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Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Bill 2021

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Ireland

On 23 March 2021, the Government published the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Bill, 2021 ("the Bill"). 

This Bill amends the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act 2015 ("the 2015 Act"). The objective of the Bill is to provide legal frameworks that will enable Ireland to achieve its 'national climate objective'. This objective is a long-term emissions reduction target that would see Ireland transition to a 'climate resilient, biodiversity rich, environmentally sustainable and climate neutral economy’ by no later than the end of 2050. A climate neutral economy has been defined in the Bill as a ‘sustainable economy and society where greenhouse gas emissions are balanced or exceeded by the removal of greenhouse gases'

The Bill, if enacted, will introduce a number of mechanisms and strategies in order to achieve the national climate objective including;
 
  1. A series of carbon budgets and the associated sectoral emission ceilings;
  2. Annual revisions to the Climate Action Plan;
  3. National Long Term Climate Action Strategy; and
  4. National Adaptation Framework.

Carbon Budgets

Under the Bill, the Climate Change Advisory Council, which was established under the 2015 Act, is responsible for proposing carbon budgets. The Council is an independent advisory body whose purpose is to facilitate the achievement of the national climate objective. The Council provides reports on Ireland's progress towards achieving its objective and meeting EU quotas on greenhouse gas emissions as well as providing advice on policies and research on combating climate change
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The Bill mandates that the first two carbon budgets shall provide for a 51% reduction in the total amount of greenhouse gas emissions ending in December 2030.

Each carbon budget will be in place for a period of 5 years and pursuant to section 9(9) of the Bill the Advisory Council must take account of the following factors when proposing its budgets;
 
  1. The most recent national greenhouse gas emissions inventory and future greenhouse gas emissions projections, which are prepared by the Environmental Protection Agency;
  2. Relevant scientific advice, including with regard to biogenic methane;.
  3. International best practice on the reporting of greenhouse gas emissions and removal; and
  4. In so far as practicable, the need to maximise employment, the attractiveness of the State for investment and the long-term competitiveness of the economy.
When carrying out its functions the Council must also have regard to climate justice and must carry out its functions in a manner consistent with the ultimate objective of stabilising 'greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system', as required by Article 2 of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, 1992.

Once a carbon budget is proposed by the Advisory Council, the budget is sent to the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications to be finalised. Prior to being finalised by the Minister, the proposed budget is presented to both Houses of the Oireachtas for consideration, and it may be amended prior to finalisation. In the course of finalising a carbon budget, the Minister is required to consult with the public and any other Ministers, or other person, the Minister considers appropriate.

Once finalised by the Minister, a budget must be submitted to the Government for approval, subject to any modifications the Government considers appropriate. Once approved, it is required to be laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas for approval.

Compliance

Reports published by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Climate Change Advisory Council will inform how compliance with the carbon budgets is monitored.

On 15 September each year the Council will publish a report following which, Ministers will be required to give an account to the Oireachtas Committee on their adherence to the prescribed carbon budget.

Where Ministers have failed to comply with the prescribed budget they are required to outline the intended corrective measures. Ministers will be required to attend the Committee and respond to any recommendations made within 3 months. Should targets not be met corrective measures may be introduced. At the end of a 5 year budget, if there are any excess emissions, these will be added to the target for the next budget. In addition, later in 2021 the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform will propose how individual sectors may bear the cost of the State's non-compliance.

The Climate Action Plan

Under the Bill, the National Mitigation Plan will be replaced by an annually updated Climate Action Plan, which will focus on short and medium term perspectives. Operating in tandem with this there will also be a National Long Term Climate Action Strategy. This strategy will be prepared every five years and will outline opportunities within a 30 year period that will enable Ireland to achieve its national climate objective.

Local Authorities will be required to devise their own individual Climate Action Plans within 12 months of the Minister requesting them. The Minister has a duty to request these plans be made within 18 months of the enactment of the Bill. These plans must be updated every five years and should be consistent with the National Climate Action plan. Local Authorities will also be required to liaise with neighbouring authorities and consult with Public Participation Networks.

The Planning and Development Act 2000, will be amended to ensure that the approved local authority Climate Action Plan is considered in preparation of any future development plans. This will be done with a view to harmonising the local authority's Climate Action Plan with its other development plans.

Conclusion

In conclusion, if the Bill is enacted, the amended legislation will provide for frequent review of the Irish climate strategy through the five-year budgets and the reporting requirements. It sets ambitious targets for the State in terms of the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions to be provided for and achieved. In addition, the Bill provides for greater harmony, as local authorities will coordinate with the national plan, and greater accountability, should Ministers or individuals fail to adhere to the proposed budgets.

The Bill is currently at the second stage of the legislature's process for devising new law. At this stage the general principles of the Bill are debated. Following this series of debates, there will be 8 more stages until the Bill is finally signed into law by the President (if enacted) and so it remains to be seen what further amendments may be made to the Bill prior to this.
 
Written by Zoe Richardson, Grainne O'Callaghan and Declan Meagher

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