Strengthened Climate Action Bill to go before Cabinet

New Bill commits to ‘pursue and achieve carbon neutrality no later than 2050’

Changes in transport will play a role in achieving aims of the Bill. Photograph: Eric Luke

Changes in transport will play a role in achieving aims of the Bill. Photograph: Eric Luke

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A much-strengthened Climate Action Bill which commits to “pursue and achieve carbon neutrality no later than 2050” is to go before Cabinet for approval and publication on Tuesday.

Following a difficult stand-off in recent weeks, notably between the Green Party and Fine Gael, it is understood Coalition party leaders reached agreement to strengthen the Bill in many respects.

The legislation will pave the way for Ireland’s first carbon budget to be introduced later this year. The Bill is a flagship commitment in the programme for government but the draft version was heavily criticised for an absence of specific, timelined targets up to 2030 and in how it referred to a 2050 target on net-zero emissions.

The revised Bill, according to Government sources, provides that the first two five-year carbon budgets covering the decade will allow for a 51 per cent cut in emissions with a baseline of 2018. In addition, the legislation will require all carbon budgets – which include sectoral limits on how much carbon can be emitted – be consistent with the Paris climate agreement.

It is understood there will also be a requirement that all State climate plans, strategies and sectoral emission ceilings comply with the Paris pact.

Last December, the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Climate Action heard expert testimony on the Bill and agreed 78 recommendations to strengthen it. Green Party leader Éamon Ryan had indicated he expected it to receive Cabinet approval following revisions by the end of February.

In early March, however, Fine Gael indicated significant amendments had been introduced by the Greens which had to be worked through but denied they were attempting to dilute the Bill.

Expertise

Meanwhile, the Government is likely to also agree on Tuesday to expand the Climate Change Advisory Council once the Bill is enacted, to include a broader range of expertise on “just transition”, biodiversity and climate communications.

In addition, sources confirmed the issue of liquefied natural gas (LNG) infrastructure would not be addressed under the Bill. It is expected Mr Ryan will bring a separate policy statement to Cabinet within six weeks, which in effect will ban development of LNG terminals. The controversial Shannon LNG is not on the latest list of projects of common interest submitted by the Government to Brussels.

Friends of the Earth said on Monday the draft Bill published in October appeared initially to address key issues about governance and making sure climate policy was implemented with adequate long-term and short-term targets, “but the language was vague and the links between the elements were weak, leaving obvious loopholes”, while Ministers were not given a clear duty to achieve five-year targets when drawing up their plans.

The revised Bill would be judged on “what exactly it says about the 2050 target”, said the environmental organisation’s director Oisín Coghlan, though the question of how short-term, five- and 10-year targets will be set “is the most hotly contested question about the Bill, with Fine Gael advocating a more conservative approach than other parties”.

Mr Coghlan noted indications of some concerns about “achievability” raised between the party leaders. “We can only presume that the question of how to treat the commitment to 51 per cent reductions by 2030 was one of those concerns.”

Other crunch issues, he said, included whether agriculture gets special treatment or a separate target for emissions reduction. Friends of the Earth would be watching the Bill “to see if it’s explicit that the five-year carbon budgets cover all greenhouse gases” including biogenic methane.