Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Bill 2020
The Government has published the long awaited Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Bill 2020 which has the potential to change the nation's relationship to the climate. The Bill is a major piece of potential legislation that promises a radical transformation of Ireland's current economy with a view to moving towards and achieving carbon neutrality by the year 2050. It will provide a mechanism to agree, review and enforce Ireland's climate plans and sets out a framework by which every industry will be called upon to help the country to reduce emissions and protect the environment.
The Bill in its current form makes significant and material changes to the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act 2015 which provided for the establishment of a national framework with the aim of achieving a low-carbon, climate-resilient, and environmentally sustainable economy by 2050. The 2015 Act was enacted in light of the COP21 agreement in Paris where consensus was reached by 200 countries on the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The Bill seeks to further build on the 2015 Act to give clarity on exactly how the State intends to meet those goals.
The Bill is part of the wider EU movement to towards a greener economy with the aim of assisting Ireland in meeting its EU 2030 emissions targets. Those targets are based on the recently published EU Commission proposal to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030 across Europe with the overarching objective of putting Europe on a responsible path to becoming climate neutral by 2050. While not mentioned in the Bill the Programme for Government commits to a 7% average yearly reduction in overall greenhouse gas emissions over the next decade, and to achieving net zero emissions by 2050.
The proposed changes set out in the Bill also seek to align with the overarching European 'Green Deal' which is the EU Commission's plan to make the EU's economy sustainable. The action plan to achieve this involves boosting the efficient use of resources by moving to a clean, circular economy and reducing pollution. The Bill puts a structure on how Ireland plans to implement this plan by focussing on different sectors and what changes will be needed at industry level to move toward a greener economy.
The Bill is currently at the Pre-legislative scrutiny stage, which means that the relevant Committee will scrutinise the Bill and report back to government before a final version of the Bill has been drafted. The Joint Committee on Climate Action is due to begin examining the Bill this week.
Some of the key provisions are examined below.
National 2050 Climate Objective
The Bill sets out the objective for Ireland to have a climate resilient and climate neutral economy by 2050 and names it the 'National 2050 Climate Objective'. The definition of ‘climate neutral economy’ provides that by 2050 all greenhouse gases in Ireland are balanced or exceeded by removal of emissions. To facilitate the targets in terms of reducing the emission of greenhouse gases the Bill mandates that the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications must submit a number of documents to Government for approval which are:
- a series of national long-term climate strategies
- a Climate Action Plan (which is required to be revised annually)
- a national adaptation framework
- sectoral adaptation plans
- a series of carbon budgets
These are the tools by which the overall targets will be reached. The Bill provides that the Minister and Government must take into account a wide variety of factors when performing their functions. These include the policy of the Government on climate change, the need to deliver the best possible value for money consistent with the sustainable management of the public finances, the most recently updated climate action plan, and relevant scientific or technical advice.
Climate action plans and strategies
A national long term climate action strategy must be produced not less than once every 10 years by the Minister to pursue the 'National 2050 climate objective'. This strategy must be approved by Government and there is a power to modify the contents of the strategy after consultation with key stakeholders. There must also be an annual revision of the Climate Action Plan which must take account of the carbon budget programme for that relevant period and set out a roadmap with sector specific actions and an overview of the policies which will be required for the next period of 5 years.
The Bill makes it mandatory for the government to adopt a system of carbon budgets calculated on an economy-wide basis, starting with the period of 2021-25 and for three 5 year periods thereafter. A strengthened Climate Advisory Council will propose national and sectoral limits to be adopted by government while the all-party climate action committee will provide key oversight. Each successive carbon budget will be proposed by the Climate Advisory Council after taking into account relevant scientific advice and international best practice on the reporting of greenhouse gas emissions and their removal.
The Climate Advisory Council will provide the reasons for its proposed carbon budget. It will then be finalised by the Minister within a 4 month time period to allow for consultation - any alterations made by the Minister must be supported by reasons for doing so. At that point, the carbon budget will be ready for Government approval where again there is a power to modify its contents. There is also scope for the carbon budget to be revised (after consulting with the Climate Advisory Council) where new obligations are imposed on the State under EU or international law or where there are significant developments in scientific knowledge in relation to climate change.
Where the total greenhouse gas emissions during a preceding budget period are more than the carbon budget for that period, the Minister may revise the carbon budget for the current budget period so that the shortfall (up to a maximum of 1% of the total carbon budget) in the preceding period is carried back from the current budget period and the amount of the carbon budget for the current budget period is decreased by the amount carried back.
Alongside the carbon budget framework is a similar arrangement for the Minister to make a decarbonisation target range for certain sectors of the economy which will set out the greenhouse gas emissions that are permitted in different industrial sectors within the limits specified in the carbon budget.
It is unclear how the Bill’s carbon budgets will link to its 2050 climate neutrality target and, as it stands, the Bill fails to give any penalty for failing to meet the overall budget or the sectoral decarbonisation ranges. It remains to be seen whether further amendments to the Bill will incorporate a legally binding framework on the reduced emissions targets. It is envisaged that those reduced emission targets will also be achieved with increases in the carbon tax which will be introduced in Budget 2021 – with further increases anticipated in subsequent years.
In terms of a reporting duty, the Minister must give an account to the Climate Action Committee of the progress made every year under the most recently approved Climate Action Plan, including the policies, mitigation measures and adaptation measures that have been adopted. Effectively, each Minister of the Government with responsibility in relation to the relevant sector will have to attend the Committee and respond to any recommendations within 3 months.
Role of Local Authorities
The Bill obliges the Minister to request each local authority to make a 5 year plan to be known as a "local authority climate action plan" setting out the mitigation measures and the adaptation measures to be adopted by the local authority. Each local authority must take into account the most recently approved national long term climate action strategy, the national adaptation framework and must align its plan with neighbouring local authorities through consultation and co-operation. A draft of the local authority climate action plan, that it proposes to make, is then circulated in the area for submissions from the public and then after review is published. The Minister may issue guidelines to local authorities in respect of the content and preparation of local authority climate action plans.
For more information please contact Alan Roberts, Partner or Alison Fanagan, Consultant, or any member of the Environmental & Planning team.
Date published: 15 October 2020