Denis Naughten claims Climate Change Advisory Council will have too much power

Council’s role purely advisory, says Minister

Independent TD  Denis Naughten: said the powers being proposed for the council would enshrine a particular perspective on scientific evidence into law. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill

Independent TD Denis Naughten: said the powers being proposed for the council would enshrine a particular perspective on scientific evidence into law. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill

 

The proposed Climate Change Advisory Council has been compared to the National Public Health Emergency Team in terms of the power it will wield in future.

The council is one of the cornerstones of the Climate Action Bill and will give advice to the Government on its targets, on carbon taxes and on its obligations to reduce carbon emissions by 51 per cent by 2030.

Independent TD for Roscommon-Galway Denis Naughten said the powers being proposed for the council would enshrine a particular perspective on scientific evidence into law, and would lead to a situation analogous to the public health advice that Nphet is giving the current Government

Mr Naughten was speaking during the committee stage of the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Bill at Leinster House on Wednesday.

The Bill has now moved onto fourth stage after two-days of hearing at committee, which included consideration of 239 amendments. Only a handful were pressed for full votes.

Mr Naughten was one of a number of non-Government TDs who expressed concern that the Dáil would not have adequate powers under the legislation, with ministers and the advisory council implementing the key decisions.

“Science is not black and white,” said Mr Naughton. “If we take the term Climate Change Advisory Council out of the equation and put in Nphet [instead], there is a very different view in the Oireachtas now about the black and white advice that has been given by Nphet over the past 12 months.

“Yet we are now enshrining in law a particular perspective on scientific advice that will be set in stone between now and 2050.

“For the parliament, the only decision they will have is to accept whatever is presented by the minister. If they don’t, the minister of the day has a blank cheque to bring in targets that have no bearing on the original targets proposed.”

However, the argument was not accepted by Minister of State Ossian Smyth who said the council’s role was that of an advisory body and it was the Government, not it, which made the decisions.

Sinn Féin pressed a vote on its amendment that would prevent the Government from reducing or stopping domestic food production if it resulted in less sustainable foodstuffs being imported into the EU. Cavan-Monaghan TD Matt Carthy argued there were anxieties within the farming community that the Bill would impose obligations that “would drive them from farming with no benefit for the environment”.

Emissions reductions

Mr Smyth, who was deputising for Minister for Climate Action Eamon Ryan as he was at an EU ministers’ meeting in Luxembourg, said he shared the objectives that emissions reductions “do not have a negative effect on the environment, on employment, on food production and on displaced environmental damage”.

However, he said he disagreed that the amendment was a way to get there, saying it was his view it would do more harm than good.

Pressed by Mr Carthy on this, he said it would limit the independence of the Advisory Council and also limit the range of options open to it.

“It is important that the Advisory Council is fully independent and has a full range of options,” he said.

Jennifer Whitmore of the Social Democrats put forward an amendment calling for a target of 100 per cent of energy to come from renewable sources, rather than 70 per cent.

She said that an effort should be made to reduce energy usage but at the same time this was being undermined by data centres in Ireland that were using enormous amounts of energy.

“I am staggered by these statistics that 70 per cent of our electricity usage could come from data centres.

“I have heard that one-third of data is actually going to be housed in Irish data centres. This is a runaway horse that we have no control over,” she said.

Fine Gael TD Richard Bruton responded by saying that data centres “don’t get a free ride” as they are subject to the emissions trading system and are also paying high levels of carbon tax.