How Ireland plans to be ‘leaders not laggards’ on climate action

8 Oct 2020259 Views

Global climate strike protest. Image: © 19b_production/Stock.adobe.com

Ireland’s Climate Action Bill enshrines 30 years of emissions targets into law, but activists warn that it’s not strict enough on reaching this long-term goal.

A few days late, the Irish Government published its draft Climate Action Bill on Wednesday, 7 October.

The bill sets out a framework by which Ireland can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by an average of 7pc per year for the next 10 years.

One of the headline elements of the bill is that it enshrines the country’s commitment to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 into law. However, the bill requires that the Government will “pursue” not achieve this national 2050 climate objective.

To become a sustainable, climate-neutral economy requires that any greenhouse gas emissions in the State are balanced or exceeded by their removal. Part of the framework to achieve this includes a system of carbon budgets starting from 2021.

These five-year carbon budgets will allocate emissions ceilings known as ‘decarbonisation target ranges’ for all relevant sectors.

It is hoped that the drive to reach these targets will stimulate job creation in new sectors such as retrofitting and renewable energy, the circular economy, clean mobility, green and blue infrastructure, sustainable agriculture and the bio-economy.

‘This cannot be a one-government process, this has to be for the next five, six governments’
– EAMON RYAN, TD

Under this bill, the Climate Change Advisory Council has a strengthened role to advise and propose carbon budgets to Government. The bill also addresses the make-up of future councils, ensuring a focus on gender balance and scientific expertise.

Annual accountability is built into the framework with all relevant Government ministers required to account for their sectors. The bill is also expansive and accounts for climate action down to regional and local level, with local authorities required to develop five-year climate action plans with mitigation and adaptation measures included.

Finally, to ensure the plan stays on course for the next 30 years, the bill provides for annual revisions of the national Climate Action Plan and the development of a National Long-Term Climate Action Strategy at least once every 10 years.

“This cannot be a one-government process, this has to be for the next five, six governments in a row [to] deliver this if it’s going to work,” said Minister for Climate Action Eamon Ryan, TD, at a press conference announcing the publication of the bill.

“This has to be a just transition,” he later added. “This will not work if a sector is left behind. This has to be done on the basis of social justice.”

Climate action on cars yet to come

Concluding his presentation of the bill, Minister Ryan said, “We will be leaders not laggards. We start today.”

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This comment recalls a report from Climate Action Network Europe in 2018, which ranked Ireland second-last in the EU for its progress on climate action. At the time, Jennifer Higgins, one of the report contributors, said this “dismal ranking” further reinforced Ireland’s status “as a laggard rather than a leader when it comes to ambition on climate change”.

Following this disastrous report card, the Government was under pressure to implement recommendations made by the Citizens’ Assembly. This bill draws on those recommendations as well as the follow-up report in 2019 from the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Climate Action.

‘This bill is just the framework for action. It’s the rules of the game, not the result’
– OISÍN COGHLAN

The Programme for Government had committed to the publication of this draft bill within the first 100 days of Government, which was reached earlier this week.

One surprising absence from the Climate Action Bill is a ban on the registration of new fossil-fuelled cars and light vehicles and measures to phase out diesel and petrol cars from Irish cities from 2030, which was also mentioned in the Programme for Government. However, a deputy Government press secretary explained that this commitment has not been overlooked, but rather that its inclusion in the bill would have delayed it as a whole.

“EU law requires that such a provision is notified to the European Commission in advance of its entry into force, when the legislation remains a proposal. Thus, it risks delaying the enactment of the other provisions in this priority legislation,” quoted TheJournal.ie.

“The department is currently preparing the necessary specific evidential matters to make a case for derogation under EU law, and will continue to engage with the European Commission and the Attorney General’s Office on such matters.”

Obvious weaknesses’

The Stop Climate Chaos Coalition of more than 30 civil society organisations described the bill as a “starting gun for the race of a lifetime”. Acknowledging that the bill is a substantial improvement on the 2015 Climate Action Act, the group also flagged that there are critical weaknesses to be addressed by TDs and senators.

Oisín Coghlan, coordinator of the coalition, said: “We’re acutely conscious that this bill is just the framework for action. It’s the rules of the game, not the result.”

Sadhbh O’Neill, the group’s policy coordinator added: “The bill contains many of the key elements we have been calling for for years: a clear 2050 objective in law, the setting of five-year emissions targets by the Dáil, and corresponding plans by the Government.

“There are obvious weaknesses, however. The Government only has to pursue the 2050 objective not achieve it, the give-year targets don’t have to be consistent with the 2050 objective, and ministers aren’t given a clear duty to achieve the five-year targets when drawing up their plans.”

Stop Climate Chaos intends to produce a detailed assessment of the bill to be shared with Government representatives before it is written into law.

The Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Bill 2020 will go before the Oireachtas Committee on Climate Action where TDs and Senators will carry out pre-legislative scrutiny before it is debated in the Dáil.

Elaine Burke is the editor of Siliconrepublic.com

editorial@siliconrepublic.com