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Climate goals to be legally binding as revised bill is published

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Commitment: Environment Minister Eamon Ryan

Commitment: Environment Minister Eamon Ryan

Commitment: Environment Minister Eamon Ryan

Legally binding commitments to cut carbon emissions in half by 2030 and to net zero by 2050 are set out in the revised Climate Action Bill as Ireland’s climate objectives finally become obligations.

The bill, for publication today, also states all carbon budgets and climate actions be consistent with the Paris Climate Change Agreement and EU requirements.

It rules out an automatic separate and softer emission reduction path for farming, requiring that all greenhouse gas emissions, including agricultural methane, collectively comply with the targets.

The revised bill is much strengthened from the draft published last October that was criticised by lawyers, scientists and environme ntal campaigners for setting targets without any legal responsibility to achieve them.

Critically, the new bill stresses that the current and future governments must “pursue and achieve” the net zero target. The draft required only that they pursue the goal.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar and Climate Action Minister Eamon Ryan will jointly publish the revised legislation this afternoon, presenting a united front on a bill that has caused disagreements, in particular over the 2030 target.

The Programme for Government set a 51pc carbon reduction target for 2030 as a matter of policy but the bill makes it binding for the first two carbon budgets.

Carbon budgets are a new mechanism that will cap the amount of emissions the country as a whole can produce over a five-year period, with limits for each sector of society to be thrashed out between m inisters.

The first budget, for 2021-2025, is overdue, and pressure will be on the newly revamped Climate Change Advisory Council to present its recommended caps as soon as the bill is passed to give the council formal powers to do so.

In the meantime, ministers will be set a package of interim climate actions to inject some fresh impetus into carbon-reduction efforts.

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Later this year, a n ew Climate Action Plan will be published with more specific actions and more stringent requirements based on the targets in the bill. Public consultation on the plan also begins today.

The bill, the 2050 net zero goal and interim 2030 target were all key demands of the Green Party for entry into coalition with Fine Gael and Fianna Fail after last year’s general election.

But despite achieving a much more robust bill than the draft, some campaigners will argue it does not go far enough and that the 2030 target must be more ambitious to tackle the growing climate crisis.

There will also be disappointment that the bill does not ban imports of fracked gas but Mr Ryan is to produce a policy document formally adopting that position late next month.

Farming groups will have hoped for special provisions for agricultural emissions but any concession on hitting the 51pc reduction by 2030 will now have to be achieved by bargaining between the Department of Agriculture and other departments that may have some of their share of the carbon budget to spare.

Some campaigners had also hoped for the 2050 target to be brought forward. Scotland is to be carbon- neutral by 2045 and Northern Ireland’s climate bill, presented yesterday, also adopts that earlier date.

 


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