Ireland commits to climate resilience with new Bill

Out-Law News | 23 Oct 2020 | 11:42 am | 2 min. read

The Irish government has published significant and far reaching proposed legislation to accelerate the energy transition, curbing carbon emissions to an average 7% per annum reduction from 2021 to 2030 and to achieving net zero emissions by 2050.

In common with recent EU announcements on the Green Deal, the Bill reflects a bullish intention to step up the remit and pace of delivery on decarbonisation of the Irish economy.

"We are firmly moving into an era of green compulsion rather than momentum," said Dublin-based energy law expert Garrett Monaghan of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.

The Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Bill 2020 introduces a number of changes to the existing Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act 2015 and is designed to implement central aspects of the programme for government outlined by the parties in coalition government in Ireland earlier this year.

The Bill provides for the pursuit of the transition to a climate resilient and "climate neutral economy" by the end of the year 2050. A 'climate neutral economy' is defined in the Bill as "a sustainable economy where greenhouse gas emissions are balanced or exceeded by the removal of emissions". The impact of that proposed national net zero target is for all greenhouse gases and is an objective consistent with current EU objectives, said Monaghan. The energy transition will require the delivery of high value and capital intensive energy projects such as offshore wind projects.

The Bill also introduces the concept of carbon budgeting for the first time and applies to all greenhouse gases. The introduction of carbon budgeting will have immediate impacts on day to day business planning and operations within a rolling five year emissions cycle. The budgets will cover all sectors including agriculture.

The role of the Climate Change Advisory Council is to be strengthened and embedded into decision making, with the body to be placed on a statutory footing and given a role in advising the government and proposing the carbon budgets. The Bill provides that the Council will be diversified in terms of both expertise and gender and those appointed must have expertise in climate science, transport, energy, agriculture, behavioural and communication science, biodiversity and ecosystem services, economics, finance, and/or political sociology or ethics in relation to climate.

Under the Bill, Ireland's climate action plan will be revised annually and a national long term climate action strategy will be prepared at least every 10 years. Included in the climate action plans will be sectoral actions aligned to five-year carbon budgets.

Monaghan Garrett

Garrett Monaghan

Partner

The political delivery of the ambitious targets will be predicated on the demands made of society being rational and ultimately 'just'

The Bill makes provision for local authorities in Ireland to play a bigger role in driving decarbonisation and provides for stronger oversight of Ireland's carbon reduction measures by Ireland's parliament, the Oireachtas. An Oireachtas joint committee would be appointed to consider each carbon budget and to which each minister would be accountable on an annual basis for performance against targets.

While the programme for government pledged to legislate to ban the sale of new petrol and diesel cars and the importation of second-hand petrol and diesel cars from 2030, the Bill contains no provision for this. Provisions to ban fossil fuel cars would need to be notified to the European Commission in advance of its entry into force, when the legislation remains a proposal. In an effort to avoid delays in publishing and enacting other priority measures in the Bill, provisions banning petrol and diesel cars were excluded.

Garrett Monaghan of Pinsent Masons said that while the legislation is broadly to be welcomed, it is incumbent on the Irish government to address how it intends to ensure the transition towards a low-carbon economy can be quickly, and sustainably, integrated into the economy and society.

He said: "Although the Bill does not refer to the concept of 'just transition', the political delivery of the ambitious targets will be predicated on the demands made of society being rational and ultimately 'just'." 'Just transition' is recognition of the significant level of change required by the climate action plan and of these burdens being accepted as necessary and fair.

The Bill is now due to go to pre-legislative scrutiny. Ireland's energy minister Eamon Ryan has indicated that the Bill could be finalised by the end of the year and is hopeful that it will be enacted and implemented before the end of 2021.