The Government will delay for a year a second reading of a Labour Party Bill to label products based on their carbon footprint, with a junior minister saying that by this time "significant progress" is expected in European Commission proposals in the area.
Green Minister of State Ossian Smyth told the Dáil on Wednesday that Ireland operates within the EU single market and separate regulations operating in this regard in the State would be a potential barrier to that market.
Mr Smyth also noted that the information required for a construction product like cement and for a mobile phone would be very different.
“That’s why a European-level approach, the sustainable products initiative, which takes a product-by-product approach, is the most appropriate mechanism to deliver this,” he said.
He proposed that the Bill be read a second time “a year from now when it is expected that the European Commission will have made significant progress in detailing the labelling and sustainability requirements to be introduced under the sustainable products initiative”.
The National Standards Authority of Ireland (Carbon Footprint Labelling) Bill was drafted by Labour's Dublin Fingal TD Duncan Smith and introduced in the Dáil by the party's climate action spokeswoman, Ivana Bacik.
Ms Bacik said the legislation “is not some sort of far-fetched utopian vision. It’s a very practical framework for providing consumers with necessary information.”
She added that “it seeks to give consumers greater information on the environmental impact or carbon footprint of the goods they purchase”, given the current absence of an overall standards scheme in this regard.
“There are moves at international, national and corporate level,” Ms Bacik said, adding that there is a clear need for an independent, verifiable and universal system.
She said the Bill will empower consumers by enabling informed choices to be made and encourage purchase of goods with lower environmental impact.
The Bill will put an obligation on companies and corporations to stop “flag flying on climate issues” and would expose those who are “greenwashing”.
Ms Bacik said that Labour as “green reds” sought to achieve a balance between the interests of consumers and society.
Labour leader Alan Kelly said: "We need a reliable national standard that people can trust.
“When doing your weekly shopping it can be all but impossible to know what the environmental impact is of what you’re buying.
“The famous avocado has huge carbon imprint, but so too does Brazilian beef.”
He said that “if we want to move to low carbon [we] will need to know what the impact of the asparagus or hazelnut milk or soya product is”.
One of the key reasons Labour wants to bring this forward is to support Irish producers, he said. The agrifood sector is one of the State’s largest employers, with 300,000 people in the workforce, and the Bill would provide a competitive advantage to Irish farmers.
“[A] robust carbon labelling system would provide a further incentive for farmers to produce more environmentally friendly food.”
Independent TD Danny Healy-Rae said the Bill would put more expense on the consumer and more work on the producer, but Ms Bacik said that was “ludicrous”.
Mr Smyth, who said the Department of Enterprise is developing a circular economy strategy, pointed out that the construction sector is responsible for more than one-third of the EU’s total greenhouse gas emissions.
“And emissions from material extraction, manufacturing of construction products as well as construction and renovation of buildings are estimated at between 5 per cent and 12 per cent of total greenhouse gas emissions.”
Mr Smyth said that “recent experience with defective materials in new home construction underlines the need for [a] robust performance-based approach to the utopian of low-carbon materials”.
The Rural Independents group of Deputies, who opposed the Bill, called a vote on the legislation, which will be taken on Wednesday night.