Oireachtas monitor – 19th October 2020

Oireachtas Monitor

Climate & Health

Week beginning 19th October 2020

To ask the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science the new initiatives in education and research his Department is planning in 2021 designed to accelerate capacity to deliver the infrastructures and the practices to underpin ambitions for reductions in emissions damaging to climate. — Richard Bruton. [30681/20]

Simon Harris:

The Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science will be progressing a range of initiatives in education and research in 2021 to advance targets in relation to emissions reduction.

For example, in the further education sector, €8m has been allocated to support the development of retrofit-specific skills initiatives. This will provide up to 500 places on new specialist retrofitting training courses targeted towards unemployed persons. In the region of 400 additional places will also be provided to allow for the expansion of existing programmes targeted to the upskilling of persons already in employment – bringing the total number of learners in retrofit specific programmes to over 1,500 per annum.

The Regional Skills Fora are working with enterprise and education providers in their regions to identify and address the skills needed to transition to the green economy. For example, the Midlands and Mid East Regional Skills Fora continue to work with the Just Transitions team in their region in order to ensure a range of upskilling and reskilling opportunities to enable the workforce to meet the needs of the green economy.

As in other sectors, the upgrade and retrofit of the building stock to meet decarbonisation targets will be an important part of the overall climate response. In the higher education sector, my Department is co-funding an Energy Efficiency and Decarbonisation Pathfinder Programme with SEAI. This initiative, which comprises eight projects and involves total Exchequer investment of €5.9 million, will test and demonstrate retrofit approaches, inform key stakeholders and provide an evidence base for larger scale investments in the future.

My Department has also convened a technical steering group to support the development of a decarbonisation pathways report for the higher education sector. This report, which will include a practical tool to be deployed by the higher education sector in assessing different retrofit approaches, is expected to be finalised this year.

Science Foundation Ireland continues to invest in research which underpins our ambitions for reductions in emissions. These multiannual investments will see new advancements in science, technology and innovation in 2021 and beyond, and will continue to attract industry and international partnerships. Examples of existing investments include large scale world leading SFI Research Centres such as MaREI, the SFI Research Centre for Energy, Climate and Marine and BiOrbic, the SFI Bioeconomy Research Centre.

In addition to the existing investments, SFI will launch new calls for research proposals under its programmes – such as the Frontiers for the Future Programme – that support excellent research, foster diverse top talent and fund research that produces tangible benefits.

New opportunities for all island cooperation in the area of climate action is a priority for SFI in 2021. The agency will also continue its important work on citizen and community engagement, with an increased focus on creating opportunities for dialogue and conversation with the people of Ireland on what the future looks like for them and the role of science and innovation in creating that future.

At the same time, work is underway in my Department to develop the successor strategy to Innovation 2020, Ireland’s strategy for research and development, science and technology. I expect the strategy to set out a vision that will ensure we prioritise investing in RDI as key to addressing our economic and social challenges, including the challenge of climate change.

To ask the Minister for Environment, Climate and Communications if his Department has finalised the Energy Poverty Report; when the report will be published and made available; and if he will make a statement on the matter. — Jennifer Whitmore. [30990/20]

Eamon Ryan:

The Programme for Government commits to increasing the carbon tax by the amount of €7.50 per tonne per annum to reach €100 per tonne by 2030, and to using a portion of the additional revenue generated to provide targeted social welfare increases and other initiatives to prevent fuel poverty amongst low-income families.

My Department is undertaking a programme of work with the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) to examine the distributional benefits of utilising carbon tax receipts, including the impact of retrofitting on alleviating fuel poverty. As part of this programme of work, and on foot of a specific commitment in the Programme for Government, the ESRI published a report, ‘Carbon taxes, poverty and compensation options,’ on 13 October. The report identified a series of targeted direct social protection payment interventions and examined the effect of each on the incomes of lower income families. In addition to raising the level of carbon tax by €7.50 per tonne, the Government has committed, in Budget 2021, to significant increases in a targeted package of social protection supports. These supports were selected to address the impact of the increased carbon tax, as identified by the ESRI. The specific measures are:

– an increase to the Qualified Child Payment of €2 per week for children under 12, and €5 per week for children over 12;

– an increase in the Living Alone Allowance of €5 per week; and

– an increase to the Fuel Allowance of €3.50 per week.

The total cost of these interventions is expected to reach an estimated €153.5m in 2021. This will be part-funded by receipts from the increased carbon tax of €48m, with the remaining €105.5m cost to be funded by general Exchequer receipts.

Further information on these is measures is available on http://www.budget.gov.ie.

To ask the Minister for Environment, Climate and Communications if he will adopt at the EU Council, the position of Irish MEPs and that of the European Parliament on the EU Climate Law which sets an ambition of at least a 60% cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030; if he will support the EU Parliament’s position; and the implications that has on the Programme for Government’s ambition of 51% emissions reduction by 2030. — Eoin Ó Broin. [31125/20]

Eamon Ryan:

The EU aims to be climate-neutral by 2050. This objective is at the heart of the European Green Deal and in line with the EU’s commitment to global climate action under the Paris Agreement. The European Commission has just presented its plan to reduce EU greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030, compared to 1990 levels. This level of ambition for the next decade will put the EU on a balanced pathway to reaching climate neutrality by 2050. It is intended that both the 2030 and 2050 targets will be enshrined in the EU Climate Law. Parliament and Council have been invited to confirm this 55% 2030 target as the EU’s new Nationally Determined Contribution under the Paris Agreement, and to submit this to the UNFCCC by the end of this year. Legislative proposals to implement the new EU 2030 target will be presented by June 2021, and additional effort will be asked of all Member States, including Ireland.

Ireland fully supports the enhanced ambition at EU level to increase the EU 2030 target to at least 55% emissions reduction as set out in the Commission’s EU 2030 Climate Target Plan, and to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. To this end, Ireland is one of 12 countries who have signed a joint statement ahead of the European Council in October on strengthening EU climate ambition and agreeing on increasing the 2030 climate target to “at least 55 percent” this year.

The Programme for Government sets out significant increased climate ambition for Ireland, committing to an average 7% per annum reduction in overall greenhouse gas emissions from 2021 to 2030 and to achieving net zero to emissions by 2050, the latter being consistent with the EU 2050 ambition. The next iteration of the Climate Action Plan will set out, on an economy-wide basis, how the 2030 ambition in the Programme for Government might be achieved. A subset of that Plan will ultimately deal with Ireland’s contribution to the EU 2030 target and any increased ambition in a revised Effort Sharing Regulation, the framework which sets Member States’ emissions reduction targets for 2030.

In addition, the purpose of the Climate Action (Amendment) Bill which is currently undergoing pre-legislative scrutiny is to strengthen the governance structure in supporting Ireland’s response to climate breakdown. The Bill will:

– Set the 2050 decarbonisation target in law.

– Provide for the adoption of five-year carbon budgets, setting maximum emissions by sector.

– Strengthen the role of the Climate Change Advisory Council, including in relation to proposing appropriate carbon budgets.

To ask the Minister for Environment, Climate and Communications the details of the retrofit plans announced in Budget 2021 including the target completions, the total budget, the source of this funding and the cost per house; and if he will make a statement on the matter. — Darren O’Rourke. [31480/20]

Eamon Ryan:

The Programme for Government and the Climate Action Plan set ambitious goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from buildings, including our homes, with targets to retrofit 500,000 homes to a Building Energy Rating of B2/cost optimal equivalent and to install 400,000 heat pumps in existing buildings over the next 10 years.

Budget 2021 provided €221.5 million in capital funding for residential and community retrofit programmes next year to be funded by my Department through the SEAI. This represents an additional €100 million, or 82% increase, on the 2020 allocation and is the largest amount ever in the budget for the schemes.This €100 million increase in allocation is funded through carbon tax revenue.

Of the €221.5 million allocated to my Department

– €109 million is allocated to provide free upgrades for lower income households;

– €112.5 million will be spent on expanding existing SEAI grant schemes and introducing new schemes, including:

– The National Retrofit Scheme (B2 package scheme) will facilitate the deeper renovation of homes to BER B2. A second strand of the National Retrofit Scheme will support One-Stop-Shops, Residential Service Providers, Employers, Financial Institutions, registered Housing Associations and Local Authorities who wish to participate in delivering energy efficiency upgrades to homes. This scheme was launched on 25 September last;

– A new Heat Pump Ready Homes Scheme targeting homes that are suitable for the installation of heat pumps with grant incentives;

-A new Community Activation scheme focused on supporting small-scale, capacity-building projects, pilots and feasibility studies and in particular supporting Sustainable Energy Communities.

It is estimated that next year, in total, SEAI residential and community schemes will deliver over 29,000 retrofits including approximately 8,000 to a B2 level and support over 8,500 direct and indirect jobs.

The amount of the grant provided per home will depend on the starting point of the home in question, the scheme the household is eligible for and the grant applied for.

A further €65 million has been provided for retrofitting the social housing stock through the Vote of the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage. It is estimated that this funding will result in 2,400 retrofits to B2 or cost optimal equivalent though the final number is dependent on the initial condition and dwelling type.

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