Gov’t criticised for short public consultation on long-term climate strategy

Published by Niall Sargent on

November 28th, 2019

Academics and climate groups have criticised the Government’s decision to hold a very tight public consultation for input into our long term climate strategy for the next 30 years.

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 consultation was launched by the Department for Climate Action on Tuesday with a deadline set for 16 December 2019. This leaves just 15 working days close to the Christmas holiday period to feed into the strategy.

This short window does not appear to be in line with the State’s own consultation guidelines that state a consultation process should vary between two and 12 weeks, with a longer period applicable where individuals are being consulted.

In addition, longer consultation periods may be necessary when the consultation process falls around holiday periods, the document reads.

Professor Diarmuid Torney of DCU told The Green News that if the Government was serious about obtaining public input, it would have conducted an earlier consultation with a much longer deadline.

The EU regulation on energy governance under which the state must carry out the long-term strategy reached political agreement last June and came into force in December 2018.

“The Department has had a lot on their plate over the last year, but they had one and a half years to work on the long term strategy,” said Prof Torney, who sat on the Citizens’ Assembly advisory group during its deliberations on climate change.

“The Department states on its website that it is ‘committed to engaging with stakeholders in a clear, open and transparent manner’. This so-called consultation shows precisely zero evidence of this.”

Prof Torney added that there is “another more problematic part of the story” as the State has a hard deadline to submit its strategy by 1 January 2020.

This leaves just nine working days for the Department to review and incorporate input from the submissions, assuming that staff work Christmas Eve & New Year’s Eve and do not take any other festive leave.

This short window realistically leaves little to no time to properly analyse and incorporate the views of the public and civil society groups, Prof Torney said.

Climate forum needed

Catherine Devitt of the Stop Climate Change coalition said that public engagement over this important strategy needs to go beyond an online survey-type consultation exercise.

“Even if they had a six-week consultation period during the year, I don’t think it is sufficient enough to have a proper consultation on an issue that is really important to decide climate policy over the next 30 years,” she added.

She said that more meaningful dialogue would be achieved through a national climate forum, modeled on the Brexit Forum, where we could develop a “new comprehensive and coherent strategy for stakeholder engagement and social dialogue on climate action”.

“These channels will be essential if we are to build public and political consensus around climate policy measures,” she said. “Visioning the type of society that Ireland wants to be in seriously addressing climate change over the coming decades requires much more meaningful dialogue.”

In a statement, the Department said that it will monitor responses to the consultation on and associated queries over the coming days and will extend the consultation period if necessary.

“All submissions received will be fully considered and will feed into the Department’s submission to the Commission,” the statement continues.

“The Department is engaging with the Commission on an appropriate timeline for submission, particularly in the context of prioritising the Climate Action Bill, which will include the introduction of carbon budgets among other governance arrangements.”

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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