The bill is a long-awaited attempt to tackle the elephant in the room that has been largely ignored for generations, but an issue that scientists have been earnestly saying for as long a time — climate change is real, humankind has been mostly responsible for exacerbating the effects, and we must tackle it or face peril.
Environmental activists will say that more should have been done, but there is little doubt that it is a significant step. The encouraging thing is that science and expertise will now have greater weight, and should guide how the plan is implemented, rather than those with vested interests lobbying to resist existential change.
Not according to the leaders of the three main parties who head up the Government. The bill will enshrine the targets into law, and is aligned with EU targets, so if Ireland does n0t meet them, it leaves itself open to punitive measures. What those punitive measures will be is not yet clear.
A ‘climate neutral economy’ is defined in the Bill as a sustainable economy where greenhouse gas emissions are balanced or exceeded by the removal of emissions. As in, for every pollutant into the atmosphere, the same will be removed by measures we are all expected to take.
We can expect to pay more tax for our cars that are powered by pollutants such as diesel and petrol, as well as be expected to recycle more and waste less food. The imposition of punitive measures such as fines and taxes could happen, but there will also be incentives to change behaviours, such as grants.
The Government says it remains committed to introducing a ban on fossil fuel cars, as set out under the National Development Plan, the 2019 Climate Action Plan, and the programme for government. However, EU law requires that such a provision is notified to the European Commission in advance of its entry into force. The Government seems to be letting the EU do the heavy lifting on car bans in the future.
All three Government party leaders admitted there will be some pain for those in agriculture, but were keen to throw farmers a bone by insisting there will be opportunities as the economy evolves. The Government says the bill recognises the "special economic and social role of agriculture and the distinct characteristics of biogenic methane", as described by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Land use offers significant potential to act as a sink for additional carbon and provides a new source of family farm income and benefit the rural economy, the Government insists.
IFA President Tim Cullinan said that while meeting the targets will be a challenge, farmers are ready to play their part.
“Farmers are already doing a lot and the sector has a roadmap set out. With the right supports and incentives, farmers can continue to play our part in the national effort by improving the carbon efficiency of our output,” he said.
“However, one of the real frustrations for farmers is that they are getting no credit for the carbon they are sequestering on their farms. We need to look at the net carbon position on farms that takes into account carbon offset as well as carbon emitted,” he said.
Ibec, the group that represents Irish business, is largely supportive. Ibec senior climate policy executive Conor Minogue said: “For Irish business, the transition presents a no-regrets opportunity to build a better Ireland. If we are smart, we can use the transition to rebuild our economy, enhance our energy security, boost competitiveness, improve quality of life, and create thousands of jobs across the country.
“The Climate Bill is critical to that endeavour. Given the impact the bill will have on Irish society and the economy over the next 30 years, it is imperative that the pre-legislative scrutiny is robust and consultative. Business is ready to work with Government, and all key stakeholders, to ensure the bill is implemented and the new climate targets are ambitious, evidence-based, and achievable.”
As the economy moves away from traditional industries that rely heavily on unsustainable practices, there will be potentially thousands of workers wondering what the future holds. Environment minister Eamon Ryan was at pains to emphasise the so-called 'just transition' during the unveiling of the bill. This essentially means ensuring those in traditional industries are not left behind to fend for themselves, but must be brought along with the transition to the green economy, and given new opportunities to expand their skills. The term has been a redline issue for many environmental activists, who insist the commitment to social justice must go hand in hand with the green economy evolution.