On the eve of the Climate Bill’s publication, Stop Climate Chaos sets five tests for the Bill and outlines essential next steps.
5 Oct 2020
The new Climate Bill is due to be published tomorrow, day 101 of the new government.
Today, 5th October, is Day 100 of the new Government. The Programme for Government committed to publishing a Climate Action Bill in the first 100 days of the new administration. Comments from the Taoiseach on 23rd September, and from the Minister for Climate Action over the weekend, indicate that the Bill is due to be published tomorrow, Tuesday, on Day 101 of the new administration. In advance of the publication of the Bill, the Stop Climate Chaos Coalition, which has been campaigning for a strong climate law since 2007, has laid out 5 questions we will use to assess the Bill and 5 steps the Government needs to take in the next year. Once the Bill is published, we will assess how well it addresses our 5 benchmark questions.
5 questions to assess the new Climate Action Bill:
- Does it put Ireland’s 2050 net zero emission’s target into law, and set it as the floor, not the ceiling, of our ambition?
- Does it create a fully independent expert Council to advise Government and monitor progress?
- Does it mandate Government to propose 5-year pollution limits that will be legally binding once adopted by the Dáil?
- Will the 5-year pollution limits include all greenhouses gasses and all sectors of the economy?
- Does the Bill provide for robust Ministerial accountability to the Oireachtas for keeping within the legally-binding pollution limits?
1. Does it put Ireland’s 2050 net zero emission’s target into law, and set it as the floor, not the ceiling, of our ambition?
Ireland’s previous emissions reduction targets for 2010 and 2020 were agreed international commitments but were not given the force of national law. As a result our political and administrative system did not plan to meet those targets in a timely manner and government ministers have not been properly accountable to the Oireachtas for the delivery of climate action measures. The cornerstone of framework climate laws in other countries is to explicitly put an agreed long-term target into law, to make sure all Departments across Government take climate action seriously and all Governments across time take action consistently. The Programme for Government adopted a new national target of “net-zero” emissions by 2050. This is in line with what the EU is also planning to adopt as its target. It still falls short of what climate science and climate justice demands, however. It is essential therefore that the law says Ireland will reach net-zero emissions by 2050 “at the latest”. It is a legal backstop, the floor not the ceiling for our ambition.
2. Does it create a fully independent expert Council to advise Government and monitor progress?
The current Climate Advisory Council has too many economists, too many men and isn’t independent enough. The new Council should be fully, legally, independent, like the Fiscal Advisory Council. And the new law must mandate that the Council will have climate scientists, social scientists and ecologists as well as economists and engineers. There should be no ex-officio members representing state agencies as at present (EPA, SEAI, Teagasc, ESRI), their expertise should be available to the Secretariat and presented as appropriate to the Council.
3. Does it mandate Government to propose 5-year pollution limits that will be legally binding once adopted by the Dáil?
The centrepiece of an effective climate law is a mandate for legally binding 5-year emission reduction targets. The law should provide for the 5-year targets to be proposed by the Climate Council, approved by the Government and then adopted by a vote of the Dáil making them legally binding. These targets must be expressed in terms of the total amount of greenhouse gases Ireland can emit over a five year period, i.e. a carbon budget.
4. Will the 5-year pollution limits include all greenhouses gasses and all sectors of the economy?
The law must specify that the overall 5-year target will be a cumulative national one, covering polluting emissions of all greenhouse gases from all sectors of the economy. When the first 5-year pollution limit, the Carbon Budget, is being adopted next year, the share of permitted emissions allocated to agriculture may well be bigger than the share for transport or energy but it all has to be negotiated and agreed as part of a single overall national emissions cap. Nobody is expecting farmers to reduce their pollution as fast as other businesses, commuters and householders but their emissions will have to start decreasing rather than rising like they are at the moment.
5. Does the Bill provide for robust Ministerial accountability to the Oireachtas for keeping within the legally-binding pollution limits?
The Bill needs to be clear about the duty it places on ministers to keep Ireland’s emissions within the 5-year pollution limits set down in the Carbon Budgets adopted by the Dáil. The Bill must give an Oireachtas Committee the mandate to act like a Public Accounts Committee for climate-polluting emissions, holding ministers and officials to account.The new Bill must also preserve the same right for citizens to take the Government to court that enabled the Supreme Court to quash the 2017 National Mitigation Plan in August.
5 steps to faster and fairer climate action
Publishing the Climate Bill is only the first piece of the jigsaw of climate policy commitments made by the new Government. The 5 steps the Government needs to take before next summer are:
- Work with TDs and Senators of all parties and none to get a Climate Bill as strong as the recommendations of the 2019 JOCCA report signed into law by Christmas.
- Launch a proper climate dialogue with interest groups and the public, both locally and nationally, about how we reduce our emissions fast enough and fairly enough.
- Appoint a new Climate Action Council by Christmas with fewer economists and fewer men, and more climate scientists, social scientists and ecologists.
- Propose the 5-year pollution ceilings the Council recommends to the Dáil for adoption as legally binding targets, known as carbon budgets.
- Prepare a new statutory climate action plan to replace the one struck down by the Supreme Court in August.
Sorley McCaughey, Head of Policy in Christian Aid Ireland, a member of Stop Climate Chaos, said:
"It's almost five years since Ireland signed the Paris Climate Agreement. We need to see urgent action in line with climate science and climate justice. Everyday the people we work with around the world, who have done least to cause climate change, are being hit hardest. There is no more time to waste."
Oisín Coghlan, Stop Climate Chaos Coordinator, commented:
"Crucial as the Bill is, it is just the first step on the path to the urgent climate action we need. It enshrines in law a policy process based on forward planning, expert-advice, transparency and accountability. But it doesn't on its own cut emissions. It’s the rules of the game not the result."
"That's why we're calling on the Government to relaunch the national dialogue on climate action at the same time as publishing the Bill. At national level we need key stakeholders from business, farming organizations, trade unions, the community and voluntary sector along with environmental and climate organisations around the table to discuss how we are going to cut pollution in line with our commitments. No doubt we won't agree on everything, but we agree on the need for better social dialogue, we have all been calling for it for over a year."
"And at the local level we need the Government to convene, facilitate and resource meaningful public participation in looking at how local communities and local authorities can work together to manage the impacts of climate change that is now unavoidable, and to cut pollution enough to avoid climate breakdown that is unmanageable."
- Stop Climate Chaos (SCC) is a coalition of over thirty civil society organisations campaigning to ensure Ireland plays its part in preventing runaway climate change. It was launched in 2007 and is the largest network of organisations campaigning for action on climate change in Ireland. Its membership includes development, environmental, youth and faith-based organisations. Its members are: Afri, BirdWatch Ireland, Christian Aid Ireland, Comhlámh, Community Work Ireland, Concern Worldwide, Cultivate, Cyclist.ie, Dublin Friends of the Earth, Eco Congregation Ireland, ECO UNESCO, Feasta, Fossil Free TCD, Friends of the Earth, Friends of the Irish Environment, Goal, Good Energies Alliance Ireland, Self Help Africa, Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice, Just Forests, Latin America Solidarity Centre (LASC), Liberia Solidarity Group, Methodist Church of Ireland – Council of Social Responsibility, Mountmellick Environmental Group, National Youth Council of Ireland, Oxfam Ireland, Peoples’ Climate Ireland, Presentation Ireland, Tearfund Ireland, Trócaire, An Taisce, VITA, VOICE., and Young Friends of the Earth.