Carbon budget – yes, but Climate Bill remains elusive

Oisin Coghlan of FOE tweeted earlier today from Dáil Eireann: “Carbon Budget. 4 Green TDs and all 3 senators in chamber/gallery. Phil Hogan for FG. 0 FF, 0 Lab, nobody else yet. Oh, and no journalists.” Yes, climate change may be the greatest challenge humanity has ever faced, it may well cause the collapse of industrial civilisation and mass die-offs within a couple of decades, but hey, that doesn’t make it NEWS or even vaguely interesting to politicians, apparently.

In all, just four TDs, and three Green senators watching from the gallery made it for the Carbon Budget being introduced by Environment Minister, John Gormley. If ever you needed confimation that, politically and media-wise, climate change is a dead letter, that’s about it.

Meanwhile, a shrill refrain is issuing from the IFA, (the self-styled ‘custodians of the land’) which is quick to denounce the “rushed through” climate legislation. Instead of Ireland adopting a policy that might lead to a limiting of dangerous emissions, the IFA prefers that we do, well, absolutely nothing. Who cares about the future, pollution, emissions or all that other Dublin 4 voodoo as long as those subsidy cheques keep-a-comin?

Meanwhile, the imminent Climate Bill has been welcomed by ‘ClientEarth’, a UK-based environmental law organisation. It commends the “positive signals in the speech and looks forward to robust measures it hopes will be present when the full bill is unveiled”.

CEO James Thornton says: “We are pleased to see some of the essential features of a strong climate law outlined in the Minister’s speech today. Mr Gormley shows great courage in proclaiming combating climate change is vital to the future prosperity of Ireland.

“We hope the government will publish the full bill as soon as possible. We anticipate innovative provisions that are still being drafted. Ireland has the possibility at no cost to the state to write one of the best climate bills in the world.

“We hope to see effective mechanisms to avoid lock-in to high carbon infrastructure while providing long-term certainty for industry. That means CO2 emissions performance standards for power stations, like those under consideration in the UK, as well as measures to address other climate-forcing emissions including black carbon.”

Meanwhile, despite their Dáil no-show, the Labour Party are keeping the pressure on the Greens, by today moving the First Stage of its Climate Change Bill, in the name of Liz McManus. “The case for tackling Climate Change has been overshadowed by the severe fiscal and economic problems that we face but it remains a great and pressing challenge of our generation.

“While the recession has temporarily reduced the growth in carbon emissions we cannot ignore the evidence”, says Labour, which adds that the Greens have “clearly abandoned” what was their primary motivation for going into a politically suicidal coalition agreement with FF – i.e. the delivery of strong, comprehensive climate legislation. If the Greens are indeed about to commit (assisted) hara kiri at the forthcoming election, it will not have been in vain if they get this legislation on the statute books.

On the other hand, if they fail, no one will forgive or forget their folly in squandering political capital on a fruitless clash with the fox hunting brigade in the midst of the mother, father, aunt and uncle of existential crises.

“The Minister gave a strong speech today”, said Oisin Coghlan of FOE. “I hope the Climate Bill will be as strong when it is finally published. And the latest promise to publish the Bill next week simply must be kept for the Government to retain any credibility on this issue.” FOE has been at the forefront of keeping on the pressure for a climate law in Ireland, and it describes the absence of any legally-binding targets from here to 2020 as “alarming”. If a Government can serve a five-year term without ever facing a legal target it would, FOE warns, “render the Bill toothless”.

Below is what the DoE had to say about the forthcoming Climate Change Bill:

Environment Minister, John Gormley today outlined the details in the proposed Climate Change Bill during the debate on the carbon budget.

Yesterday the Government agreed the provisions of the Bill, and Gormley expects the full text of the Bill to be formally approved by the Government at its meeting next week and to be published soon after. The Bill will come before the houses of the Oireachtas next month.

“I want to ensure that our legislation will not just enshrine the policies and principles to reflect the core national objective of playing a real and progressive role in the global fight against climate change but will also act as a driver towards achieving a more sustainable future across all sectors of society in Ireland,” said the Minister.

The Bill sets a new national priority on transition which will complement other national priorities, such as the health and well-being of all of our people, the competitiveness of our economy and the protection of natural resources for the benefit of future generations.  In providing a legislative underpinning for proactive transition, it presents the Irish people as an informed and progressive society pursuing a smart economy in the truest sense of the term – an economy that is highly productive, competitive, resource-efficient and environmentally sustainable.  The Bill is both innovative and inspirational, and I look forward to a frank and honest public debate when it is published.  The structure of the Bill provides a strong legislative framework for –

  • a core objective on transition to a low-carbon, climate-resilient and environmentally sustainable society; a short-term target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by an average 2.5% per year, compared to 2008 emissions, by 2020;
  • a medium-term target to reduce emissions by 40% by 2030 and a long-term target of 80% by 2050, both compared to 1990 emissions; the 2020, 2030 and 2050 targets to act as milestones along the transition pathway; climate policy objectives and obligations will be integrated into sectoral policy areas, and sectoral mitigation and adaptation plans will be required for relevant sectors;
  • a National Mitigation Plan will set out Government policies and measures in relation to mitigation;
  • a National Adaptation plan will set out Government policies and measures in relation to adaptation;
  • an Annual Transition Statement will provide accountability to the Oireachtas in relation to progress towards the transition goal, the targets and implementation of the National Mitigation and Adaptation Plans;
  • an Expert Advisory Body (EAB) will advise Ministers and the Government in relation to functions under the Bill, including National Mitigation and Adaptation Plans and Annual Transition Statements;
  • the Expert Advisory Body will also advise on any developments in the international climate change situation; public consultation will occur in relation to the various processes which will be provided for in the Bill; obligations will be placed on public bodies in relation to climate mitigation and adaptation.

“The Bill is relatively short but  I believe that it represents a milestone step forward for climate policy in Ireland.  Its balance of clarity and progressiveness will make it easily accessible and highly effective.  I appreciate that there will be some who have concerns about the Bill but I believe they have nothing to fear from such legislation. I look forward to the early publication of the bill and positive engagement from the opposition in order to provide a potent piece of legislation that will serve us into the future,” ended the Minister.

ThinkOrSwim is a blog by journalist John Gibbons focusing on the inter-related crises involving climate change, sustainability, resource depletion, energy and biodiversity loss
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