Irish government publishes new climate law which commits Ireland to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050

Paul O’Donoghue writes on the Times website about a new climate action bill published by the Irish government. The bill is a positive step forward for the climate agenda, but also for Ireland. It will make Ireland a leader when it comes to climate action.


Climate change bill ‘will improve poor emissions record’

The government has vowed to shed Ireland’s image as a “climate laggard” as it set out new legally binding targets for emissions reduction.

The Climate Action Bill, published on October 7, commits Ireland to being carbon neutral by 2050, meaning the country would have a net-zero carbon footprint.

The bill makes this aim a requirement, legally committing Ireland to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by an average of 7 per cent per year.

This is significantly more than the government had committed to in the 2019 climate action plan, which aimed for a reduction of 3 per cent per year.

The bill will also result in the establishment of a new climate change advisory council that will help the government draw up “carbon budgets” that will ensure that it is meeting its targets.

Eamon Ryan, the climate change minister, said that he hoped the bill would help to change the perception of Ireland as a climate “laggard”.

The country has consistently been ranked in recent years as one of the poorest in the EU when it comes to taking action on climate change.

In 2018, Ireland had the third-highest level of greenhouse gas emissions per capita in the EU and is expected to miss reduction targets for 2020 agreed by the bloc.

In January 2018 Leo Varadkar, then taoiseach, said he was “not proud of Ireland’s performance” on climate change compared with the rest of the EU, and described the country as a “laggard”.

Speaking yesterday Mr Ryan said the new bill was the first step towards shedding that image.

“The target is clear — by 2050m we are a carbon-neutral economy. The bill sets out how we will take each step,” he said.

“It will strengthen the role of the climate advisory council, giving powers to set out what the carbon budgets will be. We will be leaders, not laggards, and we start today.”

Mr Ryan said he hoped that the legislation would pass through the Dáil by December 15, the fifth anniversary of the signing of the Paris Agreement, a landmark agreement to combat climate change at an international level.

He said that the emissions target would require changes to be made in every sector of society.

He said it would be a “just transition”, ensuring that businesses and industries were not unfairly affected by the move away from fossil fuels.

Mr Ryan also said that the agriculture sector would have to reduce its emissions. The industry accounts for a third of Ireland’s carbon emissions, which have increased in recent years.

“By changing the way we do things, we can get better results from farming. We will have less animals and the national herd will be smaller, but if we can get a better price, then that’s what the farmers want,” he said.

Micheál Martin, the taoiseach, said it was crucial for countries to act on climate change now.

“We have seen the damage caused by climate change,” he said.

“The need for action is now. Unless we act now, we may well reach the point of no recovery.”

Oisín Coghlan, coordinator of the Stop Climate Chaos coalition, said: “This bill substantially improves the 2015 law but substantial weaknesses remain that must be fixed by TDs and senators.”

It added: “Moreover, we’re acutely conscious that this bill is just the framework for action. It’s the rules of the game, not the result. Passing it is the starting gun in the race of a lifetime, the race to eliminate our polluting emissions fast enough to avoid complete climate breakdown.”

Darren O’Rourke, Sinn Féin’s climate action spokesman, said: “It is deeply concerning that there is zero mention of a just transition, and that the Climate Advisory Council does not have a requirement for a member with expertise on workers’ rights or social justice, yet there are two references for expertise on economics and finance.”

He added: “It is absolutely critical that the voices of workers and disadvantaged communities are represented at the table, so that the benefits and costs of climate action are distributed fairly, but also so that we can bring everyone along as we make the transition to a carbon-neutral future.”

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