Minister introduces Climate Bill amendment for clarity on agriculture ‘carbon removals’

Landmark legislation set to be passed before summer recess

Eamon Ryan says the change clarifies the role of the Minister for Climate in accounting for carbon removals and in regulating sectors subjected to emission limits under new carbon budgets. File photograph: Dara Mac Donaill

Eamon Ryan says the change clarifies the role of the Minister for Climate in accounting for carbon removals and in regulating sectors subjected to emission limits under new carbon budgets. File photograph: Dara Mac Donaill

 

A Climate Bill amendment to provide legal clarity on how carbon “removals” will be accounted for in farming, which will have major implications for the sector, has been introduced by Minister for Climate Eamon Ryan.

In response, the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) accused the Government of ramming the legislation through the Oireachtas with no indication of how the accounting system applied to carbon sinks will impact directly on farmers.

Mr Ryan said the change clarified the role of the Minister for Climate in accounting for carbon removals and in regulating sectors subjected to emission limits under new carbon budgets. This would be separate to emission reductions to be achieved in all sectors, he confirmed.

It provided for “evolving methodology” in carbon accounting applied to sequestration on farms – achieved through afforestation, soils, hedgerows and re-wetting peatlands – and ensured compliance with EU accounting mechanisms, he said.

“The minister can design how removals and sinks are accounted for,” he added. This was also necessary to facilitate new income streams for nature-based solutions provided by farmers.

Senator Tim Lombard (FG) said the amendment was “helpful” but warned farmers and rural communities wanted to play their part in meeting demanding 2030 targets, but felt excluded from the transition process. This was in a scenario where “very few are making big money”. They were getting older and in need of help and resources, he added.

Climate justice

Meanwhile, Mr Ryan rejected an amendment proposing an expanded definition of “climate justice” in the legislation. It was proposed by independent Senator Alice-Mary Higgins, backed by all opposition groupings in the Seanad and supported by NGOs, including Trócaire and Christian Aid.

This would support those “who are most affected by climate change but who have done the least to cause it and are the least equipped to adapt to its effects and safeguard the human rights of the most vulnerable persons”, she submitted.

Mr Ryan said the Bill honoured the objectives of the Paris Agreement and principles and UN Framework Convention on Climate Change commitments.

He also rejected proposals to incorporate a detailed definition of “just transition”, adding the Bill had the right focus on workers and communities impacted by the transition.

Ms Higgins called for the removal of exemptions in the Bill in relation to exploration of oil and gas and any renewal of licences. As currently worded, it contained “the language of equivocation and dilution of ambition”, she believed. Her amendment would be a safety net, she insisted, and reduced the risk of cases brought against the State through the CETA investment court system.

The Minister said Ireland honoured its commitments, as was the case with previously granted licences. The reality was no new licences would be issued, while future extraction of fossil fuels in Irish waters was highly unlikely.

He also resisted efforts to include a national ban on importation of fracked gas led by Sinn Féin Senator Fintan Warfield, who said there was nothing in EU treaties to prevent such a move.

IFA president Tim Cullinan said he was concerned about the eleventh hour amendment on carbon removals. “This will enable the Government to take carbon removals into account but won’t specify how it will be done... we need a clear commitment from the Government and clarity on how they will account for them,” he said.

‘Headlong rush’

“While we welcome the Government’s new focus on carbon removals at the Seanad stage, it has only served to heighten our concerns about the way this Bill was rammed through the Dáil in the first place,” he added.

“The Government should take more time to scrutinise the Bill and stop this headlong rush to have it on the statute book before the summer recess,” he said. The Bill is set to be adopted before recess on July 16th and is a critical requirement to enable Ireland’s first five-year carbon budget to be set in the autumn.

“This is one of the most important pieces of legislation in the history of the State. It could have untold consequences for the economy and the environment and here we have the Government carrying out running repairs after the Bill has gone through the Dáil,” Mr Cullinan claimed.

After its successful passage through the Seanad, Mr Ryan underlined how far-reaching the Bill was in requiring “obligation on all of us”. He paid tribute to the collaborative, cross-party work over a number of years in the Oireachtas, and expertise within the public service, that made it possible.

It provided the opportunity for the country to step up and show climate leadership, he said, but this would not be easy and changing tack would inevitably be required. The structure of the Bill was essentially about how the State organises itself in responding to climate change – and that included public consultation, Mr Ryan noted.