Protecting our environment and moving decisively towards a carbon neutral future

Climate change is the existential challenge of our generation. We must protect our planet. Fine Gael’s guiding principle is that we intend to hand over guardianship and stewardship of our planet to future generations in a much better state than we inherited it.  We are a small country but we have a big role to play in meeting this challenge at home and on the world stage.

Our ambition is that:

  • we move as a society towards a future where our fossil fuel usage is significantly reduced by 2030 and we are on a clear trajectory towards carbon neutrality in 2050;
  • we have consensus, across society and politics, on how to achieve this so that future governments will not undo progress made;
  • we reduce our waste, specifically single use plastics, and increase our recycling; and
  • we protect our marine resources and improve air quality.

We acknowledge that progress to date in terms of reducing our carbon emissions has not been sufficient and that the policy tools employed heretofore have not yielded adequate results. We will therefore review all aspects of our climate action policy approach and, informed by that review, and the findings of the special Oireachtas Committee on Climate Action, set out a new all-of-government plan to achieving our targets for 2030 and 2050 in early 2019. In developing new approaches, we will be looking at other countries to see what has worked well, and how it could be adapted and implemented here.

This will require significant new interventions that need buy-in from all political parties so that they are not reversed by future governments. It also requires broad societal backing for those interventions to be delivered upon, and public engagement will be a major part of this initiative.

Among the actions that will be brought forward to meet this ambition are:

Project Ireland 2040

‘Project Ireland 2040’ ends the laissez-faire, developer-led approach to planning which has been the status quo over our state’s history. It provides a new approach to spatial planning that places the citizen and their needs at the centre of planning decisions. By its emphasis on planned future development we will be able to ensure that in the future the carbon footprint of residential, commercial and industrial activity is reduced by greater use of existing infrastructure, more focus on new developments to be within the existing footprint of town, villages and cities, and less greenfield development.

Furthermore, ‘Project Ireland 2040’’s investment programme places climate action at the centre of future infrastructure development with €22 billion of the total €116 billion investment package devoted to the objective of transitioning to a Low-Carbon and Climate-Resilient Society.

Setting a long-term price on Carbon Tax to help move us away from fossil fuels

The level of investment in ‘Project Ireland 2040’ for climate action is unprecedented. However it will not be sufficient by itself to meet our 2030 targets for emissions and renewable energy. Behavioural change at all levels in society is therefore crucial.

International experience shows that one of the most effective ways of encouraging such behavioural change is through signalling the future price of carbon i.e. how much petrol, diesel, coal, and other fossil fuels will cost. Therefore, as set out in Budget 2019 Fine Gael supports putting in place a long-term trajectory for Carbon Tax increases out to 2030. This will be informed by the recommendations of the Climate Change Advisory Council, as well as the report of the special Oireachtas Committee which is due to report in early 2019.

Helping people reduce their energy bills and consumption through better home insulation

Improving the insulation of people’s homes will keep homes warmer and reduce heating bills. It will also reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. The energy efficiency requirements of new homes being built are of the highest standards internationally. However there is a large amount of older homes which were built before those standards, and which need to be retrofitted with better insulation.

As provided in ‘Project Ireland 2040’, we support investment of €4 billion in the period 2018 to 2030, along with taxation and regulatory measures, in order to improve energy efficiency of Irish homes. Funding is provided for just under 30,000 home energy efficiency upgrades per annum to an average BER of C by 2021. Under ‘Project Ireland 2040’, we will increase grant supported energy efficient renovations to circa 45,000 to a BER of B from 2021.

Removing coal from the grid

In line with ‘Project Ireland 2040’, Fine Gael will ensure that coal is removed from the Irish electricity generation network by 2025 by converting Moneypoint to a lower carbon alternative.

Growing the contribution of renewables to our energy mix

Fine Gael is committed to Ireland making a major contribution to the European Union’s target that 32% of all energy should come from renewable sources. The Renewable Electricity Support Scheme (RESS) was recently submitted to the European Commission for approval.

We will monitor the implementation of the RESS and make changes where required in order to ensure that it delivers on its three underlying principles:

  1. making the greatest possible contribution to the EU’s 2030 targets in a cost-effective fashion;
  2. community ownership and partnership; and
  3. increased renewable technology diversity.

Offshore wind in particular can play a major role in the achievement of our long-term renewable targets. To date, Ireland has only one offshore fixed wind farm generating electricity off the Wicklow Coast. With recent advances in technology and falling costs, we will step up our efforts to promote offshore wind and ensure we have a well-functioning regulatory regime. We will prioritise the publication and enactment of the Maritime Area and Foreshore Amendment Bill.

We will ensure that the Support Scheme for Renewable Heat (SSRH) is delivered. This is open to all non-domestic heat users e.g. commercial, industrial, agricultural, district heating, public sector and other non-domestic heat users.  The Scheme is made up of two mechanisms – an on-going operational subsidy for biomass boiler and anaerobic digestion heating systems and an installation grant for electric heat pumps.

A decisive move to public transport (trains, trams, buses and bikes)

‘Project Ireland 2040’ is the first time that public transport has been placed at the heart of government expenditure and in the planning process. Over the next decade, more than €7 billion is committed to new public transport projects in our cities, while future planning and development is being required to place public transport at its centre.

Fine Gael is fully committed to over the next decade delivering the Busconnects programme in Dublin, Cork and Galway. This will significantly reduce journey times on buses, provide more direct routes and make the bus a significantly more attractive prospect for commuters. It will also segregate bikes from other traffic, thereby making cycling a safer, more enjoyable, and more attractive prospect also.

Fine Gael in government will also ensure the delivery of the Metrolink and Dart Expansion projects in the Greater Dublin Area. This will ensure that Dublin has a transport network on a par with its European and global peers. As stated in ‘Project Ireland 2040’, the new Cork Transport Strategy will evaluate the potential of a Light Rail Corridor or a Bus Rapid Transit to serve the envisaged huge increase in population in the Cork area. Further movement away from cars and towards walking, cycling, bus, tram and rail will help reduce our emissions. However, the decision outlined within ‘Project Ireland 2040’ to ensure that all new buses purchased for the urban bus network from mid-2019 are low emission will mean that the emissions from public transport will be reduced.

Promotion of electric vehicles and other low emissions vehicles

Fine Gael wants to transition the car transport fleet to electricity. As set out in ‘Project Ireland 2040’, we are targeting at least 500,000 electric vehicles on our roads by 2030 and no new non-zero emission vehicles sold in Ireland after 2030. We will introduce and pass legislation to give effect to this ban. We will:

  • build out the network of charging points;
  • improve take-up of purchase grant scheme for taxis and hackneys;
  • extend the VRT relief and the 0% Benefit in Kind rate for EVs;
  • promote special €120 low rate of motor tax for EVs; and
  • continue to fund the EV Public Awareness Programme.

Developing an extensive network of charging points is a key challenge in the take-up of electric vehicles. The €500 million Climate Action Fund sought applications in this regard and we will examine further capital investment to develop the network.

Natural Gas Vehicles are a more environmentally-friendly alternative to traditional petrol or diesel vehicles. Building on the accelerated capital allowance scheme announced in Budget 2019, we will continue to incentivise NGVs to diversify the national fleet.

Promoting cycling as a mode of transport

Fine Gael wants to build on the recent increases in the number of people cycling to work in urban environments. To increase take-up, we must make the road network a friendly and safe environment for cyclists, while ensuring that all road users adhere to the rules of the road.  As part of ‘Project Ireland 2040’, a network of next generation bus corridors under BusConnects will include segregated cycle lanes, providing a safe environment for inexperienced and experienced cyclists alike. For example, in Dublin this will see almost 200km of high quality segregated cycling facilities provided.  We are also investing €110 million in cycling/walking up until 2021 as well as €135 million for Sustainable Urban Transport.

Our agri-food sector playing its part in tackling climate change

Irish agriculture is one of the most carbon efficient producers of beef and milk. In that regard, any reduction in output which then results in higher output by less carbon efficient producers would be counterproductive from a global perspective.

However, we must acknowledge that agriculture accounts for approximately a third of our greenhouse gas emissions. There is no room for complacency. We must continue to make improvements in terms of sustainability and environmental performance on all of our farms.  Therefore we need to continue to introduce innovative policies to meet our long-term ambitions for the agriculture, forest and land-use sector. We will work towards reducing agricultural emissions insofar as we can, increasing carbon sequestration, and increasing fossil fuel and energy intensive materials displacement and substitution. We will achieve this through policies aimed at improving farm efficiency, animal breeding strategies, animal health and welfare policies and through the better use of technology. We will also continue to develop Origin Green which is raising the profile of sustainable farming.

This will allow us to move towards an approach to carbon neutrality which does not compromise capacity for sustainable food production. We will place climate mitigation at the centre of the successor strategy to Food Wise 2025.

Safe and sustainable water infrastructure

Our water infrastructure is creaking due to decades of underinvestment. The decision to establish Irish Water as a public utility to replace the 34 local authorities responsible for drinking water and wastewater infrastructure was clearly the right thing to do given the progress made in recent years in terms of better water quality and reduced leakage. We now have a single body which has the ability to invest and plan for the future water needs of our expanding population. We will retain Irish Water in public ownership as a national standalone water utility.

‘Project Ireland 2040’ commits €8.5 billion to necessary investment in our water infrastructure over the next decade. Fine Gael will deliver upon this investment which will see a major programme of leak repairs, and invest in drinking and wastewater facilities across the state.

In line with ‘Project Ireland 2040’ we will continue to invest in the non-Irish Water, Rural Water Programme.

Banning single use plastics and promoting recycling

There are a wide variety of essential uses for plastics in modern society. However plastics are also remarkably persistent, often have toxic and other harmful impacts and are a major contributor to litter both on land and sea. Fine Gael is fully committed to the reduction in our usage of plastics.

The European Commission proposed on May 2018 new EU-wide rules to target the ten single-use plastic products most often found on Europe’s beaches and seas, as well as lost and abandoned fishing gear. Together these constitute 70% of all marine litter items. Action on this issue is best dealt within a European context to have the greatest impact. Once a decision is made on a European level we will move quickly to give effect to that in domestic legislation. We will also enact legislation to ban plastic microbeads used in cosmetics, cleansing products and detergents which are having a particularly detrimental impact on marine fauna and wildlife.

In addition to this, we will continue to support the efforts of Repak and retailers to reduce the level of packaging waste being placed on the market place and to increase the level of recycling. As reported by the Environmental Protection Agency, Ireland has a recovery rate of over 85% for all packaging waste (compared to an EU target of 60%) and a recycling rate of 67% (compared to an EU target of 55%). For plastics this is 80% and 36% (EU target is 22.5%) respectively. However, we must be conscious that recent decisions by countries, most notably China, to limit their intake of recycling waste makes the need for us to reduce the level of waste packaging being produced greater and also the need to increase the capacity within Ireland and the European Union for recycling to be carried out here.

Clean lungs for all of Ireland – from our countryside to our city centres

Air pollution is a major cause of illness and premature death. In Ireland it is estimated that there are 1,600 premature deaths due to air pollution with the overall health-related costs being over €2 billion per year.  Fine Gael will implement an ambitious national clean air strategy, which will dramatically improve the quality of our air in all parts of the country.

Better prepared for more extreme and unpredictable weather

A major part of our response to climate change must be to better prepare ourselves for extreme weather events. ‘Project Ireland 2040’ provides for almost €1 billion to be spent on capital works programmes to minimise the impacts of river and coastal flooding on society through the implementation of the 29 Flood Risk Management Plans.

These schemes range from very large schemes costing in excess of €15 million each to smaller schemes that can be progressed by the Local Authorities. Five of the larger schemes are:

  • Limerick city and environs;
  • Tralee;
  • Dundalk;
  • Carlingford and Greenore; and
  • Drogheda

We must also ensure that our emergency response structures are robust and sufficient to respond to the increasingly regular extreme weather events that our country faces. We will ensure that in response to each major weather event, an emphasis is placed on learning how the response could be improved.

Our work on climate change internationally

We will play our part in responding multilaterally to the global challenge of climate change. It is part of our vision for ‘Global Ireland’.  As Budget 2019 illustrated, we are serious about significantly increasing the international development budget up to 2030.

In 2017, we spent €58m of our international development programme on climate interventions, which represents approximately 11% of the overall Irish Aid spend. Fine Gael will ensure that climate action will take on an increasing significance in our overseas development programme in the years ahead, in line with the forthcoming White Paper on Ireland’s international development policy.

Ireland is well regarded internationally for our work on climate change through our overseas development programme and for our leadership on the Sustainable Development Goals. As with our work internationally, we want to be a leader in responding to climate change domestically. As part of our overall review of climate policy in 2019, we will be examining best practice internationally to see what we can borrow from other countries, including the potential of implementing dedicated legislation, by way of all-party consensus, to ensure this and future governments protect our planet.