Transformational Climate Bill set to become law in Ireland soon!
Transformational Climate Bill set to become law in Ireland soon!
The Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Bill 2021 (the Bill) was published on 23 March 2021 and passed the Second Stage in the Seanad on 25 June 2021. It is expected to become law later this month, July 2021. The Bill is more ambitious than its earlier iteration from early October 2020. This reflects the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Climate Action's (the Committee) efforts to address some of its perceived weaknesses. The Committee made 78 recommendations, including the use of stronger language, more specific commitments and setting a 2030 interim GHG emissions reduction target. This follows on from Ireland's declaration of a climate emergency in May 2019, the EU's renewed focus on environmental action, through the European Green Deal, announced in December 2019, and ahead of efforts to strengthen global climate action at COP26, the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow in November 2021.
The main aim of the Bill is to provide for the approval of various plans to be prepared by Government, to enable Ireland transition towards becoming a climate resilient, biodiversity rich, environmentally sustainable and climate neutral economy by no later than 2050.
The Bill amends the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act 2015 (the Climate Action Act 2015) and provides a framework for Ireland to reduce its carbon emissions in the following ways:
It sets an objective of climate neutrality by 2050
It sets an interim target of a 51% reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2030 relative to a baseline of the year ending 31 December 2018;
It provides a framework for the development of enabling plans and strategies to reach the 2030 and 2050 targets through annual climate action plans, five-yearly long-term climate action strategies, five-yearly carbon budgets, sectoral emission ceilings, and a national adaptation framework. All local authorities must make individual local climate action plans. This framework is intended to address the Supreme Court's concern in the Climate Case Ireland about the lack of specificity in Ireland's National Mitigation Plan and that the public are entitled to know what plans are in place with some reasonable degree of specificity.
It imposes a climate reporting obligation on the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications (the Minister). It requires the Minister to give an account (at the written request of a joint committee) on the latest climate action plan, whether there has been a reduction or increase in GHGs, compliance with carbon budgets (from 2022), and the implementation of adaptation policies under the most recently approved national adaptation framework. A similar obligation is imposed on every government minister in relation to the sector that they have responsibility for.
National Climate Objective
The National Climate Objective is Ireland’s long-term decarbonisation goal to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. The October 2020 draft Bill was criticised on the basis that the National Climate Objective only required the State to “pursue” carbon neutrality by 2050. This language has been strengthened, so that the obligation is not only to pursue, but also "achieve" the transition to a climate resilient, biodiversity rich, environmentally sustainable and climate neutral economy.
To do so, the Minister must prepare a national long-term climate action strategy. This will set out what is needed for Ireland to reach its national climate objective, and must be updated at least once every five years rather than every 10 years (as had previously been proposed).
Climate Action Plan
The Minister must prepare an annual update to the Climate Action Plan 2019. In doing so, the Minister must ensure it is consistent with the carbon budget and set out a roadmap of actions to include, among other things, sector specific actions relating to the carbon budget and sectoral emissions ceilings for the period. The Minister must also consult with Government, any other Minister he/she considers appropriate, the public and such person(s) he/she considers appropriate. The roadmap will specify actions for the first carbon budget, an overview of policies for the second carbon budget and potential policies for the third carbon budget in the carbon budget programme. This will be done on a rolling basis, with the Minister submitting a draft of the climate action plan to the Government for approval every year, beginning in 2021.
Section 9 of the Bill adds new sections (6A-6D) to section 6 of the Climate Action Act 2015 and establishes a system of carbon budgets. Put simply, a carbon budget prescribes the total amount of GHG emissions permitted in the State, during the 5 yearly budget period.
These carbon budgets will be prepared by an Advisory Council, finalised by the Minister, and approved by the Government. Each carbon budget will run for five years and each carbon budget programme is made up of a rolling cycle of three five-year carbon budgets starting this year so that the first carbon budget cycle will run from 2021-2035 and will be made up of the first (2021-2025), second (2026-2030) and third (2031-2035) carbon budgets.
Where the GHG emissions exceed the carbon budget for the specified period, the surplus must be carried over into the next carbon budget and that next carbon budget will be reduced accordingly to take account of this.
Role of Local Authorities
Section 15 of the Bill provides that local authorities must make individual climate action plans. These must specify the mitigation measures and adaptation measures, which will be adopted by the local authority. The first local climate action plan must be made within a year of request by the Minister and no later than 18 months after this section comes into operation. For subsequent plans, they must be made at least every five years. A local authority climate action plan must, "in so far as practicable", be consistent with the most recently approved climate action plan and national adaptation framework.
Amendment of Content of Development Plans
Section 18 of the Bill amends section 10 (Content of Development Plans) of the Planning and Development Act 2000 to provide that local authorities, when making their Development Plans, must include objectives for reducing GHGs and address the necessity of adaptation to climate change, taking account of their local authority climate action plan.
Limitation of Liability
Section 4 of the Bill is new. It provides that there is no entitlement to damages or compensation if there is a failure to comply with any provision of this legislation.
The national 2030 target is ambitious, and will require swift and sustained action by the Irish Government, and all aspects of business, agriculture and society at large. The two areas where we are likely to see the biggest immediate impact are (i) the calculation and approval of carbon budgets and (ii) specific measures introduced by local authorities as part of their climate action plans. As local authorities create new development plans, we are also likely to see a greater emphasis on climate change and the necessity of adaptation, particularly as it relates to sustainable settlement and transportation strategies.