This Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Bill 202 is perhaps the most far-reaching piece of legislation to come before the current Dáil.
My colleagues and I, in the Rural Independent Group, are fully committed to improving the environment and reducing global greenhouse gas emissions.
However, we believe that in pursuing these noble objectives, it should not have the impact of making all Irish people poorer. There is a better and fairer way. Our alternative proposals will be set out within the amendments we have tabled to the Bill. They are solution driven, socially just, and grounded in economic equality, while aiming to achieve global reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.
Incredibly, the government proposals make no provision for social justice, despite their introduction of legally binding emissions to be passed into law for a four-decade time window.
Equally, the government plan includes net zero reduction targets, five-yearly carbon budgets, sectoral emissions ceilings, an annually updated Climate Action Plan, and a long-term Climate Action Strategy, with little or no actual democratic accountability.
The expansion of the Climate Change Advisory Council, under the Bill, will result in that thirteen member committee having much more input than ordinary citizens and even democratically elected TDs, as they are given a key assessing and advisory role for Ireland’s transition to a zero carbon economy by 2050.
Concurrently, we believe that this Bill is being rushed through the Dail, while the country is amid a pandemic, without any consideration for the impact it will have on ordinary people, farmers, or rural Ireland.
Over recent years, rural Ireland has been hit disproportionally by increased carbon taxation measures. Now, this legislation will have the impact of turning rural Ireland into the victim of environmental policy. At the very minimum, such legislative proposals should be accompanied by rigorous independent analysis into the social, societal, and economic impact of such proposals and how they will impact the public and each sector.
Such research allows for transparency and more informed decision making. This legislation will make every single Irish citizen poorer – full stop. Our rationale for not supporting this Bill is based primarily on the following five factors:
1. This Bill will do absolutely nothing to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions.
This legislation will hammer Ireland’s economy, cost thousands of jobs both directly and indirectly, and impoverish people further. Above all else, this Bill is anti-rural, attacks the poor and will do absolutely nothing to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions.
The government’s actions and messages on climate change are riddled with hypocrisy.
Ireland, through this Bill, is introducing potentially the most severe and utterly unachievable emission targets anywhere on the planet, even though it produces only 0.10 per cent or a tenth of 1 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. If we were serious about reducing the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, then we would be focusing our efforts outward.
Instead, the inward focus of this Bill will target Irish people and do nothing to reduce global emissions.
This legislation is more about keeping the Greens happy and holding onto power than about tackling global emissions. Greenhouse gas emissions are a global issue. The government approach is tokenism and amounts to penalties on Irish people – while turning a blind eye to what happens on a global stage.
A 2018 Greenpeace report confirms that one small power plant in China produces far more than all the greenhouse gas emissions produced in Ireland in any year. In fact, the same Greenpeace report states that the top three firms in China emitted more greenhouse gases than the whole of Ireland in the last decade.
We also know that China is one of the world’s fastest growing economies and that with it, the county’s emissions are growing rapidly.
With China planning to build more power plants this year, and for each single plant they build, even a small one, it will produce at least the same level of greenhouse gases as Ireland does in any given year. This serves to underline the fact that this issue must be dealt with on a global scale.
The Irish government’s flawed approach aims to hammer the Irish public, through a raft of carbon-related taxation measures and net reduction targets, while on the other hand, continuing to do business with China and turning a blind eye to their emissions’ problems.
For example, while claiming to be the best in class and banning the cutting of turf under this Bill, the government continues to support electricity generation at the Moneypoint Power Plant in Co. Clare, via the importation of coal from an open-cast mine in Columbia.
It is easy for middle-class Green activists in Dublin to propose the end of farming as we know it, or campaign against economic growth, when the devastating consequences of both would be felt by others.
2. The Bill is anti-agriculture
Data suggests that globally, agriculture accounts for 16 per cent of all greenhouse gas emissions. In Ireland, the EPA data indicates that Irish agriculture accounts for 34 per cent of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions.
The government’s Bill makes no special derogation or exemption for the agriculture sector. This means, despite the government spin and sound bites, will see Irish agriculture forced to pay a much higher and disproportionate cost than farmers in other countries.
The fact that this Bill makes no special provision for the Agricultural sector is utterly outrageous. It will mean that the unelected Climate Advisory Council, who have already proposed a cattle cull of around half the national herd, and the Minister for the Environment will set the targets for the sector. Those targets, if they reach fruition, will be profound.
Many Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil TDs promised they would make a special exemption for the Agri-food sector before the last general election. Now, those same TDs are saying locally that agriculture will be okay, using the “old nod and wink” politics of the past to extend their message. However, when those same TDs attended the Dail, they voted in favour of this Bill in its current form at second stage, despite its deeply impactful measures.
Detailed analysis, published by the Irish Farmers Journal on the 27th March this year, suggests that half the cattle and cow herd would need to be culled by 2030. This extreme measure would mean a cull of around 3.4 million cattle and cows. It would have the impact of a farmer with 100 cows having to cull over half, thus retaining a herd size of approximately 50 in 2030. It would also mean even deeper cattle culls after 2030.
This Bill certainly means an end to growing herd sizes and is completely contradictory to the objectives outlined in the government’s own FoodWise 2025 strategy, and the previous advice given to the dairy sector by successive governments about growing cow numbers.
This Bill represents a blunt and callous approach and risks offshoring our food production to countries who do not have any emissions’ targets. The government also fails to recognise that Irish farmers are the most carbon efficient food producers in the world, due to our grass-based model of food production. It is important that this sustainable production is not restricted, as it would lead to increased international climate emissions being created, through the importation of additional food.
Research published by Oxford University shows that “Food Miles,” or the transportation of food between countries and continents, can have a much greater impact on greenhouse gas emissions than locally produced food. Yet, the government choose to conveniently ignore such research, as it does not comply with the fanatical narrative of the Green Party agenda.
3. The Bill is completely anti-rural Ireland on several crucial fronts
This Bill, if enacted, will bring about an end to rural housing as it provides for instructing local authorities to revise development plans, to take account of the wide impacts of this legislation – which will mean ending rural housing and moving rural people into towns.
We know that the Green Party have been trying to achieve this for years. Now, with the full support of Fianna Fail and Fine Gael, they are using this Bill to terminate rural one-off housing.
This will have a range of knock-on implications for the value of land in rural areas, as the option of obtaining planning permission on rural land – will have all but disappeared – when this Bill comes in. It will also add to rural depopulation and devastate many communities.
4. The legislation is not socially just
This Bill, in tandem with the carbon taxes, represents a blatant attack on the poor. This is despite the United Nations stating that the world’s wealthiest 1 per cent produces double the combined carbon emissions of the poorest 50 per cent.
The carbon pricing or taxation model, originally introduced in Ireland in 2010 when Fianna Fáil and the Greens were last in government, is penalising the poorest hardest, despite any financial offsetting.
This year, the carbon tax per tonne, being taxed by the Irish government, is one of the highest in the world at €33.50. The government plans to take in €430 million under that tax measure in 2021, which equates to almost €90 per person (man, woman, and child).
However, it gets much worse, as the government intends to collect at least €9.5 billion under this tax measure, up to and including 2030, based on their own projections. That equates to around €2,000 per person, based on today’s consumption and population numbers.
In 2030, the average person will pay €245 annually in carbon taxation. In addition to that, ordinary people will also pay more for food, electricity, and other consumer goods, due to the combination of the carbon tax itself and the measures contained in this Bill.
Simply put, this Bill lacks any scrutiny around the fairness of requiring colossal efforts from future generations, and its crafty design deflects judgment, meaning it is essentially impossible to judge fairly.
5. The Bill will significantly increase energy prices
This year, every home will pay on average €88.80 in a Public Service Obligation electricity levy. This will give the government around €480 million, according to the Commission for Regulation of Utilities, which represents an increased charge of over 160 per cent since the Green Party and Fianna Fail resumed power last year.
Almost all this money goes towards the production of renewable energy. This year, global corporations, such as Amazon, Google, and Microsoft who already pay zero or little tax here, will all benefit from this €480 million pot.
It will also see huge windfarm investment firms benefit. These companies are given this money, in addition to being facilitated with offsetting emissions by their data centres. It represents a double win for these companies, who are benefiting unhindered from the government’s climate change approach.
This action benefits rich corporations. Additionally, these companies, under this legislation, will be allowed to continue building more and more data centres, while facing no emission reduction targets, as they are given the state funded offsetting route. Again, this illustrates that the government policy approach on climate change creates winners and losers.
This illustrates the deep unfairness at the heart of the government approach because the richest companies in the world are given all the privileges, while ordinary citizens are hammered.
The double financial win for these data centres is further enhanced via a raft of special tax treatment loopholes, and the fact that they will have significant control of Ireland’s renewable electricity supply by 2030. This will mean higher electricity prices.
Many international climate change economists are now warning that this will quadruple electricity prices for ordinary households. Again, the government conveniently chooses to ignore such warnings.
We firmly believe that climate strategy deserves an outward-looking policy response. The emergence of new technology should be embraced to reduce emissions, rather than simply using the blunt and unimaginative instrument of targeting and destroying specific sectors.
One example of this strategy could be using seaweed or kelp. New research by the University of Santa Barbara in California has found that farming seaweed, in just 3.8 per cent of federal waters off the Californian coast, could offset all the carbon emissions from the state’s $50bn (€42bn) agriculture industry.
The study concluded that 48 million sq. km of the world’s oceans are suitable for seaweed cultivation – an area about six times the size of Australia. The research describes seaweed as an untapped potential solution to offsetting all the global greenhouse gas emissions created by agriculture.
Unfortunately, the government approach has failed to take these new and innovative scientific discoveries on board. This Bill undermines democracy and does absolutely nothing to reduce this planet’s global greenhouse gas emissions.
We will be tabling amendments to this Bill at committee stage, aimed at protecting the family farm, supporting farmers, and protecting families against the financial hardships attached to this Bill.
Additionally, we are pushing the government to implement practical steps to get their own house in order first, before imposing hard-hitting and painful hypocritical policies on the public.
How can a government that allows untreated raw sewerage to flow into rivers, lakes, and the ocean, have any credibility when it comes to improving the environment and fighting climate change?
Mattie Mc Grath TD, leader of the Rural Independent Group