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Expert says climate bill full of 'weasel words, get-out clauses and loopholes'



Misgivings: Professor John Sweeney has major concerns about the Climate Action Bill. Photo: Frank McGrath

Misgivings: Professor John Sweeney has major concerns about the Climate Action Bill. Photo: Frank McGrath

Misgivings: Professor John Sweeney has major concerns about the Climate Action Bill. Photo: Frank McGrath

One of the country's leading climate scientists has said the Government's proposed legislation for tackling the climate crisis is full of "weasel words, loopholes and get-out clauses".

Professor John Sweeney's damning assessment of the Climate Action Bill comes as the Oireachtas committee tasked with scrutinising it looks set to warn that it can not do the job within its two-week deadline.

The Climate Action Committee meets today to begin examining the bill before it is brought before the Dáil. It will hear from officials in the Department of Climate Action today and from environmental law experts tomorrow.

Prof Sweeney told a seminar he had serious concerns about the bill. An emeritus professor at Maynooth University, he advised on the forerunner to the bill, the obsolete 2015 Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act, and declared the final version of that completely ineffective.

"I'm looking at this new bill with a sense of deja-vu because I consider it contains a lot of the weaknesses of the previous bill," he said.

The bill is intended to cement the high-ambition commitments in the Programme for Government and oblige the current and future governments to cut carbon emissions to the extent that the country will be carbon-­neutral by 2050. This will be achieved by using 'carbon budgets' or emissions ceilings that various sectors such as transport, agriculture and energy cannot breach.

But Prof Sweeney said the language had been watered down to require only that the target be pursued, rather than achieved.

"The weasel words that got on my nerves in 2015 are back again," he said. "'Have regard to' appears 11 times. 'May' appears 43 times. 'May' does not mean that actions have to be undertaken."

He said the bill provided the Climate Action Minister and government of the day with "25 ready-made excuses" for not pushing for the targets.

He believes it is also too soft on agricultural emissions, as well as pointing out that it leaves scientists on the Climate Change Advisory Council outnumbered by other interests.

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"We have to be careful about this bill in terms of the loopholes, in terms of the get-out-of-jail cards that are given, and the extensive discretion given to the minister and ­government of the day."

Prof Sweeney added: "It's a landmark bill that we don't want to find flaws in down the road, so it's important that we get the objectives and language in the bill to match the commitment in the Programme for Government."

The seminar, organised by the Stop Climate Chaos coalition, heard from other experts who also agreed there were issues with the bill.

Sinn Féin Senator Lynn Boylan, a member of the Climate Action Committee, said she had heard some of the concerns and it would take more time to work through them than had been allocated.

"Rather than try to fast-track this, we need a robust bill that's going to achieve real climate action into the future," she said.

Green Party TD Brian Leddin, the committee chair, said the members wanted input from many experts and acknowledged the time frame was tight.

"If it spills over to another week, I don't think that would be a problem. We have to do a thorough pre-legislative scrutiny. The members have agreed to give it priority over their other work," he said.

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