Climate Bill faces first round of Committee scrutiny

14 October 2020 

The newly published Climate Bill faced its first round of pre-legislative scrutiny today before the Oireachtas Committee on Climate Action and numerous issues from opposition TDs and Senators were raised.

The Bill was issued last week with a number of provisions in it, including a requirement for the State to “pursue” climate neutrality by 2050 and the establishment of five-year carbon budgets to begin in 2021. 

Assistant Secretary General Brian Carroll from the Department of the Climate presented to the Committee and then took questions from its members.

Absence a 2030 target seems “legally inconsistent”

The absence of an interim target, one that is prior to the 2050 climate neutrality goal, was particularly concerning to both Independent Senator Alice-Mary Higgins and Jennifer Whitmore TD of the Social Democrats.

The specific lack of reference to a 2030 target seems to be “legislatively inconsistent” with previous climate agreements Ireland has made, according to Senator Higgins.

Interim targets would also be crucial in any course correction should governments veer off paths to meeting carbon budget targets, Deputy Whitmore said.

Mr. Carroll defended the absence of goalposts like the 2030 EU climate target.

Citing legal advice the Department received, Mr. Carroll said it was “very clear where you have an existing legal obligation imposed on you under EU law, it’s not appropriate to further put the same obligation in national law”. 

Vague language and a lack of Just Transition

Both Brid Smith TD of People Before Profit and Deputy Whitmore noted that the Bill used vague language, particularly with its repeated use of the words “may” and “have regard to”. 

The language, Deputy Whitmore said, was very loose and would make it “difficult to hold anyone to account”. 

Questions were also asked about the Bill’s reference to “pursue” the 2050 objective rather than the terminology previously used which said the State was to “pursue and achieve” it. 

In answering a question on the matter from Senator Lynn Boylan of Sinn Fein, Mr. Carroll said that “pursue” was linked to the preparation of annual plans and carbon budgets. 

But, Mr. Carroll added, “if further language is being suggested, it can be considered”. 

The absence of any reference to a Just Transition was raised multiple times throughout the Committee meeting by opposition TDs and Senators, and Mr. Carroll replied by noting the Bill has provision for the Minister to “have regard to” climate justice. 

The latter term, however, is not defined in the Bill nor is the Minister required to consider it. 

Senator Higgins also took issue with the Bill’s use of the term “value for money” and called the phrase “outdated”.

Votes within the Climate Change Advisory Council

Senator Boylan also expressed concern at the possibility of climate science’s voice being drowned out on the Climate Change Advisory Council.

If the Council has a one person, one vote policy, it could allow for other areas to override the views of climate scientists before the advice finds its way to the Government and carbon budget setting.

In a separate exchange but on the matter of carbon budgets, Senator Higgins noted that any borrowing from future such limits would be incompatible “with the highest possible ambition and principles of climate justice”.

The Committee will meet again tomorrow morning for further pre-legislative scrutiny on the Bill, and will hear from Dr. Diarmuid Torney, Associate Professor in the School of Law and Government at Dublin City University, and Dr. Áine Ryall, Co-director of the Centre for Law and the Environment at University College Cork. 

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Kayle Crosson