Revising Ireland’s climate law

Ireland’s new government has committed, as part of the Programme for Government, to revise the 2015 Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act. In January 2020, then Minister for Climate Action Richard Bruton published a General Scheme for the Climate Action (Amendment) Bill.

In a policy paper, Options for strengthening Ireland’s climate law, I set out a range of ways in which the January 2020 General Scheme could be strengthened:

  • National Transition Objective: The provisions relating to the National Transition Objective are broadly satisfactory. Consideration will need to be given to how agricultural emissions are treated in the 2050 goal. A decision on this matter should be informed by best available science.
  • Policy planning framework: The policy planning framework represents a significant strengthening of the 2015 Act. Consideration should be given to amending the emphasis placed on least cost approaches to climate action. A concept of “acceptable cost” or similar would provide a more appropriate framework for policy development.
  • The Climate Action Council: The strengthening of the role of the existing Climate Change Advisory Council is welcome, as is the emphasis placed on ensuring a mix of scientific expertise and gender balance within its membership. However, the General Scheme could go further in putting into practice this desire for greater diversity.
  • Carbon budgets: The provisions relating to setting carbon budgets follow broadly the UK model, but with subtle yet important differences. Clarity is needed regarding whether all three budgets are to be (re)set every five years. The circumstances in which a carbon budget may be amended ought to be tightened, as should the provisions for borrowing.
  • Monitoring, enforcement and accountability: The duty of the government and/or minister to meet carbon budgets should be stated unambiguously. The minister should be required to report on achievement or otherwise of carbon budgets, and to respond to recommendations from the Climate Action Council. The Joint Oireachtas Committee on Climate Action should be given an explicit role in accountability. Consideration should be given to legislating for allocating compliance costs to departmental votes.
  • Just transition and citizen engagement: Consideration should be given to enshrining the Just Transition commitments in the Programme for Government in the revised climate bill. Additionally, or instead, the concept of Just Transition should be included and clearly defined. While citizen engagement is crucial, it is perhaps not appropriate to include relevant provisions in primary legislation.
  • Other provisions: The provisions regarding local government climate action plans are welcome. No substantive alterations are suggested.

The policy paper setting out these options is accompanied by a background paper entitled What are framework climate change laws and why are they important? Readers who wish to gain further insights into why particular design elements are important and how other jurisdictions have incorporated them in their framework laws should consult that paper.