The landmark Climate Action Bill sets the course of Ireland for the next 30 years, according to Minister for the Environment and Climate Eamon Ryan.
In introducing the second stage of the legislation, Mr Ryan told the Dáil on Wednesday that the Bill facilitated “a transition to a cleaner, more secure, more socially just, environmentally rich natural world in our country” through six five-year carbon budgets.
By committing to a halving of carbon emissions by 2030 and net-zero emissions by 2050 in law, the State was becoming a global leader in climate action, he added. He said the Bill amounted to “system change” while embracing a just transition.
In time, the Bill and its approach would be as significant as the provision of free education; opening up the country to foreign direct investment, and joining the EU, he believed.
A key aspect, he said, was that it was consensual and broadly accepted – "it involves everybody and every place matters" – and emerged from cross-party consensus, with the vast majority of recommendations of the Oireachtas climate committee on the Bill after pre-legislative scrutiny taken on board.
“It’s going to be good for rural Ireland. I’m absolutely convinced on that,” he said, adding that it would enhance balanced regional development and active transport.
On its implications for agriculture, the Minister said the Bill would protect family farms. This prompted interjections from the Chamber of “it’ll wipe them out” and “a Bill to punish rural Ireland”.
Kerry Independent TD Danny Healy-Rae said his objections to the Bill were not scaremongering. The Bill would force a reduction in the national herd, while ordinary people would be hit by increasing carbon tax, he added.
Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman, however, singled out TDs who were saying they were fighting for rural Ireland – “and say they’re the sole voice of rural Ireland.
"But when the hard work was being done in the joint Oireachtas committee, I have to ask again: where were those Deputies? Because it's very easy to be here today when the cameras are on and you know you're going to get a snippet on the [RTÉ] Six One tonight, or when you know you'll get a nice little video for Twitter and Facebook. "
“But when the difficult work is being done, the boring long hours, going through section by section. That’s when the real changes happen. And that’s when Deputies who are so irate today could have made an input, but they didn’t. I think it is important in the context of the issues we’re debating today that that is on the record,” Mr O’Gorman added.
He said there was 50 hours of committee scrutiny before the Bill came into the Dáil and the Bill “did not come out of thin air” and an enormous amount of work had been done by a large number of TDs and Senators.
Labour climate spokesman Duncan Smith said the Bill was a step forward towards tangible climate action, but there were issues of huge concern that could weaken the integrity of the legislation, thereby undermining future climate action plans and carbon budgets.
He added: "Budgeting climate action into every economic decision this State makes is crucial. However, the pressure of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil is evident in the drafting of this Bill, choosing to kick the can down the road and leave the heavy lifting of the budgets to future governments . . . Instead of defending the status quo, they need to embrace ambition and understand that if we are to meet our targets, that not only will one or two sections of our society need to change, but all of it will need to change."
In relation to the issue, the Government must listen more to stakeholders on the front line, the NGOs and trade unions and those working with the marginalised and vulnerable in society, he said. “These stakeholders have informed policy proposals rooted in their work with communities experiencing poverty, social exclusion and inequality.”
Bríd Smith of People Before Profit said serious concerns about the Bill raised by academics in a letter to the three Coalition party leaders needed to be taken on board. “For Ireland to pass this Bill in the current form, particularly with the issues concerning carbon budgets, would see us maintain our climate laggard status,” she added.
To meet even the programme for Government commitments on emissions, the State needed to reduce its carbon emissions by 7 per cent per year by 2030. “The idea that we can backload the majority of the 51 per cent reduction that is needed to the end of the decade and hope to reach our emissions reduction goals is fanciful.”
Party colleague Paul Murphy accused the Government of "wilfully closing their ears" to the science. "The result is a climate Bill which falls below not only what the science demands, but even the commitments in the programme for Government, as well as the inadequate EU targets.
“The failure to ban LNG imports, to say anything about emissions from aviation and shipping, and the token references to ‘having regard’ to climate justice represent a criminal failure by the Green Party in government.”
Deputy Green Party leader Catherine Martin said: "Since its foundation 40 years ago, the Green Party, alongside environmental NGOs, campaigners and climate activists, have tirelessly campaigned and advocated for an ambitious and far-reaching response to the climate crisis facing our planet.
“The urgency of this crisis has united millions of people across the globe. They have marched in their droves to strike for climate, demand change, and to fight for their future. We must deliver emission reductions now, for our children’s future, our planet’s future, for our shared future.”
Green TD Brian Leddin, who is chairman of the Oireachtas climate committee, said: "With societal transformation will come unparalleled economic and employment opportunities – in renewable energy, nature conservation, sustainable transport and in retrofitting our homes and schools and hospitals.
“Climate action will help rebalance our society as a fairer and healthier one, which treads far more lightly on our land.”
“Climate action is often described as a race against time. The challenge ahead may seem insurmountable, but we are living in a time when change for a better shared future is possible,” he added.
"Climate change and biodiversity loss does not care for compromise. Compromise is what got us here in the first place. It's time we pick up the pace," said Social Democrats TD Jennifer Whitmore. "We have to do this and stress to people we will not leave them behind."