The Irish Times view on the climate Bill: a route map to carbon neutrality

At last, Ireland’s rising curve of carbon emissions may be forced down, and a trajectory to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 is being set

Green Minister for Climate Action Eamon Ryan has underlined that redirection of agriculture will be agreed after consultation, and tied into a national land use plan. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Green Minister for Climate Action Eamon Ryan has underlined that redirection of agriculture will be agreed after consultation, and tied into a national land use plan. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

Ireland has taken significant steps to enshrine in law its climate ambitions for coming decades. These are incorporated in the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Bill 2020 that sets the course for decarbonisation of the economy and wider society. Reinforcing this will be radically-improved climate governance and the imposition of discipline in the form of five-yearly carbon budgets, which from 2021 will impose national and legally-binding sectoral ceilings on how much carbon can be expended.

This will dictate much of the State’s spending and private sector investment – and, ultimately, big purchases by consumers, from the house they buy, the car they drive or how they heat their homes.

At last, Ireland’s rising curve of carbon emissions may be forced down, while a trajectory to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 is being set.

This does not mean telling certain businesses or farmers they have to cut emissions by a set amount. There will be roadmaps on how this will be agreed and achieved. The necessary decarbonisation of agriculture is causing anxiety within Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. But the hard decision was taken in agreeing the Programme for Government, notably on methane arising from farming; it will be treated differently but will have to be curtailed. All-party consensus built over several years, however, has been the critical factor in getting to this juncture.

Green Minister for Climate Action Eamon Ryan has underlined that redirection of agriculture will be agreed after consultation, and tied into a national land use plan. Reassuring as that may be, decarbonising farming and the wider economy will be endlessly challenging. The rewards, however, can quickly kick in with a cleaner environment and a more sustainable way of living and doing business. Those who persist with fossil fuels will feel the pain of increasing carbon taxes.

There are weaknesses in the Bill, notably the absence of a legally-binding numerical target for emissions reduction backed by a clearly-stated obligation on government to comply with either the 2050 target or carbon budgets. Penalties for failure to meet the overall budget or the sectoral decarbonisation ranges are not stated. These must be addressed before the legislation is passed in December. Its thrust is climate mitigation with less on adaptation – making a climate-resilient society to meet inevitable impacts of an over-heating planet. That imbalance will have to be rectified.

Given Ireland’s shameful performance up to now, it is remarkable that we are now aligned with the greater ambition of the EU. It positions the State to be a leader and contribute to international efforts to contain temperature rise to within bearable limits – though there is every indication current ambition will have to be set higher.