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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: February 11, 2013 @ 3:24 pm

    Climate Change legislation

    Harry McGee

    The Heads of Bill (or draft) for the long-awaited Climate Change Bill will be published tomorrow after going to Cabinet. A little later in the day we will expect to see the final report by the secretariat of the National Economic and Social Council (NESC) which provides the ground for Phil Hogan’s legislative initiative.

    The first thing that can be said is that it’s going to be controversial. When John Gormley made a forlorn effort to rush through his Climate Change Bill in the dying days of the Fianna Fáil-Green coalition, it had many ingredients similar to the UK legislation… binding targets for reducing emissions, an independent verification body with wide powers to keep the politicians honest, as well as responsibility for maintaining the targets being placed at the highest political level.

    I have seen perhaps four private members Bills in the same time (the latest published only last Friday by independent TD Catherine Murphy) and all of them, without exception, contained binding targets.

    Tomorrow’s Bill will contain no targets, other than the ones to which we are bound already… namely the EU imposed target that Ireland reduces its CO2 emissions by 20 per cent by 2020 compared to 2005 levels. This target is already onerous as it only includes those sectors not covered by emissions trading: in other words transport, electricity and agriculture. It will have an aspirational target to make Ireland a carbon neutral country by 2050.

    Part of the political thinking of the Minister (and presumably wider Government) is that the EU targets are already there and it might be better to pursue the goals with a field full of carrots rather than a bag full of sticks. The NESC report dwells on the ‘linear’ nature of all the target-focused initiatives and makes a number of stark observations that stands out for the reader. The first is those international initiatives have not worked and secondly, too much emphasis was placed on quantifying how much emissions needed to be reduced by without examining rigorously enough the qualitative ‘how to’ question – how to achieve those ends. The NESC solution to that is a complex one, containing goals that are not binding but should be ‘motivational’ the participation of all players from Government to business to community groups, especially the relevant State agencies, an an approach that balances the target of reducing admissions with finding ways and strategies for achieving those ends.

    There is also criticism in the narrative of the ETS which it suggests has lacked impact with its political sponsors having been too optimistic in their views about how markets could act as corrective instruments for carbon use.

    The report runs to over 90 pages and is well worth reading in its entirety. I suspect it’s going to divide opinion and attract very strong reactions. In its defence, it is very well researched, the arguments are very readable if cogently made, and clearly a lot of thinking went into it. I sense though that if the Bill lacks any target or coercive element that you will get the typical divide in society – conscientious groups, companies and individuals making change while others decline on the basis that existing wasteful practice and habits will go unpunished in their pockets.

    Embedded in the text are some challenging passages. For one, NESC makes a strong (and in my view correct) argument that to present the ‘green economy’ as a seamless win-win is not accurate and that the outcomes can be quite uneven. It does stress, however, the need to go in that direction, even on the basis of contingent benefits.

    The other is the candid admission that nobody has yet come up with the magic solution that will lead to a reduction in agriculture emissions, other than impractical nuclear options. A mixture of scientific advances as well as deep reform of local farming practices could bring us some of the way but there are still huge challenges that nobody yet knows how to surmount.

    We’ll have coverage in The Irish Times on the draft legislation tomorrow, as well as
    reaction and analysis.


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