Climate-change bill is Irish solution to a global problem

Phil Hogan defends lack of specific targets in Heads of the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Bill saying Ireland will meet all EU and UN targets

Making laws to give effect to what are, indisputably, policies is not what governments usually do. But the impact of climate change is an exception and political promises made in this area should never be broken. Since the UK introduced ground- breaking climate-change legislation in 2008, dozens of countries followed, despite the lack of global agreement in the wake of Kyoto.

The UK legislation followed an influential report by Nicholas Stern. That argued for early and decisive intervention to reduce emissions and avoid horrendously costly solutions when problems became vast and complex.

Among core principles in the legislation were binding targets as well as the appointment of an independent expert advisory group to make hard decisions and remove that burden from politicians. Those experts fill the same kind of role that the Troika played during our bailout years; spelling out what should be done and taking politicians to task when they failed to comply.

Yesterday's publication of the Heads of the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Bill officially places Ireland among countries that are "early adapters", taking action rather than waiting for the UN to convince the world's most powerful states to act.


But the comparison of this draft Bill with such laws in other countries is more in form than in substance. The Heads published by Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan are in many ways, to paraphrase Charles Haughey, "an Irish solution to an Irish problem".

The Bill is more robust than earlier iterations. But its main departure from conventional climate-change legislation is that it contains no deadlines.

This has brought fierce criticism from parties such as the Greens and groups such as Friends of the Earth. Hogan argued that the Bill commits Ireland to meet every target set by the EU and the UN. He said there was no point in repeating those targets in the Bill. The Bill provides for expert advisers. Will they be truly independent? And hold a government to account? Emissions reductions of at least 80 per cent will be required for 2050.

The Bill might not include those specific targets but for it to be judged a success it will have to surpass them.