Environment & Science Editor
Publication of the new climate action Bill by the Government is “a significant milestone on the path to faster and fairer climate action”, according to the Stop Climate Chaos Coalition (SCC). But it called for firmer requirements to ensure emissions targets are achieved – and not merely pursued.
The campaign group, which includes environmental, overseas aid, youth and faith groups, has been calling for a robust climate law since 2007, and coordinated the campaign that led to the 2015 Climate Action Act.
SCC co-ordinator Oisín Coghlan said: “This Climate Bill substantially improves the 2015 law but substantial weaknesses remain that must be fixed by TDs and Senators.
“Moreover, we’re acutely conscious that this Bill is just the framework for action. It’s the rules of the game, not the result. Passing it is the starting gun in the race of a lifetime, the race to eliminate our polluting emissions fast enough to avoid complete climate breakdown,” he said.
SCC policy co-ordinator Sadhbh O’Neill said on first reading the Bill contains many key elements they have been calling for over many years, notably a clear 2050 objective in law; the setting of five-year emissions targets by the Dáil, and corresponding plans by government.
“There are obvious weaknesses, however. The Government only has to pursue the 2050 objective not achieve it, the five-year targets don’t have to be consistent with the 2050 objective, and ministers aren’t given a clear duty to achieve the five-year targets when drawing up their plans.
“We will complete a detailed assessment... and share it with the TDs and Senators who now have the crucial job of ensuring the final law is as robust and effective as possible,” she said.
"As we contemplate the dry, legal language of legislation we mustn't forget the lives and livelihoods that are already being devastated by climate disruption. Around the world those who have done least to cause climate change are being hit first and hardest, commented Niamh Garvey, head of policy and advocacy in Trócaire.
"That's why Ireland, known for its generosity and solidarity, but also known as one of the richest and most polluting countries in the world, must do its fair share to cut our emissions as fast as possible," she added.
"Unfortunately there is no requirement for comprehensive public participation in designing climate plans, noted Theresa O'Donohoe of Feasta – a member An Taisce's Climate Committee.
“Passing the climate law is the easy bit. The real test is implementing policies that reduce emissions fast enough while being fair enough on everybody. That’s why it’s essential that the Government launch a proper national dialogue on climate action immediately,” she said.
“At national level we need key stakeholders from business, trade unions, farming and sports organisations, 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.”
At local level the Government needed to convene, facilitate and resource meaningful public participation in looking at how local communities and local authorities can work together, she said. This was “to manage the impacts of climate change that is now unavoidable, and to cut pollution enough to avoid climate breakdown that is unmanageable”.
Binding emissions targets
Sorley McCaughey, head of policy and advocacy at Christian Aid Ireland (CAI) said the Bill was a significant milestone. "We need to get binding emissions targets into law, and recognise our responsibility as one of the highest per person polluters in Europe for the damage caused to developing countries through our past emissions."
Climate change was already setting back anti-poverty efforts across the countries in which CAI worked. "If we are to have any chance of achieving the [UN]Sustainable Development Goals then all countries, particularly richer ones, must play their part in drastically reducing emissions."
UCD-based environmental researcher Dr Cara Augustenborg said a much more ambitious 2050 target – of climate neutrality – was now being legislated for ahead of EU's own plans to raise ambition. "In legal terms, this puts Ireland in the climate leader category of member states instead of laggard; on paper anyway," she added.
Chairman of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Climate Action, and Green Party Climate action spokesman Brian Leddin said: "This bill is one of the most critically important steps in this Government's response to the climate emergency, and it is a vital step which will compel the government, and future governments, to act by setting carbon budgets for each sector, and mandating a climate action plan, to be revised every year, to achieve compliance with those budgets."
It also provided the framework for sustained climate action, he believed. “It empowers the Oireachtas, and in particular the relevant Climate Committee, to hold the government of the day to account. It will force both the government and our local authorities to comprehensively plan and implement a pathway to an Ireland that will have net zero emissions by 2050.”