Labour Blog

Labour Blog

State is crucial in creating a low-carbon economy

Posted on April 06, 2017 at 02:02 PM

As a party, Labour is committed to State activism and intervention. The role of the State will be particularly critical in our transition to a low-carbon, and ultimately zero-carbon, economy. The market alone will not deliver the fundamental change that needs to happen.

Sustainable energy is worth €1.5bn to the economy and employs 18,000 people. This can only increase. It will more than compensate for the inevitable loss of employment in older energy sectors, playing a huge part in a just transition for workers in these sectors.

The State will continue to have a role in stimulating and regulating markets, for example in the renewable energy sector. But the State must and will be a direct player as well, through commercial companies such as ESB, Bord na Móna and Coillte, agencies such as the SEAI and SFI, and as a lead investor through the Capital Programme.

The State also has an indispensable role in promoting and funding research and innovation. Universities and research institutions are already engaged in a great deal of excellent work, much of it alongside industry partners. The opportunities are immense and, if we take the challenge and our responsibilities seriously, Ireland is uniquely placed to become a leader in this rapidly growing sector. Indeed, this is a key area where Brexit may provide Ireland with a significant opportunity.

With regard to renewable energy, we should support and advocate diversity, so that on-shore wind is not the only, or even necessarily the biggest, contributor to our renewables portfolio. We must pursue the potential for solar, off-shore wind, tidal and wave technologies, as well as bio-energy. We should examine attractive and innovative incentives to develop each of these options, recognising that some will take longer than others to mature. We should carry out this work with urgency and ambition. In our alternative Budget published in October 2016, we advocated installing solar panels on every school – this could be the first step towards a rooftop revolution.

Investment in energy efficiency was a real casualty of the economic crash. Labour in government began to address this deficit. To have the necessary impact, funding must be significantly increased, to accelerate the programme of retrofitting in homes and in all categories of buildings throughout the State.

The potential for job creation in the energy efficiency sector is considerable. It is an obvious candidate for State-led stimulus. It makes no sense whatsoever that EU fiscal constraints continue to restrict the State’s ability to invest. Over recent months, Labour has been to the fore in pressing for a realistic adjustment of these arbitrary fiscal constraints, in order to enable the kind of productive investment needed here.

Energy has been the most progressive sector in the decarbonisation project, even if a lot more still needs to be done. We still await a policy framework on district heating.

The weakest link has been the transport sector and this now requires special attention, especially in the context of the Capital Programme. Labour has always prioritised public transport and this takes on a new urgency now in view of the need to decarbonise.

The housing shortage is the single greatest legacy of the economic crash. As progress is made in addressing this, it is essential that new homes and buildings are energy efficient, to the highest standard. And resources must be directed to ensuring that existing housing stock (including in the rented sector) benefits from retrofitting – so that money invested today can save money tomorrow, while at the same time helping to meet our targets.

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