Cosmetic changes on climate change response by Ireland

The Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Bill falls short in many respects, particularly when “national interests” are involved


Amendments to the Government’s climate change legislation will take the bare look off its commitment to engage seriously with global warming issues at a UN conference in Paris, next December. The concessions are largely cosmetic and while offering the prospect of a more informed public debate, it will not be legally required to meet its carbon emission targets.

Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly described the legislation as “the basis for transmission to a low carbon, climate-resilient and environmentally sustainable economy by 2050”. That assertion should be taken with a large dollop of scepticism. The Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Bill falls short in many respects, particularly when “national interests” are involved. That has been a consistent government failing since the Kyoto Protocol took effect a decade ago. A commitment to introduce a carbon tax was deferred for years while economic growth and the demands of the primary polluters – agriculture and transport – took precedence.

These concessions, following criticism from environmental NGOs and Opposition parties in the Dáil, are welcome, even if inadequate. The legislation will offer formal recognition to Government policy on climate change, without specifying its carbon reduction target of 80 per cent by 2050, based on 1990 figures. That reduction target amounts to political window-dressing. The Department of Agriculture estimates that emissions from the beef and dairy sector will increase by about one-third by 2020. Ibec has also been lobbying to ensure that industrial and transport emissions are not curtailed.

Independence will be granted to an expert advisory council that will advise on progress being made. The council will include representatives from the Environmental Protection Agency, Teagasc, the ESRI and the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland. The timeframe for production of a National Mitigation Plan will be reduced to 18 months, following passage of the legislation. Based on EPA calculations, however, the State will have exceeded its 2020 emission targets by the time that plan is made public. It will also have become liable to heavy EU fines.

The “national interest” is a concept that encourages selfish behaviour. Irish farmers are efficient, low-carbon producers and milk output has already surged by about 16 per cent this year. Should production be increased -–without carbon reductions elsewhere – if it adds to misery and dislocation in poor countries?

The US rejected the Kyoto Protocol because states that had contributed most to climate change were being asked to make the greatest carbon reductions. Since then, the need for coordinated action to limit weather damage has become more urgent.

All countries must play their part.