The Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Bill 2020 as it is currently constituted, is not fit for purpose and requires radical and extensive amendments, according to An Taisce’s formal submission to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Climate Action.

An Taisce, the National Trust for Ireland, has presented its considered opinion on the Bill to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Climate Action. 

The submission notes that the Climate Amendment Bill is far too vague, with numerous opt-outs that render measures in it toothless while legally, the Bill appears to have been drafted with a view to making legal challenges to it difficult, if not impossible, to sustain.

“Unfortunately, avoidance of justiciability appears to be a driving force in the Bill’s current design. The Bill, if voted through in its current state, would actually weaken Ireland’s legal structures underpinning climate action” said Ruaidhri O'Boyle, Secretary of An Taisce's Climate Committee. “Having declared a climate and biodiversity emergency last year, it would be unconscionable to put a bill like this in the statute books."

The charity underlined that the Bill commits only to ‘pursuing’ our national climate objective (NCO), while in an earlier draft committed to ‘pursuing and achieving’ this objective. It is impossible to avoid the conclusion that the replacement of concrete goals with vague aspirations that may or may not ever be realised was uppermost in the minds of those who drafted this Bill.

Ireland’s commitment to climate action needs the backing of much stronger legislation to align with science and ensure a healthier, cleaner and fairer society and environment for future generations.

While An Taisce welcomes the inclusion of carbon budgets in the Bill, it must ensure that its rolling five-year carbon budgets are consistent with a reformulated, “Paris Agreement-aligned National Climate Objective”. Also, in line with the Aarhus Convention, public participation must be explicitly guaranteed.

Another major failing in the Bill as currently drafted is its unwarranted special treatment of agricultural emissions, specifically, an attempt to treat methane from animal agriculture differently to other powerful greenhouse gases. This needs to be remedied. Although just a very small part of the overall economy, agriculture produces one third of all national emissions (the great bulk of this from the dairy and beef sectors) and no serious effort at emissions reductions can bypass such a major source of climate pollution, one that has greatly increased over the past decade.

An Taisce has recommended that references to ‘carbon leakage’ be removed from the Bill, as this appears to be yet another attempt at evading our national responsibilities on emissions reduction in line with the science. Furthermore, this terminology could have unintended consequences in the future, where high-emitting corporations relocate to take advantage of nations with lax domestic legislation.

An Taisce is also calling on the government to ensure that interim targets are included in the revised Climate Bill, as these are “essential to ensure the intended roadmap is being followed”. 

The pre-legislative scrutiny undertaken by the Oireachtas Committee has been an excellent exercise. The collective view of a range of expert witnesses - lawyers, climate scientists and other authoritative commentators - was unified in its identifying of the many flaws in the draft legislation. The Committee has a strong mandate and responsibility to recommend radical surgery to this Bill. In the absence of such surgery, the impotence of the Bill will be realised in the years to come at an untold cost to all those present to witness the worst of climate breakdown.

The full submission to the Oireachtas Committee is available here.