Landmark and controversial climate change legislation has been passed by the Seanad and goes back to the Dáil this week for final consideration of amendments on reductions in agricultural emissions.
The Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Bill was guillotined after debate on just over 90 amendments and only Government amendments out of a total of 50 remaining changes were accepted.
The Bill aims for a 51 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and a carbon neutral economy by 2050.
Minister of State and Green TD Ossian Smyth warned that it will be "incredibly difficult" to reach that 51 per cent cut in emissions.
He said that during the Covid-19 lockdown “even when nobody was driving, nobody was going to work and nobody was flying we just didn’t have that reduction in emissions that we hoped for”.
Mr Smyth said “we’re now looking at 10 years of consistent huge emissions reductions in Ireland to deal with the fact that we didn’t do anything in the last decade.
“I think people sometimes people look at it and think ‘oh that’s similar to the European target’ but it’s going to be incredibly difficult to get there.
“If we can cut our emissions in half in a decade it would be an incredible achievement.”
The Minister rejected an amendment by Independent Senator Alice Mary Higgins to increase the powers of the Climate Change Advisory Council to allow it pursue reductions of "at least 51 per cent".
Ms Higgins said the 51 per cent should be the “floor that we have to reach rather than a ceiling”.
But Mr Smyth said he would not accept going beyond “what is already a very challenging and ambitious target”.
He also rejected an amendment by Sinn Féin Senator Lynn Boylan to designate in the legislation the Minister and the Government as a "relevant body" to appear before the Courts where targets are not met, since they have responsibility.
Mr Smyth said the Government is answerable to the courts and “if the legislation is not fulfilling the targets in this Bill is it likely to be in Court”.
But the Minister said ending up in court “is not an efficient way to do business”. He said there were already previously legally binding targets for emissions reductions that were not met and there were fines.
“In theory you can force a country to meet those obligations and Ireland just simply didn’t do it.”
It was “not an effective way to achieve climate change. What is effective is when people have a change of mindset and…where there is a genuine desire to change the economic, social, cultural and economic norms for something new.”
Minister for Climate Action Eamon Ryan last week agreed in the Seanad to changes in the Bill to recognise where carbon is removed or stored in agriculture.
The amendments will recognise carbon removals by sequestration in farming, including storage of CO2 in soils, hedgerows and forestry.
The Bill goes back to the Dáil to finalise these amendments before then going to the President for consideration and signature.