The Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Bill 2021 was published in March 2021 and introduced to the Dáil yesterday in advance of International Earth Day today.
The Bill amends the previous 2020 Climate Bill following over 70 recommendations made by the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Climate Action to the Government in December.
The Bill provides a series of amendments to the 2015 Climate Act and establishes the legal framework for Ireland to reduce its carbon emissions over the next 3 decades by 51% and to achieve the goal of the State being carbon neutral by 2020 and to meet its obligations under the Paris Agreement and EU law. The Bill also strengthens the framework for governance of climate action by the State.
The revised Bill puts The National Climate Objective on a much stronger footing. Section 3(1) states that the national climate objective is “to pursue and achieve, by no later than the year 2050. The transition to a climate resilient, biodiversity rich, environmentally sustainable and climate neutral economy”. The addition of the words “pursue and achieve” and “no later than” establishes a legally binding obligation on the State to achieve new carbon emissions targets and carbon neutrality by 2050.
The revised Bill implements measures to ensure that a legal obligation will remain on the State to pursue the transition to a climate neutral economy despite the successive changes in Government.
The national climate objective will be achieved through the introduction of three 5 year rolling carbon budgets, Climate Action Plans which are to be renewed annually, a National Long Term Climate Action Strategy which is to be reviewed every 5 years and a National Adaptation Framework.
The position of the Climate Change Advisory Council has been elevated to statutory level. The Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications and the Government must also have regard to the recommendations of the Council when devising the Climate Action Plans and the National Long Term Climate Action Strategy. Significantly, it is also tasked with proposing the 5 year carbon budgets to the Minister and the Government.
Carbon budgeting is embedded into law by the revised Bill and the language of the 2020 Bill is amended to ensure that the obligations of stakeholders are clearly stated.
When devising the carbon budgets, the Council must ensure that the budget is consistent with the Paris Agreement and Ireland’s other international obligations. The carbon targets, which are in effect ceilings that must be exceeded, include all greenhouse gases including biogenic methane i.e. methane produced by livestock.
The aim of the first two carbon budgets will be to reduce carbon emissions by 51% and Government Ministers will be responsible for achieving these legally binding targets for their sectors. The Ministers will have to address the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Climate Change on their performance every year.
If at the end of a budget period a sector has a surplus, this surplus can be carried forward to the new budgetary period. If however, a ceiling has been exceeded, all exceeded emissions will be carried forward and the target set in the next budget will be reduced accordingly.
The Bill is not solely aimed at a national level, but local authorities will now be obligated to produce their own Climate Action Plan which are to be updated every five years and their Local Development Plans are to be aligned with their Climate Action Plan. All public bodies will also be required to perform their duties in a manner consistent with national client plans and strategies.
While there are some weaknesses in the Bill, for example there is only a cursory reference to “just transition” and “climate justice” and there is no ban on the importation on liquefied natural gas (LNG), despite this being one of the recommendations of the Oireachtas Committee last December. The Bill is a huge step in the right direction to helping Ireland achieve its EU and international obligations and Minister Eamonn Ryan hopes that it will assist Ireland becoming a climate leader.
The Bill will have a larger impact on certain sectors such as transport, energy, the built environment and agriculture. However, these challenges will also encourage innovation and creativity to develop new ways of doing business in a manner that is consistent with our climate goals.
The renewable energy targets will result in investment in offshore wind farms and even the exportation of energy generated. Change is already occurring in the building sector through the development of sustainable and durable building materials and the use of smart technology in homes in relation to energy consumption. It is foreseen that over 30,000 jobs will be created through retro-fitting and improving homes and the government have announced that new apprenticeship and trainee programmes will be created to develop the new skills that will be required. Green procurement will become part of public contract and already in the private sector, we are seeing an increase in corporate power purchase agreements and increasing numbers of Irish companies switching to renewable energy sources to power their businesses.
The revised Bill is a significant in delivery on our obligations to decarbonise our economy and will influence legislation, government policy for the foreseeable future. Ireland will no longer be “laggards” on climate change.
About the author: Hannah Brady, Solicitor on the Dispute Resolution Team.