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Seanad makes largely symbolic amendments to the Climate Bill

2 Jul 2021

Seanad amendments don't get agriculture off the hook
No definition of climate justice better than a bad one

Today in the Seanad Committee Stage debate on the Government's landmark Climate Action Bill, Minister Ryan and senators agreed two changes to the Bill. The first change (Amendments 1 and 92) was to make explicit that as well as counting polluting emissions the Government will count "removals", that is to say land use change that absorbs pollution, when measuing compliance with the carbon budgets and sectoral emissions ceilings that will be adopted under the law. This change was the result of lobbying by the IFA in recent weeks. The second change (Amendment 7) was to delete the proposed definition of climate justice in the Bill. The ceos of Trócaire, Concern, Oxfam and Christian Aid had written to the leaders of the three coalition parties to express their dismay at how narrow the proposed definition was and calling for its improvement or removal.


Commenting on the amendments backed by the IFA, the Director of Friends of the Earth, Oisín Coghlan said:

“I worry that the amendments to count removals as well as emissions in our carbon budgeting process will encourage the IFA to continue to mislead its members on climate action. Despite today’s vote there are a number of inescapable truths the farm leaders have to reckon with.

"Polluting emissions from agriculture have to start coming down, immediately and substantially. There are not enough removals to avoid having to reduce polluting emissions and there never will be.

"Removals will be calculated on scientifically strict UN criteria and at the moment our land is a net emitter of pollution rather than absorbing pollution. I hope good land use planning will change that and our forests, peatlands and soils will indeed absorb more pollution than they emit in the future.

"But whatever savings there are won't automatically be assigned to the agricultural sector. They may well be for the next 10 or even 20 years. But ultimately, as we get to near-zero emissions overall, other sectors will lay claim to them to as well in order to achieve net zero. I can well imagine CRH asking why should Glanbia get all the offsets while they have to eliminate every last tonne of their emissions!

"It doesn’t matter how many signpost farms and exemplary farmers there are if overall emissions continue to rise. That's the number that matters. Today’s vote does not get agriculture off the hook in any way. It does clarify the challenge however, which is to both radically reduce polluting emissions and to enhance carbon sinks that remove pollution from the atmosphere. We’ll work with any farm organisation that accepts that reality and embraces that challenge."


Commenting on the amendments on Climate Justice, Mr Coghlan continued: 

“I welcome the fact Minister Ryan agreed to delete the proposed definition of climate justice from the Bill. It was far too narrow and weak, omitting entirely any reference to fairness between the Global North and the Global South.

“It is regrettable however that he wasn’t in a position to accept any of the positive definitions proposed by senators. I don’t accept the Minister’s conclusion that it’s too complex a concept to agree a definition, indeed the members of the Joint Oireachtas Committee did just that when they examined the draft Bill. I suspect the real problem is that there isn’t agreement between all the coalition parties to allow a robust definition.

“At least now the principle of climate justice is one the Government will have to have regard to when planning climate action, and the precise implications of climate justice will remain open to future debate.

“For Friends of the Earth, the Stop Climate Chaos Coalition and the wider climate movement that will always include justice for those in the Global South who have done least to cause climate change and who are being hit hardest, and the imperative for Ireland to do it fair share to tackle the causes and consequences of climate change."

Committee Stage in the Seanad concludes on Monday, with Report and Final Stage due on Friday 9th. A final vote in the Dáil will be required on Tuesday 13th or Wednesday 14th before the Bill becomes law.

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