The Climate Action Bill published on Tuesday is the most ambitious legislation of its type in any country to date, the Government has said, as it plans to enshrine in law a target to halve carbon emissions by 2030 and to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.
The revised Bill will also apply to five-yearly carbon budgets – acting as emission ceilings on sectors throughout the economy – the first of which will be introduced later this year.
A strengthened Climate Change Advisory Council is to propose carbon budgets including sectoral limits in line with the Paris climate agreement. If adopted by the Government, they will be subject to Oireachtas approval.
While the Bill is "a legal framework" for climate action, it does not incorporate sectoral targets. Minister for Climate Action and Environment Eamon Ryan said, however, the Government had gone further than any other administration in striving for targets set out by the Paris accord.
“No country has ever set such an ambitious target,” said Mr Ryan. “It’s a challenge beyond compare but one we are going to achieve.”
The Green Party leader was speaking at a press conference in Government Buildings with Taoiseach Micheál Martin and Tánaiste Leo Varadkar.
The Fianna Fáil leader said the Bill would consign to the past the failed climate action plans of previous governments. "That is hardwiring into law a fundamental change in my view over a 10-year time frame. A decade can be transformative in terms of innovation," he said.
Fine Gael initially opposed the commitment to achieve by 2030 a 51 per cent emissions reduction from a 2018 baseline.
Mr Varadkar said the coalition arrangement necessitated compromise. “We bring different perspectives. While Eamon was the head chef, I was very happy to be one of the sous chefs in putting it together. We were happy to include the 51 per cent,” he said, following safeguards on not jeopardising public finances or foreign direct investment.
On high agricultural emissions and the issue of the national herd, Mr Ryan believed “less cattle means more money”. However, the other leaders talked of “stabilising” the national herd.
“We need to have a mature discussion with farmers about stabilising the size of the herd. It is possible to reduce emissions without reducing the size of the herd,” Mr Varadkar said – though it would be very difficult.
While Sinn Féin accused the Green Party of betraying the climate movement and People Before Profit claimed it was "a process of kicking our emissions reductions targets down the road", DCU climate policy expert Prof Diarmuid Torney said "few if any countries" have made a legal commitment to halve emissions by 2030 and to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 at the latest.
“No country is attempting such a steep decarbonisation over one decade, let alone enshrining it in law,” he added.