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Climate Bill is a Big Step in the Right Direction

23 Mar 2021

New draft makes real progress on most of the tests posed by Friends of the Earth

Friends of the Earth has welcomed the publication of the revised Climate Action Bill

Commenting, Friends of the Earth Director Oisín Coghlan said:

"This Climate Bill is a big step in the right direction. The first draft had too many loopholes. Now, the targets are tighter, the duty to act is stronger, and the language is clearer."

“But today is just the beginning. TDs and Senators must now do their job to make sure the final law is as robust as possible."

"Now the real work starts. The climate dialogues launched today are the chance for a national conversation about exactly how we cut our polluting emissions in half in a decade and grasp the opportunities for cleaner air, warmer homes, more liveable cities, and green electricity."

“The climate law is the starting gun for the race of a lifetime. The race to zero pollution fast enough to prevent complete climate breakdown and fairly enough to leave no one behind”

Friends of the Earth posed six questions for the Bill to answer. Here’s our first take on the answers:

1. Does the Bill oblige the state to achieve net zero emissions by 2050 at the latest?

Real improvement here. The October draft just said “pursue” climate neutrality (net zero) by 2050. Now the Bill says “pursue and achieve by no later than” 2050. It’s clearly essential that the legal obligation is not simply to try to meet the target, but to actually achieve it. But the addition of “no later than” is also crucial. While net zero by 2050 is in line with the new EU target and with the target put into the UK Climate Act in 2019, it is not line with Ireland’s fair share of the global effort to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement. This will require full decarbonization much sooner. Putting a climate neutral by 2050 target in law helps to drive national action now, but it is essential it is seen as the floor not the ceiling for our ambition.

2. Are the interim targets (e.g. 5, 10 years) set in the Bill itself, or will they be set by the Oireachtas on the advice of the Climate Council?

This is the big news. The Programme for Government commitment to cut emissions by 51% by 2030 will now be underpinned by law.Ireland’s 5, 10 and 15 year targets will be enshrined in binding Carbon Budgets (emissions ceilings). These will be proposed by the Climate Advisory Council, accepted or revised by Government, and adopted by the Oireachtas.The Bill specifies that the first two Carbon Budgets, for 2021-2025 and 2026- 2030, will match the 51% reduction commitment in the Programme for Government. And all Carbon Budgets have to be consistent with the 2050 target.Moreover, the Climate Council, which will propose the Carbon Budgets, have to perform all its functions in line with the Paris Agreement.

3. Is there a clear duty on the Minister and the Government to produce action plans in line with the 5-year targets and the 2050 target? And are the provisions for parliamentary oversight and ministerial accountability robust?

Clear improvement here too. The October draft said the Minister shall “have regard to” the Carbon Budgets (the short-term targets) when preparing climate action plans. Now the action plan has to be “consistent” with the Carbon Budgets.The Bill also says that all ministers must perform their functions in so far as practicable in a manner consistent with the resulting Climate Action Plan.And there is a strong role for a joint Oireachtas Committee holding ministers to account. The October draft, however, said the Minister didn’t have to report to Committee until 2023! That has been brought forward to 2022.

4. Does agriculture get special treatment or a separate target?

The Bill recognises the “distinct characteristics of biogenic methane”. However, there will be a single national Carbon Budget and all sectors and Government Departments will have to bid and negotiate for their share of the “pollution pie”. The trade-offs will have to be made in public as they are when the Government prepares the fiscal budget, if one sector gets more, another gets less. If one sector does less to reduce emissions, the rest of us has to do more.

5. Does the Bill deal with Just Transition?

The new draft does contain a definition of Just Transition and Ministers must “have regard to it” in drawing up the action plans. The definition, however, is watery and much less comprehensive than the wording proposed by ICTU and the ILO.

6. How does the Bill deal with Programme for Government commitments on fracking, LNG and new gas exploration?

The Programme for Government promises a Policy Statement to ban the importing of fracked gas. It has still not appeared. Today, the Minister has promised to bring the Policy Statement to Cabinet within six weeks. It is, however, really disappointing that this Bill is not being used to copper fasten this policy. It is welcome that the promise to end the issuing of new licences for gas exploration will be underpinned by a clause in this Bill, which will be formally introduced during the legislative process. We note that Shannon LNG is not on the recently published draft 5th list of EU Projects of Common Interest. However, Minister Ryan must urgently clarify if the continued presence of Shannon LNG on 4th list confers special privileges on the company proposing the project as it plans to reapply for planning permission.


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