Formed in 2007, the Joint Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security aims to ensure that Ireland complies with global climate change frameworks.
Joint committees are comprised of members from both Houses of the Oireachtas, the Dáil and the Seanad, who sit and vote together on relevant issues.
Climate change targets, renewable energy and the role of the agriculture sector in creating bio-fuel are some of the issues dealt with by this committee. The 13 TDs and four senators who make up the committee are also required to report to the Dáil and the Seanad in 2012, in advance of the conclusion of the post-Kyoto negotiations by the United Nations Framework Committee on Climate Change and the associated EU 2020 burden sharing process. The committee has been chaired by Deputy Sean Barrett since its formation in 2007.
On 2 October 2008 the committee launched a report called ‘EU scrutiny report number 1 – EU climate-energy legislative package.’ Later that month their report ‘Need for a climate change law’ was released. In April 2009 they called for electric vehicles and a public consultation on ‘Meeting Ireland’s needs post 2020’ has recently ended. This consultation gathered opinions and thoughts on actions needed for funding ocean and wave energy and the creation of a mix of resources to ensure that Ireland does not become dependent on a single energy source, such as gas.
The committee has lobbied for climate change law. According to a spokesman, the committee feels that unless the Government, state bodies, businesses, farmers, employees and householders operate and live within a legal framework, including binding climate change targets, “changes in personal and corporate behaviour that are critical if green-house gas emissions reductions are to become a reality will not happen at the pace required.”
The committee believes that Ireland can lead the biggest change since the industrial revolution if it embraces the transition to a low carbon economy early.
Committee member and TD Simon Coveney states: “There are tremendous opportunities for those societies that are first movers in tackling climate change.” He identifies risks where public funds are involved and wants to see “careful analysis and a strong evidence base to support ongoing commitments.”
Coveney claims that “there is clear indisputable evidence to suggest that focussing on energy efficiency makes financial as well as environmental sense. But the greatest opportunity for dramatic emissions reduction lies in transport.”
He suggests that the Government be “proactive and ambitious by leading the way in a move away from fossil fuel internal combustion engines to electrically powered transport based on renewable energy sources.”
New sources of power
Decisions taken now by government will have major implications for where Ireland’s energy supply comes from in the future, so the committee Chairman decided to launch a public consultation on how Ireland’s electricity needs after 2020 could be sustainably met.
Committee Chairman, Sean Barrett said: “Key decisions on the building of infrastructure and the establishment of supporting legal frameworks could dictate whether or not certain new sources of power such as ocean energy and carbon capture and storage (CCS) become a viable option for deployment in Ireland in the future.”
The committee’s latest consultation formulated a list of actions including a review of supports and funding for ocean and wave energy, a commitment to greater oversight of the effectiveness of the regulatory and permitting system, and securing a sustainable mix of generation sources to ensure Ireland does not become over-dependent on a single energy source.
Members are aware of the effect that climate change will have on the poorest in society.
“Climate change has the greatest effect on the lives of the most vulnerable people in the world. Our decisions internationally must reflect their needs. At home a priority must be to tackle fuel poverty as it affects the poorest in our society,” said Liz McManus, committee member and Labour’s spokeswoman on communications, energy and natural resources.
Higher fuel prices will bear disproportionately on the disadvantaged. McManus suggests that energy efficiency in the form of better insulation, more efficient boilers and draught-proofing has the greatest potential to alleviate this burden while reaching wider climate change and energy security goals.
The Programme for Government aims to have Ireland as a world leader in ocean energy. However the committee has identified a number of barriers that need to be removed in order to achieve this goal.
A spokesman for the committee explained that developers are saying that a foreshore licensing procedure is placing “serious impediments” in the way of their moving prototype devices to ocean trials along the Irish coastline. “This is a key stage in creating commercial wave and ocean power technologies,” he said.
Barrett said they are “acutely aware of the constraints posed by the current public licensing and permitting framework”. In light of this the committee has put forward proposals for new legislation for reform which would create a one-stop-shop for renewable energy developers looking for permission to build and test wave and power devices at sea.
These reforms would both speed up the process of receiving licences to operate in Irish waters and give Irish companies the best chance to take a lead in new wave and ocean technologies, which if successful could become a major export industry for the Republic.
Green Party TD and committee member Ciaran Cuffe said they are “working hard to bring together all sides around the issue of climate change.” He added that their terms of reference also include the issue of energy security, and “we are in agreement that both issues are tied together and require joint action at all levels of government.”
Oireachtas committees were originally established to speed up the process of formulating and scrutinising legislation. Barrett believes a more central role for the committee is essential in developing legislative frameworks for renewable energy and climate change in the 21st century.
The committee is working on all fronts to enable everyone from farmers, entrepreneurs and energy companies make the transition to a low carbon economy in a way that will tackle climate change, increase Ireland’s competitiveness and ensure that all sectors of society benefit from it.
Members of the Joint Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security
Chairman: Sean Barrett