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Government climate Bill is like "window dressing while your house is on fire" - Friends of the Earth

26 Feb 2013

Government climate Bill too weak to deliver low-carbon Ireland

A climate Bill with no targets is like "a compass with no needle"

Friends of the Earth has described the Government's Climate Action Bill, published today, as "window dressing while your house is on fire". Minister Hogan restated today that this Government intends "to deliver more on addressing climate change than any of his predecessors". According to the the environmental campaigning organisation, however, the Bill is simply a rehash of the Fianna Fail / Green Party Bill with all the targets taken out. The draft Bill now goes to the Oireachtas environment committee which will consult stakeholders and report to Government on how to improve the Bill.

Oisín Coghlan, Friends of the Earth Director, commented:

"A climate Bill with no targets is like a compass without a needle. It doesn't show you the way.

"We cannot support a climate Bill with no targets. It fails the most basic test. It is too weak to deliver the low-carbon Ireland it promises."

Molly Walsh, Policy and Campaigns Manager, said:

"The primary purpose of targets in climate legislation is to change the terms of the debate from whether we cut emissions to how we cut emissions. This Bill fails that test. Compare it with the public service pay talks just finished. Government set a specific target of one billion euro in savings and the negotiations with stakeholders were only about how best to do it.

"This Bill won't do what it says on the tin. A 'Climate Action' Bill with no 2050 target won't deliver climate action. Vested interests will say 'not us, not here, not yet'. And Government will ditch policies to placate those who protest loudest, resulting in dither and delay."

All five climate Bills initiated in the Oireachtas since 2009 have had an 80% target for emissions reductions by 2050. EU leaders have recognised that this is the least we will have to do and have set it as an objective.

Mr Coghlan added:

"The Government says it won't set an 80% reduction target in this Bill as they aren't sure exactly how to achieve every last percentage of the reduction. But that is the point of a target. Setting it drives the policy and technological innovation and the adoption of measures that enables you to meet it. Without the legal target the imperative to act is gone."

"This Bill is the weaker than any of five Bills previously introduced in the Oireachtas".

Road safety, and the role of targets

Look at road safety by contrast. In 2007 the Government set a target to reduce collisions, deaths and injuries on Irish roads by 30% by 2012 and set a specific target for reducing deaths from 366 a year to 252. They set out the principles for action: education, enforcement, engineering and evaluation, but they did not know exactly how to achieve the target in every respect. Nor could they control directly how much public behaviour would change. But the independent Road Safety Authority drove action and the target was met 3 years early and road deaths reached an historic low in 2012.

Molly Walsh said:

"The policies required to reduce road deaths were not always easy. Moves on seat-belts, drink-driving, speeding and penalty points all met with resistance over the years. But the public policy goal was reflected in law, specific targets and an independent authority. And it generated a cultural transition and a huge policy success. We need a much greater transformation to do our share to contain climate change. We can't afford to leave any tools in the box. And this climate Bill simply doesn't measure up."

Moonshots and Meteorites

When John F Kennedy said "We choose to go to the moon in this decade... not because [it is] easy, but because [it is] hard" scientists were aghast because the necessary technology didn't yet exist. But the setting of the objective drove progress and a man stepped on the moon 8 years later. Now scientists are telling us we have 8 years to start cutting emissions enough to contain climate change. And politicians are telling us it is too hard. Kennedy said "that goal will serve to organise and measure the best of our energies and skills". Our politicians unwilling to set a specific target because they don't want us to be able to measure our progress.

Oisín Coghlan said:

"Imagine scientists told us that a meteorite was heading straight for Earth that would hit with devastating impact in 2050. Would our politicians say, well we don't know exactly how we are going to stop the meteorite so we won't make that our specific target. Let us speak instead of something more vague - a low-meteorite future, or maybe 'meteorite neutrality'. It would be laughable."

The threat from climate change is as real and as devastating as a meteorite heading towards Earth. And this climate Bill simply fails to even acknowledge the scale of the challenge we face between now and 2050.

Ignoring public opinion

Minister Hogan made much of the need to bring the public with him on climate change after the FF/Green climate Bill fell with that Government. His Department ran a very extensive public consultation last year to which over 600 people and organisations responded: 90% of respondents said they want to see Ireland's emissions targets enshrined in national law, not just for 2020 but for 2030, 2040 and 2050.

Molly Walsh concluded:
"Minster Hogan now has to explain why he so dismissive of the views of the public he was so keen to consult."


1. A summary of all the reaction to the draft Bill is here.

2. The "General Scheme" of the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Bill 2013 is online here

3. Friends of the Earth's "Six Tests for the Government's Climate Change Bill" is online here.

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