Sadhbh O'Neill of FiE addressing media at the High Court Photo: Niall Sargent

Campaigners dissatisfied with amended carbon budget definition

2 July 2021 

Campaigners have expressed dissatisfaction with an amendment to the Climate Bill that will allow for sequestration to be taken into account of carbon budget reviews. 

An amendment brought forward in the Seanad today by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael Senators sought to alter the definition of carbon budgets, which will dictate the amount of carbon dioxide the State will be allowed to emit within rolling five-year timeframes. 

Following the amendment’s passing, the budgets will now have to take account of removals, which proposing Senators project will come from sequestration by trees, soils and hedgerows to offset livestock emissions. 

The measure is “not a scientifically robust way to plan climate action,”  according to Stop Climate Chaos Policy co-ordinator Sadhbh O’Neill. 

While she was somewhat reassured by Minister Eamon Ryan’s assertion that Ireland would stick to the accounting framework under the United Nations Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC), she stressed that “we have to get real with the agricultural sector: emissions and pollution must come down in absolute terms.” 

“Yes, farmers should be rewarded for changes in land management that improve biodiversity and carbon storage. But carbon farming must not be based on wishful thinking about a treasure trove of soil carbon that simply does not exist,” she told The Green News. 

To date, agriculture is Ireland’s largest emitting sector, accounting for 35 per cent of total emissions. 

Senator Paul Daly, a proponent of the amendment, told the Seanad that the agriculture sector “welcomes the progression of the Bill.” 

“There’s no sector more willing to achieve these targets than farmers,” he said. 

By including the amendment, the Bill would then further account for the “special role” of Irish agriculture as described in the Programme for Government, he added. 

Director of Friends of the Earth Ireland Oisin Coghlan expressed his concern that the amendment will, “encourage the IFA to continue to mislead its members on climate action.” 

“Today’s vote does not get agriculture off the hook in any way. 

“It does clarify the challenge however, which is to both radically reduce polluting emissions and to enhance carbon sinks that remove pollution for the atmosphere. We’ll work with any farm organisation that accepts that reality and embraces that challenge,” he said. 

Definition of climate justice removed 

The proposed definition of climate justice in the Bill was also removed through an amendment proposed by Independent Senators Alice-Mary Higgins, Lynn Ruane, Frances Black and Eileen Flynn. 

Campaigners called for it be removed earlier this week, arguing that it would be better to have no definition of the term rather than using the Bill’s “current, misleading definition”. 

Mr. Coghlan welcomed the deletion, saying what existed previously was “far too narrow and weak, omitting entirely any reference to global north/south fairness.” 

However, he stressed that didn’t accept the Minister’s explanation that it would be too complex a concept to be given a definition, given that the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Climate Action did so for its examination of the draft Bill. 

“I suspect the real problem is that there isn’t agreement between all the coalition parties to allow a robust definition,” he said. 

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Kayle Crosson