We need to negotiate the Climate Change emission targets in order to preserve our agriculture sector

I and my party are not contesting the science or reality of global warming and the need to address it. There is all-party agreement in that sense. I acknowledge the bona fides of the Minister of State in that sphere; there is no contest in that regard. There is also no contest of the fact that we should be a moral authority in Europe on this issue. As a small nation, we have a tradition since independence, especially in the peacekeeping area, of presenting the moral argument on an international platform. Let us continue to do that. Let us continue to be leaders in the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and to be the conscience of Europe in that regard. I am privileged to be on the Council of Europe and to be a member of its committee on the environment. I speak regularly on the issue and advocate a very strong European policy. There is no issue in that context either.

We are saying there is no need to go outside the current EU guideline of 20% as it might be foolhardy and tie our hands unnecessarily. I say that not from a flat earth or negative position or from a nihilistic effort to mess up what the Minister of State is doing, but from a sensible, realistic perspective. The 20% European guideline should be the realistic target rather than the 26% guideline implicit in the Bill as established by the excellent documentation from the Oireachtas Library and Research Service.
It is worth noting that there were no specific agreements at Copenhagen and Cancun on emission levels and targets to be reached.

We advocate that there should be, and I advocated that at the Council of Europe. The Council of Europe committee was pushing for agreement but there has been none. The process has moved to Durban where there might yet be legal agreement.
I am not sure we should be too far ahead of the posse on this issue. While we should lead, we should not do so by tying our hands behind our backs and creating unrealistic situations. To a degree, this might yet prove to be an Irish solution to an Irish problem. To reach the required targets proposed in the legislation we will, at a minimum, depend on huge imports of energy from abroad generated by nuclear power, or we might require our own nuclear power station to achieve them. I am sure the Green Party would shudder at the thought of nuclear power, yet under this legislation we might well develop great reliance on it. That is how the UK is doing it and why it has lower targets. I invite the Minister of State to conduct a little existential or personal reflection on that before proceeding.

We accept the finite nature of fossil fuels. We also accept that the cost of oil is increasing by the hour and the day. We are very conscious of that. Hence, Fine Gael produced the NewERA strategy which proposes developing a reliance on green wind and wave energy. We also believe there must be a national insulation strategy and a conservation strategy. That demonstrates our good faith.

I again say to the Minister of State that the EU target of 20% would be a sensible starting point until we get the other bricks in order.

This is not party political. I accept the Minister of State’s point that this is about the very survival of our humanity and our ecosystem. As such, it is not a civil war party political issue in any sense. Senator Coffey’s fundamental point is that it should be the subject of all-party consensus and that our strategy should evolve from the all-party committee. This would represent a reform of the House. There is no better vehicle for Dáil reform than to make it decide on this and make it evolve a strategy. The all-party committee is the best option. It is a pity that for party political reasons, this is happening now with that process. It might be better for the Minister of State to come in here and say that he has aspirations but that they must be subject to consensus among all the parties. That could resonate better with the public, which is much more discerning than we might believe in this ivory tower.
Teagasc states that to achieve the objectives of this Bill, there would have to be a 40% reduction in the national herd. That is in conflict with the Food Harvest 2020 proposals. They are not compatible and we cannot avoid that fact. It will involve a massive reduction in agricultural production. It is accepted that agriculture and tourism are the two vehicles that will bring about economic recovery. There is a €600 million implication according to figures by Teagasc, the IFA and the ICMSA. The independence of Teagasc in this area is accepted, as are the bona fides of the two farming organisations. They are there to represent their sector in a positive way, and they have to worry about the survival of the planet as well. There is a €600 million implication in a 40% reduction in the national herd.
The IFA has stated that carbon offsets should be agreed for bio-energy production. We had many great debates on bio-energy in this House over the last few months, for some of which the Minister of State was present. Senator Bradford and I put forward a number of good amendments in this sector. Bio-energy should be used for grass production and forestry. If we displace Irish agriculture as an exporter of food, the people in the UK and Europe will be fed by food from third countries where the carbon footprint will be much greater due to the journey taken by the food and due to the method of its production. In other words, we will achieve nothing. We have the best environmental conditions in the world for producing our Irish food. If the Government displaces that and brings in food from outside, it will create a greater carbon footprint and will defeat its objective. That cannot be avoided in this debate.

We all hope and aspire that agreement is reached and that the legal targets are established at Durban. If this legislation is passed in its present form, we could tie our hands as burden-sharing is arrived at after Durban. We pray that we will return with the targets for Europe arising from Durban. My anecdotal evidence supports this possibility but there will be a burden-sharing issue. What proportion will Ireland take? Having committed ourselves to such high targets already, we will have left ourselves little elbow room in negotiations. It is not that we would try to undo the good work but we need negotiations to preserve our business, agricultural and tourism sectors. Therein lies the difficulty: we may be giving a hostage to fortune. I caution the Minister of State and call on him to reflect on the matter – another piece of reflection for the Minister of State.

Senator Joe O'Reilly representing Cavan & Monaghan 2010. | An ExSite website