Current Climate Bill cannot drive necessary emission reductions

27 October 2020 

The Climate Bill in its current state cannot be expected to drive necessary emission reductions, the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Climate Action was told today. 

Client Earth Climate Accountability lawyer Jonathan Church provided the assessment in his opening statement, and warned that the Bill as it stands means the government, “is not required to produce plans adequate for meeting targets” and that “nothing substantive is required” if it falls short.

Joining him in speaking before the Committee as the Bill goes through pre-legislative scrutiny was Dr. Thomas Muinzer, a Senior Lecturer at the University of Aberdeen’s Law School. 

While acknowledging the Bill mounts to “progress of a kind”, Dr. Muinzer stressed that it does not develop the original Climate Act of 2015 in a “substantial enough manner”. 

In order to strengthen the Bill, carbon budgets would need to be more “stringent” and should be pegged to interim targets, similar to the model followed by the Scottish Climate Act, he added. 

Additionally, Dr. Munizer recommended including “enhanced public participation and engagement” in the Bill, which critics have noted is a glaring absence within the legislation. 

Soft legal language “peppers” the Bill 

Dr. Munizer also flagged the Bill’s language around the 2050 target of climate neutrality, which reads that the State will “pursue” the objective, rather than “pursue and achieve” as previous legislation has called for. 

Dropping the word achieve, “sends alarm bells to a lawyer,” he said. 

The omission is a “softening”, according to Dr Munizer, and he later noted that such language is “peppered” throughout the Bill. 

Both Mr. Church and Dr. Munzier warned that vague language within the Bill itself could also lead to litigation. 

The Committee later posed the question of ex-officio membership of the Climate Change Advisory Council, which would allow for the heads of the Environmental Protection Agency, Teagasc and Met Eireann to retain a permanent seat and vote on the Council. 

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) scientist John Sweeney warned the Committee last week that if these ex-officio members retained voting rights it could compromise the independence of the Council as they are ultimately “paid by the public purse and they are individuals who are loath to criticise government policy”. 

Mr. Church pointed to the United Kingdom’s Climate Change Committee, which looks to outward bodies for expertise, but does not award such organisations a vote within their membership. 

The Climate Action (Amendment) Bill 2020 was promised within the first 100 days of the new Government’s term, and alongside a 2050 target, proposes five-year carbon budgets, annual revisions to the 2019 Climate Action Plan and a strengthened role for the Climate Change Advisory Council. 

The Bill will be back in pre-legislative scrutiny tomorrow morning and will hear from Dr. John Fitzgerald, the Chair of the Climate Change Advisory Council. 

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Kayle Crosson