I was delighted to support my colleague Deputy Thomas Pringle with his tremendous work on bringing this bill through the legislative processes. The bill was passed with cross party support. We know that the burdens of climate change are not distributed proportionately. Those least responsible are paying the most. This is causing starvation and malnutrition, which, in turn, affects people’s health and their ability to access education and to work – things we take for granted here. The central message was that hunger, nutrition and climate justice are development challenges that need to be tackled together.
While Deputy Pringle’s Bill involves divestments relating to fossil fuels, the crux of the debate is climate change. Five years ago when Ireland held the EU Presidency, I attended a conference organised by the Mary Robinson Foundation in association with Irish Aid and the World Food Programme entitled “Hunger, Nutrition and Climate Justice”. It was an innovative conference because as well as bringing key leaders into the conference, more importantly it brought the people who are living in those front-line communities directly affected by climate change and the hunger, poverty and displacement that comes from that. That relationship was very apparent. Delegates from approximately 100 developing countries spoke at that conference. They were farmers, pastoralists and those from fishing communities who outlined what it is like to live with droughts, floods and unpredictable rainfall and how these affect agriculture and food security. There were stories from all over the world about the impact of climate change on people trying to make a living.
We know that the burdens of climate change are not distributed proportionately. Those least responsible are paying the most. This is causing starvation and malnutrition, which, in turn, affects people’s health and their ability to access education and to work – things we take for granted here. The central message was that hunger, nutrition and climate justice are development challenges that need to be tackled together.
In all likelihood, this Bill would never have got as far as it has today without new politics in Ireland. I do not believe that previous Dáileanna in which there were Government majorities would have entertained the Bill. However, the new politics has meant that there has been engagement on the Bill and that people have worked through the issues, compromised and built consensus in the context of considering amendments.
I acknowledge the work done by Deputy Pringle, who, with the assistance of Trócaire, has been the driving force behind the Bill. I also acknowledge the input of the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe. There were considerable negotiations and some dilutions, but the principle is the same, namely, that there has to be pressure to keep fossils in the ground. Unless there is pressure to change, nothing will change.
Ireland has to move away from making excuses, including with regard to our carbon footprint. As I have stated previously, the position in this regard is highly ironic, particularly as Ireland played such a dominant role in negotiating and securing agreement on the sustainable development goals. There is a specific goal relating to climate change which relates to taking urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts. Climate change has to be tackled before any of the other goals can be realised. They came into effect in January 2016 and I would have to ask where the progress is. We will see how Ireland fares in the first voluntary national report.
The thrust of the Bill reminds me of one of the ways used to tackle drug dealing in Dublin central. As the late Tony Gregory said, we should follow the money and hit people in their pockets, which led to the setting up of CAB. Rather than empty rhetoric about targets, this Bill is going after the money and focusing on the money by preventing the NTMA, through its management of the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund, ISIF, from investing in fossil fuel companies. The ISIF, as a result of the Bill, will have to start that divestment process. The message the Bill is sending in Ireland, Europe and also further in the world is positive because there is a lot of interest in the Bill. It is an important step. It is essential, as NGOs such as Trócaire and many others tell us, so that the temperature limits agreed by Governments in the Paris agreement remain viable. The Bill is also an important step in signalling Ireland’s commitment to policy coherence. Irish Aid funds and supports and empowers communities overseas to deal with climate change but we also have to do our part in Ireland. The central point is that public money should not be invested in areas that are not in the public interest. It is not in the public interest for fossil fuels to be developed and supported. They need to be kept in the ground. We have all seen the extent of the correspondence on this which is a strong testament to the extensive interest in the Bill and its significance.
Another positive thing within the Bill is the definition of fossil fuel, which is comprehensive. Doing this today makes us stand out as a national Parliament. It is making an example. It will mean real progress. It also means we have to make real progress on the renewables.
The phasing out of fossil fuels has to be expedited, including the need to keep them in the ground. Ireland can do more – “do” is the key word – rather than talk about it because we have to uphold the principles of the Paris Agreement. The negotiations, the discussion and consensus that went on between the Department, Deputy Pringle and Trócaire on the Bill are a great testament that we are serious. I hope this is just the first in a number of other steps that show we are very serious about tackling climate change.