Review of the Climate Action (Amendment) Bill 2019

The Irish Centre for Human Rights is grateful to Sinéad Mercier for this guest post.

Sinéad Mercier is a consultant on climate change law and policy with a special focus on just transition and human rights approaches. She has worked with the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, the National Economic and Social Council, the Green Party of Ireland and Philip Lee law firm. Her new book is on the evolution of environmental law in Ireland and its interaction with cultural heritage, called ‘Men Who Eat Ringforts’ written with Michael Holly and Eddie Lenihan, published with Askeaton Public Arts.

The following draft paper is being prepared for publication but is copied here in order to assist interest groups in analysing the General Scheme of the Climate Action (Amendment) Bill 2019 which is due for publication in the next few days.

The overarching approach of Ireland’s new climate law must be directed towards climate justice and a just transition. In December 2019, the Fine Gael/Independents government published the General Scheme of the Climate Action (Amendment) Bill 2019 (the ‘2019 Bill’), which is designed to give legislative effect to the Climate Action Plan 2019. The Fianna Fáil/Fine Gael/Green Party Programme for Government: Our Shared Future commits to the bringing forward of the Climate Action (Amendment) Bill 2020 within the first 100 days of government. Mention is not made of additional changes to the 2019 Bill, though there are certain differences between commitments in the Programme for Government and the General Scheme of the 2019 Bill, such that some changes seem likely. The much-discussed Programme for Government commitment to an average of 7% emissions reductions per year from 2021 to 2030 will reportedly be dealt with by way of the carbon budgets in the new Bill rather than appearing as 7% on the face of the new Bill.

Recent exciting developments in climate litigation and President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen’s commitment to a European Green Deal, means that a substantial re-write of the draft 2019 Bill is required. In July 2020, the Supreme Court in Climate Case Ireland exposed the government’s current statutory plan for climate action – the 2017 National Mitigation Plan – to be inadequate due to its lack of detail on how it would achieve reductions up to 2050. A new, more specific and clearly defined pathway to a low carbon economy, now has to be developed. Similar duties are placed on Ireland by the proposed European Climate Law under the European Green Deal, Ireland will soon be required to have a higher 2030 target and new targets for 2040 and 2050. Under the Governance Regulation, Ireland is required to submit a National Energy and Climate Plan (NECP) to the European Commission outlining how Ireland will achieve net zero by 2050, with specified actions for the 2021-2030 period including detailed emissions reductions, actions on just transition, access to energy and energy poverty initiatives. The European Green Deal has increased the Governance Regulation’s EU target for 2030 from 40% to a target of ‘at least’ a 55% cut in GHG emissions by 2030, compared to 1990 levels. Ireland’s Programme for Government commitment to a 46% reduction by 2030 compared to 1990 (see Section 2.1.1) means that we are not in line with these global efforts to keep emissions to 1.5-2°C as required by the December 2015 Paris Agreement.

This is an exciting backdrop to a new Irish Climate Act that opens up the possibilities of more rights-based approaches to climate action, rather than so far inadequate flexible and market-based mechanisms. The following paper offers some recommendations for improvement in this context. Other recommended published analyses which have not been integrated into this draft paper include Diarmuid Torney, ‘Options for strengthening Ireland’s climate law’ (July 2020).

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