Minister defends ‘just transition’ measures in Climate Bill

More than 30 Opposition amendments to landmark legislation fall or rejected

Green Party leader and Minister for the Environment Eamon Ryan defended the Climate Bill saying ‘at every stage, there is a ‘check’ to see does it meet social as well as environmental and economic objectives.’ File photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Green Party leader and Minister for the Environment Eamon Ryan defended the Climate Bill saying ‘at every stage, there is a ‘check’ to see does it meet social as well as environmental and economic objectives.’ File photograph: Nick Bradshaw

 

Opposition politicians have failed in their efforts to strengthen the Climate Bill with specific commitments on support for workers and communities as Ireland moves to a carbon-neutral economy.

A large number of amendments to the Bill, which is at committee stage, have been rejected by Minister for the Environment and Climate Eamon Ryan who insisted the legislation was sufficiently robust, especially in supporting those that impacted by decarbonisation.

More than 30 amendments listed for consideration before the Oireachtas Committee on Climate Action on Tuesday were either rejected by the Minister, or fell because their proposers were not present. Other amendments were withdrawn by Opposition TDs who said they would attempt to reintroduce them at report stage. The landmark Bill setting up climate budgets and sectoral emission limits is due to be adopted in coming weeks.

In an amendment, Sinn Féin TD Darren O’Rourke proposed the Government adopt elements of the Scottish Climate Act which requires a “just transition” whereby impacts on communities and regions are set out and responded to – an approach backed by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, he added.

He was supported by Social Democrats TD Jennifer Whitmore who said just transition was referred to only once in the Bill when there was a need to indicate what it meant “and to ensure we will meet our targets in a fair manner”. As currently outlined, the Bill risks being undermined by weak commitments, she added.

A just transition had to be a proactive process – “not applied afterwards” – and include impacts on sectors and communities. This related to not only Bord na Móna workers but farming communities also, she said.

Independent TD for Laois-Offaly Carol Nolan said what was already happening in Co Offaly, where most Bord na Móna workers who are losing their jobs are based, “is not fair”.

People were not being presented with alternatives, while politicians outside the midlands were detached from the hardship affecting people. She feared the region’s just transition commissioner Kieran Mulvey was being pulled out and appointed as the chair of a new Government expert group that will examine public sector pay and unpaid working hours.

Former minister for the environment Richard Bruton, however, believed the amendment implied a lot of the change was avoidable. There was no “staying where we are for the time being, and then deciding what to do” option, but he accepted there was a need for social dialogue to help set out a vision for the future including a just transition.

The programme for government underlined its importance, and it was also at the heart of the Bill, he insisted. The reality, however, was that unfortunately there was no “will we or won’t we?” option. “We cannot put off the choice,” he added.

Mr Ryan said the just transition requirement applied in a number of sections in the Bill, including in sectoral plans and in drawing up the national climate plan to be submitted to the EU. “At every stage, there is a ‘check’ to see does it meet social as well as environmental and economic objectives.”

This was being backed on the ground with large sums of money targeted at the midlands, notably for retrofitting, providing alternative employment in re-wetting bogs and in supporting a large number of community projects, he said.

With the help of the National Economic and Social Council the Government would work out how to extend supports to other parts of Ireland.

Referring to criticisms of the term “as far as practicable”, Mr Ryan insisted it was the highest bar in putting clear obligations on ministers. “You never see ‘delivery’ in a Bill,” he noted.

Independent TD Denis Naughten agreed the just transition principle was in the Bill but a lack of legal compliance and weak language meant the key minister may only have to tick the box. Therefore, a “climate denier minister” may not be obliged to act in spite of a carbon budget limiting emissions – in a scenario where Dáil Éireann would have no say once the Bill was enacted.

Mr Ryan insisted carbon budgets would have to brought before the House for approval but admitted it was a complicated structure with inputs from the Government, the Climate Change Advisory Council and the Oireachtas. In addition, accountability resided with the minister who would have to oversee updates of carbon budgets, and constantly revise climate plans.

The legislation will also be justiciable, he confirmed – Climate Case Ireland has claimed that the Bill is framed in a way that would make legal challenges to it difficult to pursue.