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Climate

'Only the beginning': Ireland's first-ever carbon budgets pass through the Dáil

A motion to approve the budgets passed through the Dáil without a vote due to little opposition.

THE DÁIL APPROVED Ireland’s first-ever carbon budgets last night, setting a limit on greenhouse gas emissions the country must stay under to reach important climate targets.

A motion to approve the budgets passed through the Dáil without a vote, which was deemed unnecessary because of a lack of opposition.

When a vote was called on a motion, only the Rural Independents group and Independents Michael Fitzmaurice and Verona Murphy stood to oppose the motion, which was fewer than the 10 required to carry out a formal vote.

Though the budgets passed with little dissent, the debate saw TDs in favour of climate action raise concerns about weaknesses they identified in the budgets, while the Rural Independents argued the budgets would be detrimental to farmers.

The first proposed carbon budget cycle, which lasts until 2025, allows for a total of 295 million tonnes (Mt) of emissions to be produced.

The limit is 200Mt between 2026 and 2030 and 151 Mt between 2031 and 2035.

Proposing the motion to approve the budgets, Junior Minister Ossian Smyth said it was the “final step in the adoption of the carbon budgets but it is only the beginning of the implementation process”.

“Once these overall, economy-wide carbon budgets are adopted and have come into effect, the Minister and his Department will begin the process of preparing the sectoral emissions ceilings,” Smyth said.

“These ceilings will determine how each sector of the economy will contribute to the achievement of the carbon budgets.”

He said the sectoral limits should be presented to the government for approval by the end of June.

The Climate Action Plan 2021, which was published back in November, published draft target ranges for how far each sector would need to reduce its emissions, compared to 2018, to cut the country’s overall emissions in half by the end of the decade:

  • Electricity – 62% to 81%
  • Buildings- 44% to 56%
  • Transport – 42% to 50%
  • Land and forestry emissions – 37% to 58%
  • Industry – 29% to 41%.
  • Agriculture – 22% to 30%

Some of the issues raised during the debate concerned whether the carbon budgets go far enough to fulfil Ireland’s international obligations; the need to protect people who may be vulnerable to changes that the budgets bring; and the unbalanced “backloading” of the budget that puts off some of the burden to the later years. Many TDs highlighted worries that the government’s climate policies are not doing enough to tackle the crisis.

Sinn Féin TDs welcomed the budgets but repeated the party’s call for the carbon tax to be quashed.

Newly-appointed Labour leader Ivana Bacik pointed out there is a “degree of backloading of our reductions between 2025 and 2030″.

“I acknowledge this is to facilitate the adoption of new policies and practices but, again, we need to see a greater sense of urgency in these budgets,” Bacik said.

“The IPCC was clear that there is a very small window of three years to meet targets. We know the effects of global warming are cumulative, so we will be worse off for not taking quick action now.”

Social Democrats TD Jennifer Whitemore said that the carbon budgets do not live up to the promises of the Programme for Government.

“The Programme for Government states that the government is ‘committed to an average 7% per annum reduction in overall greenhouse emissions”. This is reiterated four times over two pages,” Whitmore said.

“There is reference to a 7% average reduction and yet when we get the carbon budgets and get the opportunity to scrutinise them, it turns out that it is not 7% but 5.7%.”

Green Party TD Brian Leddin, who chairs the Oireachtas Committee on Climate Action, said that figure is “an interpretation that we do not agree with”.

Whitmore responded that it is “not an interpretation, it is a fact, that is what the CCAC said”. Leddin insisted: “That is its interpretation.”

“Okay, so the organisation that deals in science, which is what Deputy Leddin said at the beginning of his contribution, is now interpreting,” Whitmore said.

Whitmore, who is a member of the Oireachtas committee, said:

When I look at the key actions promised by Government I absolutely hope that it gets this right because in three years’ time when we are facing into another election, I do not want to realise that the targets are not being met and the implementation is not there.

“At that stage, we will not have the time to ramp up to get it done properly,” she said.

People Before Profit/Solidarity TD Paul Murphy proposed an amendment to delete the text of the motion and replace it with one that would decline the carbon budgets for 2021 to 2025 and 2026 to 2030 following the IPCC’s latest report, which warned of the closing window to mitigate the climate crisis.

The amendment, which did not pass, called for a motion that would describe the budgets as not being aligned with the State’s commitments entered into under the Paris Agreement.

It called on the Minister for Climate Eamon Ryan to consult with the Climate Change Advisory Council again and amend the budgets accordingly and for the third budget to be revised “to ensure it reflects our climate obligations based on the latest science and the principles of climate justice”.

In a statement after the Dáil debate, the Rural Independents group called the carbon budgets “crazed” and criticised other Opposition parties for not voting against them.

“It goes to highlight how many TDs are disingenuously playing both sides – doing one thing in the constituency, but another in the Dail, hoping for un-detection,” Deputy Mattie McGrath said.

The rural TDs argued the carbon budgets would hurt the farming industry – though the Irish Farmers Association previously told the Oireachtas committee that a 22% emissions reduction in agriculture would be “challenging but achievable”.

In January, the Oireachtas Committee on the Environment and Climate Action scrutinised the proposed budgets, which were drawn up by the Climate Change Advisory Council, over several days, hearing from CCAC members, scientists, and sectoral representatives.

The Oireachtas committee voted in favour of approving the proposed budgets in February and published a report that recommended an ongoing review of ‘backloading’ – which makes the budget lighter now and heavier in the future and was identified as a concern – and for the government to ensure the transition is just in all sectors of society.

Speaking in the Dáil yesterday, Leddin, who chairs the committee, said that “in the end the budgets were endorsed by joint committee but not unanimously”.

“It was a difficult process. We are a highly collaborative committee and each and every member works very hard and diligently, week in, week out,” he said.

“People took their positions fairly and legitimately. In the end we did endorse the proposed carbon budget by a strong majority. I respect those who have different views.”

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