New climate law commits Ireland to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050

Legisation will not automatically address climate crisis but sets course – Taoiseach

Enacting landmark legislation designed to legally enforce reductions in carbon emissions will not automatically address the climate crisis, Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said. But it sets a course and strongly indicates “national determination” that the Irish economy becomes carbon-neutral by 2050.

Commenting after publication of the draft text of the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Bill 2020, which will impose emission limits on sectors, Mr Martin added: “This legislation is truly ground-breaking and will have a transformative impact on our society and economy into the future.”

A climate-neutral economy means a sustainable economy where greenhouse gas emissions are balanced, and excess emissions are removed through carbon-capture technology or carbon sinks such as bogs or forestry.

The main features of the Bill – a key priority for the Government’s first 100 days in office – are enshrining that 2050 target in law and putting in place five-yearly carbon budgets with legally-binding targets for major sectors, including the public service and local authorities – in the form of ceilings on how much CO2 they are permitted to emit.


It also strengthens the role and expertise of the independent Climate Change Advisory Council, which will propose sectoral limits to be incorporated into carbon budgets; the first of which is due to be in place this time next following a four-month consultation process.

Governance structures

New governance structures include new oversight on climate actions, notably though an enhanced role for the Oireachtas Climate Action Committee in assessing climate targets and reviewing progress , while relevant ministers will be required to give account for their sectors annually.

Minister for Climate Eamon Ryan said the Bill would put the country on a new course by setting out the steps that will change the economy and society at every level. "We will change how we heat our homes, generate power, move around our country, grow our food and run our businesses. It sends a clear signal to every sector that it must reshape its activities to reduce emissions."

He believed it provided great opportunities for Ireland to be a leader in renewable power, repair and retrofitting, sustainable agriculture and the circular economy. "This is where the jobs of the future will come from. Our young people have told us it is time to act and today we are answering that challenge, by putting our commitments into law."

Carbon ceilings would be enforceable by virtue of the strength of legislation behind them, he insisted.

Mr Ryan accepted agriculture was being treated differently because it was impossible to achieve zero methane levels in the sector but underlined, “we will have less animals – the [national] herd will be smaller.”

Speaking at a briefing, the Taoiseach said there was awareness in agriculture on the need for sustainability. Backed by strong research input, he believed, the sector would deliver what was required.

Tánaiste, Leo Varadkar added: "We all agree, agriculture has to make a significant contribution."

Many of the actions in the legislation, due to be in place by Christmas, “would be good to do in any case, regardless of climate obligations, resulting in cleaner air, warmer homes, shorter commutes, greater energy security, more resilient communities and a better quality of life for all,” he believed.

The Bill also provides for annual revisions of the 2019 climate action plan and development of a long term climate action strategy. “This will ensure we remain on course to achieve our climate commitments and provide an opportunity to adapt and make corrective measures on the way if required,” Mr Ryan said.

It also incorporates commitments in the Programme for Government to achieve an average 7 per cent per annum reduction in overall emissions by 2030.

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times