At its meeting today, the Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht Committee will discuss the interim report from the National Economic and Social Council ‘Towards a New National Climate Policy’.
The Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government requested this report as part of its ‘road map’ for achieving national climate change targets. This report is to be discussed in depth this evening the Director of the NESC, Dr Rory O’Donnell. Additionally, the Committee will discuss the challenges and opportunities for Ireland in meeting its targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 2020.
Chair of the Committee Michael McCarthy, TD said the Committee will play an “important role in devising climate policy when the Heads of the Climate bill will be referred to the Committee before the end of this year.” Intending to engage with Minister for the Environment and the department in helping to formulate policy on this issue, deputy McCarthy also urges interested parties to come forward to contribute to the debate on the issue of formulating climate change legislation.
In the most recent issue of the Public Affairs Ireland Journal, Oisín Coghlan, Friends of the Earth, discussed the Government’s ‘Roadmap for Climate Policy and Legislation’ and the proposed new Climate Bill. This article is available below. To find out more information on the Journal or to subscribe, click here.
Developing a new National Climate Change Strategy
The current National Climate Change Strategy (NCCS) will run out at the end of 2012 and the new NCCS is not due to be implemented until in the second half of 2013. With our emissions already extremely high, we may exceed our 2020 emissions targets by as early as 2015 according to the EPA. Oisín Coghlan reviews the Government’s plans thus far, and discusses the important role of legislation in tackling climate change long-term.
Government plans for climate policy and legislation
The “Roadmap for Climate Policy and Legislation” published by Minister for the Environment, Phil Hogan TD last January lays out a detailed and methodical timetable for the development of a new National Climate Change Strategy (NCCS) and a Climate Change Act.
The key milestones laid out were as follows:
- In the first half of 2012, a public consultation on policy and legislation will be carried out and published, and a report will be compiled by the secretariat of the National and Economic and Social Council (NESC), on Ireland’s policy options for meeting our 2020 emissions reductions targets;
- By the end of 2012, the Government will make an initial response to the first NESC report, the Heads of Bill will be approved by Cabinet and published, and a second NESC report will be drawn up on transition to a low-carbon Ireland by 2050;
- In the first half of 2013, the Oireachtas committee on the Environment Transport, Culture and the Gaeltacht will consider the NESC reports and the heads and produce a report; and
- In the second half of 2013, the Government will produce a new NCCS and introduce climate legislation.
Is the current Roadmap ambitious enough?
The initial reaction to the Roadmap of those of us who see a public interest in action on climate change in Ireland was one of disappointment at the seeming lack of urgency.
Why the two year wait for a full climate Bill? All six main parties expressly supported climate legislation going in to the 2011 General Election and a lot of groundwork had already been done during the last Oireachtas, which saw two climate Bills introduced in the final months of its tenure. One Bill was produced the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security with cross-party support. The other was produced by the FF/Green coalition, and therefore stress-tested (to the point of destruction some would say).
Moreover, the current NCCS runs out at the end of 2012 and it does seem somewhat complacent to allow a gap of almost a year before a new one is adopted, given the size of the emissions challenge Ireland faces. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is already estimating that, without additional action now, we will overshoot our 2020 emissions target sometime between 2015 and 2017.
All the while, in the real word, the case for urgent action builds month after month. During this summer’s melt season, arctic sea ice cover reached a new historic low. Normally half the sea ice melts in summer. This year it was three quarters. The latest scientific evidence suggests that this rapid retreat of the arctic ice sheet is weakening the jet stream. The unusual behaviour of the jet stream this year brought the US its worst drought in 56 years and Ireland its worst summer since 1986.
These impacts are happening with less then one degree of global warming. This is worrying considering that, according to the International Energy Agency, current levels of emissions have us on a path to five or six degrees or warming. The political goal meanwhile, is to keep global warming to less than two degrees. We may regard ourselves as small-fry in Ireland, but we are the sixth most climate-polluting country per person in the OECD. If everyone polluted like the Irish, we would need three planets to absorb it.
Since January the disappointment at the lack of urgency in the Roadmap has evolved into a determination to see the process through. One reason Minister Hogan gives for the methodical pace of the Roadmap is the negative legacy of the manner in which the previous climate Bill got entangled with the unravelling of the last Government at the start of 2011. There may be no alternative therefore to a policy-making process that is painstakingly transparent and accommodating.
Target 1: The public consultation
The Roadmap may be “climate policy for slow learners” to paraphrase Seamus Mallon but, so far, it is delivering. We have the first two of the four outputs promised for 2012: the results of the public consultation and the first NESC report.
There were 623 submissions to the public consultation and the headline findings are encouraging. They include:
- 89.8 percent of respondents think Ireland should be “among the progressive vanguard of