Climate change laws set to be fast-tracked

THE Green Party’s climate change reforms look set to be fast-tracked into law ahead of the general election after publication of the long-awaited bill just two days before Christmas.

Green leader and Environment Minister John Gormley launched the legislation which party supporters will hope can help them reclaim core voters in the early 2011 ballot.

The Green-sponsored law to publicly elect the Lord Mayor of Dublin with new powers had already reached committee stage in the Oireachtas before TDs and Senators began their four-week Christmas break.

The Climate Change Response Bill, jointly launched by Mr Gormley and party colleague Minister of State, Ciaran Cuffe, puts into law targets — already set by the EU — to reduce Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions:

* By an average of 2.5% a year compared to 2008 levels by 2020.

* 40% reduction within 20 years, compared to 1990 levels, and

8 By 80% before 2050, also compared to 1990 levels.

The Environmental Protection Agency reported an 8% drop in emissions last year, largely due to the economic downturn. But with strong hopes for a sharp turnaround, the bill’s medium to long-term targets may seem ambitious.

However, Friends of the Earth (FOE) said there is scope for thousands of jobs to be created in research and development, retrofitting homes for energy-efficiency, and renewable power generation.

“This bill is a real landmark in Irish climate policy, but even though the targets are already set by the EU, having them in law will give politicians ownership of the process. The one significant shortfall is the lack of interim targets between now and 2020,” said FOE policy officer Molly Walsh.

The Irish Farmers’ Association has already warned against legal requirements that could add to economic pressures on the agriculture sector.

Mr Cuffe, who has responsibility for climate change, said every change in emissions does not need to be micromanaged and the important thing is moving steadily towards the targets. Future governments will have to give annual progress reports to the Dáil and public bodies will face obligations on restricting emissions and adapting to climate change.

Mr Cuffe said the law had been worked on for 18 months and he expects it to become law in February, after the Dáil and Seanad resume in mid-January.

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