrastructure, around, for example, offshore wind generation and electric vehicle, EV, charging that will help us deliver on those more ambitious yearly reductions targets that we have set ourselves for the latter half of this decade up to 2030.

There are huge questions as to how we can meet the targets, as to what are the steps that will be taken and whether Government is serious about meeting those targets. This is causing immense frustration among all of us affected: householders who are looking to do retrofitting, farmers who are not clear on agriculture targets and those who are still awaiting decent active and public transport infrastructure. Indeed, in my own area, in Dublin Bay South, there is huge frustration at the delays built into the BusConnects and the National Transport Authority plans. That frustration is felt across Dublin but, certainly, in Dublin Bay South, I am communicated with daily by constituents who are looking to do the right thing, who want to move to active travel and who want, if they have a car, to switch to an EV. Motorists are stymied unless they are lucky enough to have a driveway. There are many areas, such as my own in Portobello, where most households do not have driveways, where most parking is on-street parking and where there are simply not enough publicly accessible EV chargers to make it feasible or practical for many people to switch to EVs. I am frustrated by trying to ensure that we see the greater provision of EV chargers in publicly accessible areas across Dublin Bay South and I can see the frustration experienced by many who want to do the right thing but have simply not been given a clear pathway to do so through the lack of development of the infrastructure. It is difficult to see how we will meet that target in transport, for example, of putting 1 million EVs on Irish roads, or, indeed, meeting our targets of significantly fewer journeys by car, if we do not build and put in the infrastructure. I will not even start on the difficulties of getting pedestrian crossings and better facilities for cyclists and pedestrians in my area. There is frustration there.

I note, in his speech, the Minister of State talked about retrofitting. There are frustrating delays here where the Minister of State noted "the activity level to date is not sufficient for our ambition". That sums up, unfortunately, a real lack of urgency and really serious delays that have been built into our processes. We need to address those as a matter of urgency because we need to see that sort of urgent and radical response driving governments around the world when it comes to climate change. The Taoiseach himself acknowledged this in his address to COP26 when he stated that "every second of delay" makes the task to cut emissions "that bit bigger". Of course, the Taoiseach is right. The crisis is cumulative and when we wait to take action, as we all know, the problem gets worse. Unfortunately, we have seen these substantial and significant delays built in. It means then that there is a lack of clarity about how we meet those targets. As I said, we urgently need the investment in the infrastructure now.

We saw delays in the publication of the climate action plan itself and I have addressed those in previous debates in this House. It was disappointing, for example, that it was not aligned with the fiscal budget, as had been initially promised. As we know, we are well into the key decade in which we have to put in place the infrastructure to reduce our emissions by half by 2030.

In addition to putting those measures in place, we also need to see - maybe this will be in the annexe - what are the vital redistributive measures that will deliver the just transition that will bring the public with us and that will ensure that those who might be adversely affected by necessary measures will be given the necessary supports. That is what we mean by just transition.

We have seen through the pandemic the value of State intervention, public service and collective solidarity. That sense of the importance of public services and of the public sector has been reflected in recent election results where we have seen parties of the left winning in Germany, Norway and elsewhere with a growing consciousness of the need for that strong collective solidarity to also weigh in behind our response to climate change. It is through that sort of solidarity, through the empowerment of ordinary people and through effective and clear communication that we will bring society with us on meeting those targets and then we will all reap the benefits of a world in which a better society is possible, with cleaner air, warmer homes, better infrastructure and support for biodiversity.

Labour is willing to play a constructive role. Indeed, we are doing that in opposition. I put forward, as the Minister of State will be aware, the National Standards Authority of Ireland (Carbon Footprint Labelling) Bill 2021 and I was glad the Government did not oppose that. I am also putting forward a Bill on Dublin Bay to try to introduce a statutory authority for Dublin Bay to improve the governance of Dublin Bay to ensure that we do not see the sort of developments we saw this week with algae growing across the water and real concerns among sea swimmers and others who use the wonderful amenity, as I and so many of us do, that there is not any proper or adequate monitoring of water quality in Dublin Bay. It is that sort of initiative that we propose to take. We will also be introducing a right to repair Bill with measures to stop waste and to tackle the cost of living by requiring manufacturers of digital electronic equipment to make available repair information to consumers. We want to work with the Minister of State in a range of ways to ensure that we meet those ambitious but necessary climate targets and to ensure that we achieve that just transition that is also so crucial.