Government moves to address targets on climate change

Amendments made to Bill following criticism from environmental groups

Activists have been calling for an 80 per cent reduction target in carbon emissions to be enshrined in Irish legislation, as it is in other European states. This has been resisted by the Irish Farmers’ Association, however. File photograph: Brian Snyder/Reuters

Activists have been calling for an 80 per cent reduction target in carbon emissions to be enshrined in Irish legislation, as it is in other European states. This has been resisted by the Irish Farmers’ Association, however. File photograph: Brian Snyder/Reuters

 

The Government has bowed to criticism from environmental groups by moving to address the absence of specific emission targets in its climate change Bill, which enters report stage in the Dáil next week.

The absence of such targets had been seen by the activists as a significant weakness in the planned legislation.

Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly has secured Cabinet approval for an amendment which gives legal recognition to the Government’s national policy position on climate change.

This policy, drawn up by former minister for the environment Phil Hogan, commits the State to reducing carbon emissions by 80 per cent by 2050 from 1990 levels.

Activists have been calling for an 80 per cent reduction target to be enshrined in legislation, as it is in other European states.

However, this has been resisted by Ibec and the Irish Farmers’ Association, and ruled out by the Government on the advice of the Attorney General.

Amendments

The Climate Change Advisory Council, as it is to be officially known, will be given the same legal status as the Fiscal Advisory Council.

However, Mr Kelly has decided not to exclude the four ex-officio members – comprising the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Teagasc, the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland and the ESRI – from the 10-member line-up, which Opposition TDs and activists claim compromises its independence.

The council’s periodic assessment of the Government’s progress in cutting emissions will now also be published not more than 30 days after its submission to the Minister, rather than after the 60-90 days originally proposed.

A reduction in the timeframe for the production of the State’s first National Mitigation Plan from 24 to 18 months after the adoption of the Bill is also to be adopted.

An amendment to include a specific reference to the principle of climate justice, which attempts to safeguard the rights of the most vulnerable and share the burdens of cutting emissions more equitably between developed and less developed states, has also been proposed.

Mr Kelly said the Bill provided a statutory basis for the national objective of transition to a low-carbon, climate-resilient and environmentally sustainable economy by the year 2050.

“I am proposing amendments which will strengthen the Climate Bill so as to make it even more responsive and significant to what is the major global challenge of our time,” he said.

“Having listened to the concerns of both deputies and environmental NGOs, and the reasoned arguments they put forward, I am putting forward measures and improvements that will enhance the strength of the Bill.”

Guarded welcome

The group’s director Oisín Coghlan said: “These amendments correct some obvious shortcomings in the Bill and are a welcome move by Government.

“For example, it would have been absurd for the Bill not to require Ministers to take the Government’s own climate policy position into account when coming up with their action plans.”

Mr Coghlan added: “We are pleased to see the Bill explicitly state the Climate Advisory Council will operate independently, although we would still rather see the four ex-officio public officials on the council, such as the head of Teagasc, provide expert input without having a vote on the final advice the council gives to Government.

“The Bill still falls short of international best practice, most notably the absence of a binding 2050 target, and the Government still won’t commit to having a national climate action plan before 2017, by which stage we are likely to have exceeded our 2020 targets,” said Mr Coghlan.