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New study finds Irish Climate Law to be broadly in line with international best practice

18 Oct 2021


2021 Climate Act is much strengthened from the 2015 law - the remaining shortcomings and concerns relate mostly to Climate Council’s independence from vested interest groups

An independent comparative assessment of the Irish Climate Act has been published today, 18th October [1]. The study by the DCU Centre for Climate and Society, which was commissioned by Friends of the Earth, compared the Irish law to other national framework climate laws in Europe and beyond. The study’s lead researcher, Dr Diarmuid Torney, assessed the extent to which the new Climate Act delivers eight core components that have been identified as key features of national framework climate laws. His analysis found that Ireland's Climate Act is broadly in the realm of international best practice, although there are some exceptions and remaining shortcomings.

Commenting on the study, Friends of the Earth Director, Oisín Coghlan said:
"Given it took a 14 year campaign to get this climate law, it is good to see that the study finds it is broadly in line with international best practice.


However the study makes clear that the climate law is just the framework for action. Now the real work begins as the Government agrees Ireland’s Carbon Budgets and the measures for every part of the economy and society to be supported to do its fair share to live within those budgets.”

The study assesses the extent to which Ireland’s new 2021 Climate Act delivers the following eight core components of national framework climate laws:

  • Long-term targets: The 2021 Climate Act strengthens significantly the provisions of the 2015 Act by adding a specific decarbonisation target of climate neutrality by 2050 at the latest. This brings Ireland’s approach into line with the EU commitment to climate neutrality by 2050.
  • Intermediate targets: The 2021 Act represents a significant strengthening in terms of intermediate targets relative to the 2015 Act. It introduces a system of carbon budgeting and makes provision for the setting of the first two budgets at a level consistent with the Programme for Government (PfG) commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 51% over the course of the current decade. The amendments bring Ireland’s legislative framework broadly into line with international best practice and provide for a level of decarbonisation that is extremely ambitious by international standards. The language regarding how sectoral targets are to be set and ministers’ duty to comply are somewhat lacking in clarity.
  • Arrangements for policy planning: Both the Climate Action Plan and the Long Term Strategy are required to be consistent with the carbon budget programme as well as the state’s EU and international obligations. By combining requirements for long-term and short-term policy planning that is consistent with EU and international obligations, these changes place the Irish legislative framework towards the front of the pack in international terms.
  • Incorporation of expert advice:The 2021 Act strengthens the role of the Climate Change Advisory Council (CCAC) as both an advisor and a watchdog. The Council has been given a strong advisory role in the setting of carbon budgets, and by extension will play a stronger watchdog role in monitoring compliance with those budgets. In comparison with other jurisdictions, however, the CCAC remains an outlier regarding its composition, which could undermine its perceived independence. These concerns remain unaddressed in the 2021 Act. Concerns persist also regarding resourcing of the CCAC, potentially undermining its ability to fulfil its remit fully.
  • Public participation: The 2021 Act does little to change the provisions for public participation in national climate policy planning, though such provisions are somewhat stronger in respect of the preparation of local authority climate action plans. However, Climate Action Plans produced under the Act are required to include provisions on public dialogue. The Irish legislative approach is broadly in line with other jurisdictions, as most framework climate laws do not contain strong provisions for public participation.
  • Institutional arrangements and responsibilities: Institutional arrangements and responsibilities under the 2021 Act represent a progression on the 2015 Act, but are still somewhat lacking in clarity.International practice in respect of institutional arrangements varies considerably, making international benchmarking on this dimension challenging to undertake.
  • Progress monitoring and reporting: The 2021 Act significantly strengthens progress monitoring and reporting which bring the Irish legislative framework broadly into line with international best practice.
  • Enforcement and sanctions: The 2021 Act creates a range of new obligations on government, creating new opportunities for accountability. It does not include explicit provisions for sanctioning and enforcement in the case of failure to meet GHG reduction targets. This is partly a function of the particular types of duties imposed by climate laws in general, but is intensified by certain provisions of the Act. The absence of explicit provisions for sanctioning and enforcement is a common feature of framework climate laws internationally, and thus Ireland’s legislative framework is broadly consistent with international practice in this regard.

One of the main shortcomings identified by the study was around the independence, and resourcing, of the Climate Change Advisory Council, and particularly the role of Teagasc on the Council. The identification of these shortcomings is timely, as the Climate Change Advisory Council is expected to publish its key recommendations to the Government on Ireland’s carbon budgets imminently.

Commenting on this, Oisín Coghlan, Director of Friends of the Earth said:

“The one place where the study finds the Irish law is an outlier is having the heads of state agencies like Teagasc on the Climate Advisory Council, where it creates questions over the independence of the Council. As the Council is currently deliberating on momentous decisions about the Carbon Budget its independence is crucial and it will need to demonstrate it is free from the influence of any vested interest.

ENDS

 

Notes:
1. The full study is available here: https://www.foe.ie/assets/files/pdf/comparative_assessment_of_the_climate_action_act_2021_-_dcu_october_2021_1.pdf

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