Official Report (Hansard)
Date: 10 June 2009
COMMITTEE FOR THE ENVIRONMENT
Inquiry into Climate Change
11 June 2009
Members present for all or part of the proceedings:
Mr Patsy McGlone (Chairperson)
Mr Cathal Boylan (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Roy Beggs
Mr Tommy Gallagher
Mr David McClarty
Mr Ian McCrea
Mr Alastair Ross
Mr Geoff Smyth ) Carbon Trust Northern Ireland
Ms Bairbre de Brún MEP
The Chairperson (Mr McGlone):
The Committee will today hear evidence from the Carbon Trust Northern Ireland and then from Bairbre de Brún MEP. The Carbon Trust’s mission is to accelerate the move to a low-carbon economy by working with organisations to reduce carbon emissions now and to develop commercial, low-carbon technologies for the future. A summary of the Carbon Trust’s submission to the inquiry can be found in Committee members’ packs, along with the specialist adviser’s comments.
I welcome Geoff Smyth, who is the manager of the Carbon Trust Northern Ireland. Thank you for appearing before the Committee today. Witnesses have 10 to 15 minutes in which to give us an overview of their position. Members have received your submission, Mr Smyth, so if you give us a synopsis of it, we will then ask questions.
Mr Geoff Smyth (Carbon Trust Northern Ireland):
Good morning, everyone. The Carbon Trust welcomes the opportunity to make a submission to this important inquiry, and we are grateful for the opportunity to meet you today. I commend the Committee for embarking on this very important undertaking.
Many distinguished organisations, institutions and individuals have described climate change as being not only the greatest environmental threat of our time but the greatest threat to global health, to economics and to issues that relate to economies around the globe. It has also been described as the greatest market failure that the world has ever seen. Therefore, we do not underestimate the challenge and importance of the inquiry to the Committee, and to the wider work of the Assembly and the Executive.
In our submission, we made a number of points, and I will highlight a few of the key ones. Set against a backdrop of increased demand for energy in Northern Ireland and, globally, against the need to rapidly reduce carbon emissions, a case can be made for having a dedicated Department for energy and climate change, or a similarly mandated Department. Energy and climate change are so fundamentally intertwined that their continued separation runs the risk of our having inefficient, suboptimal policy and delivery. Each of the 11 Departments has an important role to play in addressing climate change, but for that role to be in various silos runs the risk of their being poor delivery of what is needed. We also think that a dedicated Department would provide a close focus on the advantages and benefits of responding to climate change. Huge economic opportunities exist, and were it the responsibility of one mandated Department, we feel that that Department would deliver in the best manner.
The inquiry’s term of reference (a) seeks indications of initial commitments for Northern Ireland to play its part in achieving the UK targets. There is a plethora of targets out there, so the inquiry will certainly not be held back by a shortage of targets. There is the European Union 20-20-20 package of measures, the UK Climate Change Act 2008 and targets in the sustainable development strategy for Northern Ireland and the Programme for Government. All are quite challenging, and they will not happen under a “business as usual” scenario. They will not happen by accident but will require meticulous, intelligent planning in order to ensure that the targets are achieved in the most cost-advantageous manner to Northern Ireland plc. We have offered some suggestions as to how we might best go about meeting targets. We firmly believe that, although they are set at a UK level, the targets in the Climate Change Act 2008 should be devolved, and there should be specific Northern Ireland targets. That will keep the focus on what Northern Ireland needs to do to play its part in meeting the UK and EU targets.
It is also important for an evidence-based implementation plan to be developed and delivered. There are many targets out there, but we require implementation and delivery. That must be achieved through a credible, evidence-based and costed action plan that allows us to deliver those targets to the maximum advantage of Northern Ireland plc.
A focused, targeted carbon-reduction-awareness campaign that engages all aspects of our economy and society and that demonstrates why it is important to achieve the reduction targets is necessary. Such a campaign will deliver many advantages, including, through better energy management and efficiency, reductions in energy expenditure, and it will also stimulate and catalyse many business opportunities in the move towards a low-carbon economy.
The Northern Ireland public sector has a pivotal role to play in demonstrating leadership. Indeed, the rapid decarbonisation of that sector’s estate will stimulate jobs in construction and associated sectors, afford efficiency savings through reduced energy expenditure and help to build the capacity of local businesses to deliver those solutions. Building regulations, the investment strategy and the planning processes have an important role to play to ensure that the move to low-carbon buildings, infrastructure and solutions is co-ordinated and optimised.
The Committee’s term of reference (b) for its inquiry asks for suggested actions and a route map for each of the significant sectors. The Carbon Trust undertook a piece of work some years ago that examined the challenge of moving towards the then Government target of a 60% reduction in carbon emissions by 2050. Of course, that target has now been superseded by the 80% reduction by 2050. During the course of that work, the Carbon Trust concluded that three main developments were required. First, energy use needed to be optimised through the implementation of all energy-efficiency reduction measures. Secondly, our energy and fuel sources needed to be decarbonised through investment in renewable-energy and clean-energy technologies. Thirdly, economic growth needed to be decoupled from social activity and the consumption of high-carbon goods.
Any credible plan must immediately encourage improvements in energy efficiency, which is an action that will secure a huge prize. According to Government statistics, Northern Ireland wastes in excess of £500 million each year through inefficient energy use. Reduced energy expenditure would not only help with fuel poverty and other policy imperatives but would reduce our carbon emissions in the most cost-effective manner possible. Therefore, we need a big push in that area.
Furthermore, Northern Ireland must improve its building standards, and the newbuilds that are being constructed today should be fit for purpose over their lifetimes. The schools and hospitals that are being constructed now are still likely to be in existence in 2050, so they must be capable of delivering 80%-plus reductions in carbon emissions over that period. Furthermore, there must be support for a rapid move towards zero-carbon-emission buildings.
The Carbon Trust also feels that there should be a change in public procurement policy to promote the highest possible standards of energy efficiency. The public sector is a principal procurer of newbuilds in Northern Ireland, and it is a significant energy user in its own right, being responsible for the emission of approximately one million tons of carbon each year. If the public sector changes the way in which it procures its sources of energy, that could provide a tangible boost to the indigenous bioenergy sector, for example, which would assist our rural economy and help to provide some resilience against, and independence from, imported fossil fuels.
Improved data collection and presentation of evidence is needed. There are many ways in which to reduce carbon emissions, some of which are more cost-effective than others. There is a great deal of noise and misleading information out there, so it is important that Government supply credible, evidence-based actions, which citizens and businesses can use to play their part in moving towards a low-carbon economy.
Action should also be taken to develop our local renewable-energy industry. Some very challenging targets are contained in the sustainable development strategy and the Programme for Government, and, in order to achieve our contribution to UK and EU targets for renewable energy, Northern Ireland requires an investment of approximately £2 billion over the next decade.
Northern Ireland’s contribution from renewable energy will have to increase from its current level of around 240 MW to more than 2,000 MW by 2020, and that will not happen by accident. That huge investment will require the marshalling of many policies, planning and private sector investment if it is to be achieved in the most cost-advantageous manner.
Work needs to be done on energy regulation to promote the benefits of good quality combined heat and power (GQCHP), which can offer significant carbon reductions, and to discourage the use of inefficient generation simply for cost savings in peak periods.
A plethora of issues relates to cost-cutting measures. Planning procedures need to be developed that will deliver renewable-energy targets at scale and optimise the transport infrastructure. There is a large push towards electrification of vehicles. We must ensure that all investments in transport infrastructure will enable it to be fit for those vehicles when they are developed. More broadly speaking, we must keep a watching brief on international developments to ensure that we are positioned to adopt new technologies as and when they are developed.
The inquiry’s term of reference (c) seeks to identify the costs associated with meeting obligations against the cost of not doing so. I am sure that the Committee is aware of much work that has been done in that regard, such as the Stern Review on the economics of climate change. The conclusion of that piece of work, and others, suggests that the earlier that action is taken, the less costly the move to a low-carbon economy will be. Stern suggests that if we were to act now, it might require investment of 1% of GDP. If action were to be delayed, it could require anything between 5% and 20%. There is an imperative to act early.
The move to a low-carbon economy will also bring about significant job-creation and wealth-creation opportunities. We carried out an initial piece of work to consider the share that Northern Ireland Manufacturing and other businesses could secure of that growing market. Previously, we published and presented to the Committee our report’s findings, which suggest that if the Executive make that a strategic priority, if businesses are made aware of opportunities and if existing supply chains for deployment of renewable-energy technologies are disrupted, for which there is already a mandate, NI businesses could create an additional 8,000 to 33,000 new jobs to serve that sector.
That is broadly consistent with the EU Commission’s expectations. It suggests that investment in renewable-energy systems would create an additional two million jobs throughout the 27 EU member states. It will be driven by investments that include more than $2 trillion by the EU into its energy systems by 2030. A piece of work that the Carbon Trust undertook to look specifically at offshore wind energy suggests that the UK could secure and develop an additional 70,000 jobs, and stimulate a revenue of £8 billion-plus by 2020 by developing offshore opportunities in the UK.
The Obama-Biden plan for America seeks to create five million new jobs through investment of $150 billion over the next 10 years. Therefore, there is a great deal of activity in that space. Many countries have already invested heavily in clean-energy technologies and so-called green-collar jobs. Indeed, varying percentages of many nations’ recovery plans specifically target green-collar jobs and opportunities.
Recovery plans in the Asia-Pacific region — for example, China, Japan and India — amounts to in excess of $1·15 trillion. Around 23% of that money is targeted at creating new clean-energy, green-collar jobs. Recovery plans in Europe amount to around $634 billion. Of that, around 17% is “green”.
The American recovery plan is worth more than $1 trillion, of which around 11% is “green”. Many countries are already recognising the opportunity to produce the low-carbon and clean-energy solutions that the globe will need in the years ahead, and they are investing heavily to secure their share of that.
The Committee’s term of reference (d) seeks to identify a formal, cost-effective mechanism for assessing the potential impact of new policies on climate change. We strongly support the introduction of a formal climate-change, greenhouse-gas-emission or low-carbon-economy proofing requirement for all Northern Ireland-originated policy. That would ensure that we do not lock ourselves into any high-carbon infrastructure in the years ahead and help to future-proof strategic investments.
The science of climate change has set the direction for the appropriate targets and actions that might be included in the new Northern Ireland sustainable development implementation plan. That suggests that developed countries need to reduce carbon emissions by 80% by 2050. That should be a minimum target for Northern Ireland. However, it will be a very challenging target, because we will be seeking to grow our economy throughout that period. We could, by 2050, have an economy that is three times larger than it is at present but be producing 20% of our current carbon emissions. That is the real challenge ahead.
We believe firmly that, owing to the cross-cutting nature of climate change, a lead Department should be mandated to manage and deliver on the very challenging targets in order that the Assembly might conduct more effective scrutiny of climate-change responsibilities.
Thank you for your presentation. Have you made any calculations around how to attain a low-carbon economy? From where should that funding come?
You mentioned a dedicated Department for energy and climate change. The Minister has just left the Committee meeting, so perhaps you should have mentioned that earlier. Can you expand on what other responsibilities such a Department should have? Have you encountered any difficulties in encouraging businesses to adapt to energy efficiencies? If so, how have you tackled them?
A Department for energy and climate change would have plenty to get on with just by focusing on the issues that I have raised. Each of the 11 existing Departments has a key role to play in delivering a low-carbon economy. The two principal Departments are the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI), with its responsibility for energy policy, and the Department of the Environment (DOE), which is remitted to deal with climate change, regulation and policy.
That said, the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) has responsibility for energy, crops and the promotion of same; the Department for Social Development (DSD) has responsibility for housing and fuel poverty; the Department of Finance and Personnel (DFP) is responsible for public sector energy management and building standards; the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister (OFMDFM) is responsible for sustainable development strategies; and so on.
In order to optimise the investments required to deliver carbon-reduction targets, I suggest that we need to have either a separate, new Department, or an appropriately mandated and resourced Department that can gather all those different elements under the broad climate-change, low-carbon-economy umbrella and ensure that policy is optimised to deliver on that; otherwise, we run the risk of having conflicting policies.
One manifestation of that conflict is DETI’s desire to deliver 40% of electricity from indigenous, renewable sources by 2020, when planning rests with DOE. Anyone in the large renewable-energy sector will tell you that one of the impediments to delivering on targets is not the lack of capital or resource but delays in obtaining planning approval for wind turbines and other large-scale renewable projects.
We have had a fair degree of success over the past seven years in engaging with businesses. We have conducted more than 2,000 energy surveys with local businesses. Businesses, acting on those recommendations, have invested more than £90 million in order to enjoy cost savings of £60 million per annum off their energy expenditure. In so doing, they have reduced their carbon emissions by more than 560,000 tons a year.
The Carbon Trust’s work has helped to stimulate significant investment in that space. We have helped local businesses reduce their carbon emissions by what amounts to 10% of Northern Ireland’s total business emissions. That is a considerable achievement, but there is much more to be done. One of the issues that we encounter is trying to reach new businesses. Many companies out there have never heard of the Carbon Trust and do not know that we are capable of providing free, independent and authoritative advice. Unfortunately, no marketing or recruitment budget was devolved to us, so we face a difficulty in engaging with new businesses to make them aware of opportunities and help them play their part in meeting the carbon-reduction targets.
Mr Boylan also asked about the cost of the transition to a low-carbon economy. We undertook a vision study in 2005, which looked at how to achieve a 60% cut in emissions by 2050. That target has been superseded by an 80% cut at least in the same time frame. However, in 2005, we were indicating costs of around £775 million over and above what is currently invested in that space. That amounted to £75 per ton of CO2 abated, which was probably at the high end of similar UK studies.
One of the important things that emerged from that study was that the longer that we delay taking action, the higher the cost will be. If it amounted to £775 million in 2005, it is probably £1 billion today and will be £2 billion in five years’ time. The investment decisions that Government , businesses and citizens take do not put us on a trajectory of stabilising emissions at 550 parts per million but suggest something in excess of 700, or even 1,000, parts per million. We are locking ourselves into high-carbon emissions in the future, which will be more costly to address retrospectively.
You indicate that your recent work has resulted in savings of £60 million a year from a £90 million investment. That looks like an 18-month payback period, which is an impressive enticement to businesses to change and improve. What percentage of Northern Ireland business have you been able to urge to improve the bottom line through that type of work?
As I said, over the past seven years, we have conducted 2,000 energy surveys. That probably reached a maximum of around 1,000 businesses. We work in close partnership with a number of large energy users, such as Michelin, Vista Energy and others. We spend considerable time and effort helping them to accelerate their decarbonisation programmes. We do multiple surveys for those large businesses.
However, there is a plethora of SMEs with which we have been unable to engage. For example, if there are 60,000 registered businesses in Northern Ireland, of which 30,000 have two or more employees, we are engaged with only a relatively small percentage of businesses by workforce size, but we are probably engaged with 50% by carbon emissions produced. We work with 60 large businesses that typically spend more than £1 million a year on energy, and they produce something like 50% of the business sector’s carbon emissions. Numerically, we reach a relatively modest percentage of all Northern Ireland businesses, but by the carbon opportunity, we reach around 50%.
We could do more, and we are keen to do more. We are in the process of recruiting a dedicated small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) client manager who will engage with SMEs individually and collectively. We hope to drive additional savings through the SME sector.
I want to ask about the public sector’s role as those changes are being made. Resources will have to be invested in more efficient buildings, for example. What sort of payback period can you predict to entice the public sector to move down that route? Are you working actively with the public sector?
Unfortunately, we are not working with the local public sector. That is one my great frustrations.
Our funding comes via DETI to Invest Northern Ireland. The letter of offer from Invest Northern Ireland to the Carbon Trust made it clear that its funding is for businesses, not for public sector organisations.
Is someone else working with the public sector?
Not to my knowledge. DFP has some in-house capacity, but the Carbon Trust is in a unique position. The devolved Administrations in Scotland and Wales have enhanced their funding of the Carbon Trust to help them deliver on their challenging targets. Locally, however, the Carbon Trust is not funded to help the public sector, and that is regrettable. We have something to offer, and we could play a useful role in helping to ensure that the investment decisions that are made in the public sector are correct and deliver maximum value.
It may be useful, as part of our inquiry, that we establish what mechanisms could be put in place to facilitate that?
It would help us to understand how the other devolved institutions have worked with the Carbon Trust for the benefit of the public sector and the public purse. If Mr Smyth has any further information on that, I hope that he can provide it to the Committee. It is an important issue, and I am shocked that, for some reason, there is a void here in Northern Ireland.
I will be happy to share our experiences in Scotland, Wales and England with the Committee.
Although resources will be required to make that investment, what are the implications of our not moving towards a low-carbon economy?
I will pick up on your previous point about opportunities for the public sector. The public sector, collectively, is spending approximately £150 million a year on energy. Our experience across the UK suggests that 20% of that money could be saved through cost-effective measures that typically pay back after three years. That suggests that there is an opportunity for the public sector in Northern Ireland to make recurring savings of approximately £30 million a year on energy expenditure. A one-off capital investment would cost somewhere between £60 million and £90 million, which the local construction sector and its offshoots would welcome. There is a compelling business case for the Northern Ireland public sector to go after those savings aggressively.
If Northern Ireland puts its head in the sand and ignores climate change, that will have a detrimental effect, not only because of our dependence on imported fossil fuels and the geopolitics of the supply of those fuels but because it will be disadvantageous to Northern Ireland businesses. The political decision has been taken, and we are moving towards a low-carbon economy. The EU is a significant power bloc, and it is driving forward some very useful policy measures. President Obama has signed up the USA to an 80% reduction in carbon emissions by 2050. The global low-carbon movement will crystallise in the coming year. Northern Ireland would put its businesses at a great disadvantage were it to attempt to ignore that movement. Consumers expect the products and services that they buy to be low-carbon products from businesses that take their environmental obligations seriously.
Our analysis is quite stark. We do not believe that high-carbon businesses have a future. All businesses will have to be low-carbon. If the science of climate change is right, and we have no grounds to dispute that, there seems to be political will to drive rapidly towards a low-carbon economy, which means that everything that we consume, and all businesses providing goods, materials and services, must be fit for purpose for that low-carbon economy. The risk is that if Northern Ireland gets left behind, we will not only lock ourselves into businesses that have to pay more for what is likely to be increasingly expensive energy, we will be penalised for the associated carbon emissions, and struggle to find markets for the high-carbon products that they will be manufacturing.
Thank you for your presentation. You mentioned Planning Service delays in processing applications for electricity production from renewable sources. Will you elaborate on how poor the Planning Service’s response is or how slow it is in comparison with elsewhere?
Unfortunately, the Carbon Trust does not have any direct experience of that because it is not a developer of wind farms or large renewable projects. However, we have worked with many local companies to help them develop business cases for investing in large-scale renewable-energy projects. We have worked closely with approximately 30 businesses over the past five years or so. We have helped them to understand the financial case for investment and have assisted them through some aspects of gathering evidence on wind-speed data for large-scale wind projects for example. None has come to fruition yet; many are at various stages of planning.
The timescale from project conception to delivery is around five years to seven years: that is not where we need to be. However, it gives some indication of the scale of deployment of renewables that we will be required to deliver by 2020 if we are to achieve our targets. Most of that capacity will be delivered from on-shore wind through large wind turbines. We will have to increase from approximately 200 megawatts of on-shore wind energy production to an amount well in excess of 1,200 megawatts. That is a massive investment. More than 1,000 utility-scale turbines will be required, which approximates to one new wind turbine of 2·3 megawatt capacity, costing approximately £2 million, being installed and commissioned in Northern Ireland every week from the start of this year to 2020. That is the scale of deployment that will be necessary to achieve our target.
We have been getting feedback from some businesses that we have been working with that Planning Service is not sympathetic to, or in some instances, does not have a presumption in favour of, the application, but that the situation is quite the opposite. The longer that those applications remain in the planning system, the more difficult and, probably, costly it will be for us to achieve our targets. Feedback from people in the industry is showing that PPS 18, for example, is another impediment to the deployment, at scale, of large renewable-energy projects, some of which are taking five years to seven years to work their way through the system.
Thank you for your evidence and for attending. It has been very informative. We are arranging a couple of visits to businesses, through the Carbon Trust, to see performance on the ground. We had agreed earlier to do that.
Yes; I look forward to that.
Thank you for your time.
The next evidence will be from Bairbre de Brún MEP in regard to our inquiry into climate change. Ms de Brún believes that tackling climate change effectively brings opportunities as well as challenges and that Ireland is well placed to be at the centre of a new green economy. A summary of her submission to the inquiry is in the members’ packs.
Caithfidh mé a rá go bhfuil fáilte romhat agus gabhaim comhghairdeas leat as a bheith atofa.
You are welcome to the Committee meeting, and congratulations on your recent re-election. Members have been provided with your evidence. We will have 10 to 15 minutes of an overview from Ms de Brún, and members’ questions will follow. Go raibh maith agat agas as a bheith linn. HSIRI
Ms Bairbre de Brún:
Go raibh maith agat, a Chathaoirligh as ucht an chuiridh a theacht agus labhairt libh. I welcome the opportunity to speak to the Committee. The Assembly has given its consent for the provision of the Climate Change Act 2008 to apply in the North of Ireland. There is an opportunity for new local legislation. On the one hand, we know about the ongoing discussions, including the recent recommendations from the Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change Committee in Scotland, with regard to the Scottish Climate Change Bill. Recently, we heard also that the Irish Government intend to introduce legislation in the autumn based on the Westminster Act. Since those discussions are taking place, this is a timely and strategic opportunity for the Executive and the Committee to discuss they type of legislation that they could introduce that would be specific for the North of Ireland and which would fit in with those with whom they would be interacting.
A detailed integrated Executive strategy that details how we are going to meet our carbon emission targets and adapt to climate change should spell out how each sector of the economy could contribute to reducing those emissions. We need to reassess our options — specifically those in respect of tackling rising energy demand, meeting energy efficiency and renewable energy targets and reducing CO2 emissions.
As others have said, and as the Committee has heard already, there is a tremendous opportunity to put production and use of renewable energy at the heart of the Executive’s economic strategy. There are opportunities, as well as costs. Investing in new technologies can create more jobs and lower energy bills. Renewable energy, in particular, can be developed in the all-Ireland energy market framework that has been developed recently, and which continues to be developed, between the Executive and the Irish Government.
2009 is a key year in setting out the global response to climate change, and new targets and actions to ascertain what will come after the Kyoto protocol and, therefore, the new targets and actions to tackle climate change, are due to be made at the EU conference in Copenhagen at the end of the year. The European Parliament climate energy package has also given effect to the targets set by the EU to achieve, by 2020, 20% of renewable energy; 20% of energy efficiency and a 20% to 30% reduction in emissions relative to the 1990 level.
In 2007, the European Parliament set up the Temporary Committee on Climate Change, which was given a number of powers including the formulation of proposals on the EU’s future integrated policy on climate change, and it held a number of thematic sessions. I was the theme leader for the eighth thematic session, which was entitled “Achieving significant CO2 emission reductions in short time: learning from best practices regarding successful policies and technologies”. Among the best policies mentioned in that session were efficiency measures, such as the retrofitting of houses and offices; more sustainable buildings; better traffic planning; more efficient lighting; reusing and recycling; more efficient use of water; increased public transport, walking and cycling; use of ICT to reduce travel and to improve the effectiveness of businesses and industry, and a monitoring of the carbon footprint of businesses or municipalities, as well as a move to renewables. Therefore, there is a wide range of sectors in the economy that can contribute to the fight against climate change.
The concluding report of the European Parliament Temporary Committee on Climate Change emphasised, as we have heard this morning, that tackling climate change will help to create jobs in new technologies, combat energy poverty and dependency on imported fossil fuels and provide social benefits for citizens. The report was wide ranging, and the European Parliament adopted it in an amended form.
The report makes useful suggestions on a range of policy areas that could provide a good starting point for decision-making and policy-making. However, all of those measures will need to be adapted to local circumstances. Therefore, binding domestic legislation that incorporates emission reduction targets can go some way to address the effects of climate change at home. A local climate change Bill with annual appraisals and emphasis on action at local and all-Ireland level would be very helpful.
Engagement with business, as well as with the public sector, is also extremely important. Large companies can make changes and not just to their own practices; because of the way that they engage with subcontractors and suppliers, large companies can influence the behaviour of SMEs and others in the supply chain.
Public sector procurement, including our investment strategy, is also extremely important. If there are components of our public sector procurement that underpin the targets for reducing CO2 emissions, they will underpin how we invest and carry out actions across the range of Departments.
Closer co-operation and co-ordination between Departments and between the relevant Assembly Committees is needed. It might be interesting for the Committee to examine how the European Temporary Committee on Climate Change worked within the European Parliament. That committee was separate and comprised members of other committees; therefore, instead of simply relating to one part of the European Commission in the same way that Committees here relate to one Department, it was able to cross-hatch ideas, because it comprised people with experiences and interests from a range of sectors.
I propose that the Irish Government and the Executive set legally binding targets to reduce CO2 emissions by at least 80% on the 1990 levels by 2050. They should also commit to reducing emissions by at least 30% from the 1990 levels by 2020, and the rate of reduction should be at least 3% per annum.
Go raibh míle maith agat.
I thank Bairbre for her presentation. I also congratulate her and wish her continued success.
What social and economic benefits have other countries in Europe gained from adapting to climate change? Are there examples in Europe of where citizens are willing to accept the use of public funding to tackle climate change? The main issues for citizens on the ground are putting food on the table and getting jobs. However, there is a serious question about whether public funding should be used to tackle climate change. Also, should legislation to address climate change take the form an Act, or should there be secondary legislation? What form of legislation would help the Assembly to best address climate change?
Ms de Brún:
Thank you very much. Different countries have had different experiences. As far back as the 1990s, Germany undertook two initiatives; one on price-setting and one on cost reduction. The first introduced electricity feed-in laws, and legislation meant that producers of renewable energy were allowed to sell power to utility suppliers for 90% of the market price, and utility suppliers were obligated to purchase it. The second introduced the solar roofs programme, which offered subsidies to enable households to purchase photovoltaic systems for up to 60% of the capital cost, and they gave other cost-reductions for renewable energy. As a result of those measures, the amount of energy generated from wind power went from virtually zero megawatts in the early 1990s to more than 8,500 megawatts by 2001. Germany became a global leader in renewable energy investment, the social and economic benefits of which were huge.
Some areas of Austria have also achieved success with renewable energy. At a recent AFBI conference here, people from a once-poor region in Austria gave a presentation on the benefits of renewable energy based on their experience of using wood products from the largely rural forest area where they live. Their work in renewables helped make that relatively poor region, which was on the periphery of Austrian society, become one of the richer regions.
You asked a question about whether people would be willing to fund a climate programme. When I was theme leader for the eighth thematic session, representatives from the Catalan Office for Climate Change came to speak to us. They said that they had undertaken a huge awareness-raising campaign, engaged with the local population, and had more than 1,000 proposals examined. The council’s structured approach involved not only meetings but Internet and media programmes, as well as engagement with Government and various sectors in civil society on a large scale. The council concluded that a strong participatory process had helped to create awareness, motivation and support among the population for its climate programme.
In response to your final question about legislation: yes, a good opportunity exists to get our own Act on climate change. It would be very useful for the Executive and the Irish Government to work together on that, given that they are already working together on an all-Ireland energy market framework for the single electricity market and gas market and on the all-island grid study for renewable energy.
Having a timescale for bringing forward legislation that will impact heavily on a market that the Governments have decided they should be working on together will ensure that there are no distortions in the legislation that is enacted on either side of the border and that market opportunities are maximised in the time ahead.
Thank you for your presentation, and congratulations on being returned to the European Parliament. You talked about the feed-in arrangements introduced by the German Government on renewable energy production. What is the position in the EU? Are those feed-in arrangements transnational or do they exist in individual member states only?
Ms de Brún:
It is mainly individual countries that have taken actions. Other countries with renewable electricity feed-in tariffs include Italy, Greece, France, Denmark, Sweden, Spain, Portugal and others. We have renewable energy obligations here, which involve small annual steps until 2010. However, by 2010, the total does not equate to half what the Danish legislation obliges its end users to purchase, even from 2003 onwards.
The measures adopted, as well the range at which they are adopted, vary by country. The EU has set out a specific package for its 20:20:20 measures: 20% energy efficiency; 20% renewables; and 20% to 30% emissions reduction. A more uniform pattern will start to emerge. However, some countries will start from a low base whereas others will begin in an advanced position.
You strongly advocate photovoltaic electricity production. I experienced that subject when I was a member of the Committee for Finance and Personnel before I joined this Committee. I am curious about why you advocate that method because, from memory, the cells have a 25-year life with a 52-year payback period. Therefore, that is not the best method of renewable energy in which to invest; solar heating is more appropriate. Why are you focused on photovoltaic cells?
Ms de Brún:
I did not intend to advocate that approach. I mentioned it in response to a question, because Germany has undertaken that measure. However, I pointed out that Germany has also carried out work that has raised vastly the amount of energy generated from wind power.
You advocate the use of similar mechanisms North and South. Does such an arrangement not exist already through the single electricity market? If not, what changes are required?
Ms de Brún:
Sufficient work has been undertaken on the single electricity market in the all-Ireland energy market framework and through the work on gas. I am anxious to ensure that the work from the all-Ireland grid study continues that pattern. As both countries have been working closely on this, and because that approach has been successful, it would be useful to introduce legislation now, given that we know that the Irish Government will be introducing legislation in a similar time frame to that in which the Committee will be considering the possibilities arising from the Climate Change Act.
Were we to decide to go down that road, it would be a good idea for us to try to ensure that the good work that has been done to date is continued.
My understanding of EU rules and regulations is that there cannot be different regulations in different regions of a nation state. Given that, do you accept that the regulations in Northern Ireland will have to follow those in the rest of the United Kingdom? There are natural linkages already, given the interconnector and the gas pipeline. Are you advocating that the Republic of Ireland should adopt the UK mechanisms and methods of regulating energy use and carbon consumption, and develop a single-island electricity network into a wider network of this part of the European Community, encompassing England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland?
Ms de Brún:
First and foremost, I am talking about climate-change legislation and how that might impact on the ongoing work, and the good work that has been done to date, on the all-Ireland energy market. I have made it clear that the opportunities available to us must take into account the work that is being done on the all-Ireland energy market, because energy is such a large part of the efforts that we will make to combat climate change. On the other hand, I have also said from the outset that we have a good opportunity at the moment, arising not only from the Westminster Act, but from the ongoing discussions on the Scottish climate change Bill, to make the most of the synergies that are there and the up-to-date experience that is generating from Committees of the Scottish Parliament, and also from each of those partners with whom we will be working.
You said that there is wider electricity network in Europe, that many neighbouring countries work together to gain efficiencies and thus reduce carbon consumption, and that there should be similar working together in the British Isles.
Ms de Brún:
That would make a great deal of sense. What the Executive and the Irish Government have done has gone further than anywhere else in Europe to date. It is not often that we are out in front, but we are, on that issue. That work is designed to fit in with work going on elsewhere, including in France. With respect to the climate change Bill — which is separate from the work on the all-Ireland energy market, but they overlap in some sectors — one of the reasons that I stated at the outset that we have such a good opportunity at present is that the Irish Government Minister has said that the legislation that the Irish Government intend to bring forward will be similar to the Westminster Act. We have the Westminster Act, the experience of how Scotland is taking that further and the discussions that the Committees of the Scottish Parliament are having on how that could happen, our discussions here, and the Irish Government’s intention to come forward with legislation. That gives us a unique opportunity to create synergies.
Finally, we received evidence from the Ulster Farmers’ Union with regard to the agricultural sector. Its representatives said that they were concerned about the carbon labelling presently being developed. They indicated that there was a danger of South American beef being given low values that did not reflect the damage being done to the rain forests, or that other aspects of that intensification of beef production were having a detrimental effect on the climate.
How can the proposals cater for that so that local producers do not lose out because other aspects of production elsewhere are not accounted for?
Ms de Brún:
Our work, our knowledge and the proposals to date on the sectors such as power generation and other heavy industries are, in many ways, more developed and more precise than in sectors such as agriculture. We are at the early stages of having the precision required for the steps that are to be taken in the agriculture sector, both for land use and for the contribution that agriculture can make to combating climate change.
In its submission to the inquiry, UFU raised the specific point of the use of carbon labelling. Labelling must be extremely precise and very clear. The consumer must not be confused in any way.
Do you accept that European regulations have resulted in the export of industries and jobs? For example, chicken imports have been affected because of regulations on the cage space that must be made available to birds. Such regulations have increased the cost of local production in the situation where no similar regulations apply to chicken that is imported from the Far East.
Ms de Brún:
I think that most people accept the need for ethical and sustainable business. By and large, EU regulation is such that it underpins the standards that the public have come to expect. In the EU, businesses that want to adopt ethical and sustainable practices want regulation so that other businesses also have to adopt such practices. Ethical and sustainable practices must also be followed in the areas of working conditions, pay and the environment.
Some companies choose to move elsewhere due to regulations, but that cannot be a reason for not having proper working conditions, proper pay and proper environmental standards. However, I accept and have strongly argued along with my fellow MEPs throughout the previous European Parliament that farmers or other sections of the community should not be disadvantaged because they adopt practices that others do not.
Go raibh míle maith agat, a Bhairbre, as ucht na fianaise a thug tú dúinn inniu, agus go n-éirí leat. Thank you very much for your evidence, and good luck for the future.