Press release, 18 December 2020

Today’s Pre-Legislative Scrutiny on the draft of the Climate Action and Low-Carbon Development (Amendment) Bill 2020 by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Climate Action (JOCCA) makes important recommendations to help shore up what has been widely criticised as a flawed and problematic Climate Bill.

Critically, JOCCA recommends strengthening and clarifying much of the ambiguous language in the Draft Bill, such as stating only that the “State shall pursue climate neutrality by 2050 at the latest”. By contrast, the JOCCA report makes it clear that ‘pursue’ is a legally meaningless phrase, and recommends this be rephrased as: “The State shall pursue and achieve climate neutrality by 2050 at the latest”.

In addition, JOCCA recommends that this stronger “National Climate Objective” for Ireland’s climate action must be consistent with a fair share of meeting the Paris Agreement’s temperature targets equitably and in accordance with science. As noted in An Taisce’s submission to JOCCA, it is essential that Ireland’s amended Bill “makes an explicit commitment on behalf of the Irish people, that​ ​the State will act to make a full, equitable and just national contribution to meeting the global temperature goals set out in Article 2 of the Paris Agreement.” 

Further, JOCCA adds that such achievement must be undertaken “while ensuring biodiversity is protected and restored”. The great majority of the recommendations are “designed to eliminate ambiguity and weasel words and ensure the spirit as well as the letter of the legislation is clearly honoured”, according to John Gibbons of An Taisce.

Much concern had been expressed that the Draft Bill appeared to have been framed with a view to blocking any future legal challenges, and this is reflected in the new JOCCA recommendation that the bill must be drafted in a way “that creates clear legal obligations and ensures legal accountability in the future”.

It added that the bill needs to be assessed for its compliance with the Aarhus Convention on the public’s right to access information on environmental matters.

The JOCCA review, which is chaired by Brian Leddin TD, also recommends removing reference to ‘carbon leakage’ – the concern that economic production could be lost to countries with inferior climate law. In its submission, An Taisce pointed out that the proposed Bill fails to consider the carbon leakage from other countries to Ireland, occurring due to Ireland’s failure to meet its own climate targets.

The Committee notes numerous instances in the draft bill where the language was vague and non-committal. For instance, in Section 4(2)(a), it currently states that when updating the Climate Action Plan, the Minister “shall take account of the carbon budget programme”. JOCCA recommends this to require that the Minister “shall adhere to the carbon budget” and that “sectoral allocations should not add up to more than the carbon budget”.

An Taisce’s initial response to the Climate Bill also pointed out “its unwarranted special treatment of agricultural emissions, specifically, an attempt to treat methane from animal agriculture differently to other powerful greenhouse gases”. This point has been partially addressed by the committee, which recommends removal of the proposed clause giving agriculture special treatment, and in regard to human-caused methane emissions including those from agriculture states: “Ireland should ensure that it appropriately reflects IPCC methods and fulfils its monitoring and reporting requirements under the UNFCCC”. 

Agri-industry lobbyists have been trying to create a misleading alternative narrative, not supported by science or the IPCC, that ruminant methane should be treated differently to fossil methane. This is only partially but not fully rebutted by the JOCCA report. It goes on to add that “consideration should be given to appropriately addressing the specific impacts of Nitrogen in terms of achieving our Paris-aligned CO2 targets”.

An Taisce strongly supports the Committee’s recommendation to address “the specific impacts of Nitrogen in terms of achieving our Paris-aligned [non-]CO2 emission reductions”. Increased reactive nitrogen inputs, through fertiliser and imported feed to animal agriculture, especially dairy expansion, are the primary drivers of Ireland’s rapidly increasing agricultural pollution that is increasing risks to human health and nature as well as climate.

We know that all greenhouse gas emissions from all sectors must be reduced as fairly as possible, starting immediately. “Ireland has delayed meaningful climate action for far too long”, Gibbons added.  “We need to plan within hard limits on our fair use of fossil fuel energy and nitrogen use in food production. This new Climate Act must state that clearly in language that drives sustained action by all future governments.