Climate Bill passes through the Oireachtas for final time

16 July 2021 

The Climate Bill and its subsequent amendments have passed through both houses of the Oireachtas for a final time and it is now set to go before the President to be signed into law. 

The Government lauded the ambition in the Bill both in the Dáil and the Seanad this week, with Green Party Senator Roisin Garvey telling the upper chamber today that the Bill was a “win for everyone”. 

Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications Eamon Ryan commended the work of TDs and Senators on the Bill over the past months and told the Seanad that “what we’re committing to here is no small change. It’s a huge challenge.” 

The Bill was initially introduced by Minister Ryan in October and is designed to be the primary legislative framework for which the climate crisis is addressed in Ireland. 

Recent amendments introduced by Fianna Fail and Fine Gael Senators last Friday were sharply criticised by Prof John Sweeney earlier this week, who warned that they had “taken the guts out of the Climate Bill and destroyed the principles under which it was established.” 

“They depart from the scientifically established methodology and give discretion to the Government to decide what to measure, how to measure it, and what the removals will be and how they are counted,” Prof Sweeney told The Green News. 

In a statement to our publication, the Department of Climate Action said the amendments were not “fundamental changes” to the Bill and that they would “provide clarity on how the carbon accounting systems will be developed.” 

The amendments proposed and passed by the Government last week in the Seanad included those which say the Government shall make regulations for determining how greenhouse gas emissions are taken into account and the manner in which they are calculated. 

Minister Ryan introduced an amendment to the Dail on Wednesday evening to bring section 6A within the scope of section 3.3 of the Bill, which according to Green Party Senator Pauline O’Reilly “ties up the entire Bill really well…[as] Ireland is now obliged to be consistent with international obligations in relation to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Paris Agreement.” 

However, according to Independent Senator Alice-Mary Higgins, a number of problems still remain in the legislation. 

“I ended our last debate in the Seanad about this saying Ireland is starting too late [on climate action] and we should be starting stronger, and I’m going to begin by saying that,” she told the upper chamber. 

While Senator Higgins welcomed the insertion of 6A into section 3.3, she stressed that “other problems remain to be addressed” such as the limited liability clause, weak language, the fact that EU rules are to be regarded rather than something to be consistent with, and the tension for the Climate Change Advisory Council (CCAC) created by these new amendments. 

The Bill has thus been weakened, according to Senator Higgins, who in addressing the Minister added that he “didn’t have to weaken the Bill to get support in the Dáil. But when you weakened the Bill, you lost support in the Dáil.” 

“Hasty, ill-considered” amendments 

The late amendments altered the “character and ethos of the Bill” by radically shifting the emphasis from the scientific to the political, according to An Taisce. 

“These last minute amendments were hasty, ill-considered and risk seriously undermining the scientific integrity of Irish climate action,” An Taisce Climate Committee member Professor Barry McMullin said earlier this week. 

Stop Climate Chaos issued a statement in broad support of the Bill, calling it a “historic moment that signals the Government’s commitment to act decisively and comprehensively on the climate crisis by undertaking steep and rapid emission reductions.” 

“This Bill does not exist in a vacuum,” Dr Ciara Murphy of the Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice said of its passing. 

“Achieving a 7 per cent decrease in emissions per year until 2030 will require changes in every aspect of our society. In the long run, an unjust transition will not only hamper climate mitigation but also deepen these already entrenched inequalities and vulnerabilities,” she added. 

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Kayle Crosson