Gov’t ‘squandered’ opportunity for proper consultation on long-term climate strategy

Published by Niall Sargent on

December 3rd, 2019

The Government has shown either “gross incompetence” or is trying to stymie scrutiny of its climate policy by failing to hold a meaningful public consultation on Ireland’s long term climate strategy, An Taisce has warned.

Under EU law, Ireland must prepare and submit its long-term strategy to reduce emissions to the European Commission following consultation with the public.

The EU regulation on energy governance under which the state must prepare the long-term strategy came into force in December 2018.

Yet, a public consultation was only launched by the Department for Climate Action last Tuesday with a deadline set for 16 December 2019, leaving just 15 working days close to the Christmas holiday period to feed into the strategy.

The consultation document poses 26 questions on the likes of electricity production, transport, agriculture, and forestry, as well as waste and the circular economy and steps towards a just transition.

Following criticism last week, the Department subsequently extended the deadline to 31 December, giving an extra 10 working days for interested parties to make submissions.

This short window does not appear to be in line with the State’s own consultation guidelines that call for a consultation process of between two and 12 weeks. Longer consultation periods may be necessary when the consultation process falls around holiday periods.

According to An Taisce, this situation would have been avoided if the Department took note of a letter it sent in February pointing out that all EU member states have to prepare and submit the long term strategy by 1 January 2020.

“We would like to request an early opportunity to meet with the DCCAE team responsible for public participation in the preparation of the [long term strategy], in order both to understand the envisaged processes, and to offer any support or insight from the NGO perspective that may assist with this,” the letter reads.

According to An Taisce, the short consultation period has now created a “manifestly impossible situation” in which it will be virtually impossible for the Department to process the submissions sent in by concerned citizens and civil society groups.

“While the period for public consultation is grossly inadequate, the government, in turn, is required to submit its strategy document, presumably incorporating feedback from hundreds or even thousands of respondents across 26 questions to the EU by January next,” the environmental group said.

 “Given the department has had at least the last 18 months in which to invite public engagement on its [long-term strategy] document, this has to be seen as either gross incompetence or a cynical attempt to stymie meaningful scrutiny and public engagement,” An Taisce said.

“This crucial process is to set the framework for Ireland’s climate policy for the next three decades. It is shambolic in the extreme to leave it to the last minute, and indicates, despite the rhetoric, just how low a priority this government continues to place on climate action and meaningful public engagement”, An Taisce said.

It remains unclear when the Department intends to submit the finalised strategy to the European Commission, and if it will meet the 1 January 2020 deadline.

In a statement, the Department said that it is engaging with the Commission on “an appropriate timeline for submission”, particularly in the context of prioritising the Climate Action Bill that will see the introduction of carbon budgets and other binding measures.

The Department added that consultation on the strategy “should be considered as part of on-going consultation and engagement on the development of Ireland’s climate and energy policy”, including the consultation on the draft National Energy and Climate Plan that it must also submit to the EU at the end of 2019.

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Niall Sargent

Niall is the Editor of The Green News. He is a multimedia journalist, with an MA in Investigative Journalism from City University, London