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What does the Dáil's declaration of a climate emergency actually mean?

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan said this move will put pressure on the government to be more ambitious with its policies.

Image: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie

YESTERDAY IRELAND BECAME the second country in the world to declare a climate and biodiversity emergency.

The Fianna Fáil amendment to declare an emergency, which was tabled in relation to an Oireachtas report on Climate Change, was accepted by both sides of the Dáil without a vote.

Although the amendment was moved by the party’s spokesperson on climate action Timmy Dooley, when the vote came before the Dáil only six TDs were in the chamber and none of them were from Fianna Fáil so Green Party leader Eamon Ryan put it forward.

The Dáil also accepted an amendment calling for the Citizens’ Assembly to examine how the state can improve its response to biodiversity loss. 

On Monday, a UN-backed report found one million plant and animal species are now threatened with extinction and declining at rates unprecedented in human history.

Around one-third of Ireland’s 98 wild bee species are threatened with extinction, while recent findings show that over 60 per cent of the 202 species of commonly occurring birds in Ireland is now on the red and amber conservation lists.

Ireland has also been deemed the second worst-performing EU member state in tackling climate change. 

What does declaration of a climate emergency mean?

The amendment itself does not contain any detail about what this declaration will mean and there are no strict requirements for the government to take action as a result of the vote. 

However chair of the Climate Action Committee Hildegarde Naughten said Minister for Climate Action Richard Briton will speedily return to the Dáil with new proposals. His department has described the move as “a significant statement”.

People Before Profit TD Brid Smith said after the vote that it should mean the government will support her Climate Emergency Measures bill to ban oil and gas exploration:

Speaking to RTÉ’s Today with Seán O’Rourke this morning, the minister said Ireland is not in a position to talk about ceasing exploration. He said there is a commitment to reducing the level of dependence on fossil fuels from 70% to 30% by 2030 but he said these fuels are “an essential part of the transition”. 

He also said it is “far preferable” to get these fuels through the country’s own network than being dependent on gas from other countries. 

However Smith pointed out that the licensing regime for extraction companies here does not require them to sell it back to the Irish State – and when they do it is at market value. 

Minister Bruton said there is “no silver bullet” for this issue. 

“The challenge of climate disruption requires urgent but sustained action, by government of course but in every home, on every farm, in every enterprise, in our travel patterns, in our buildings, in our power system and that’s the sort of change we have to get buy in from the community to achieve.”

He said the fact that support for the declaration was unanimous will strengthen the government’s hand in bringing forward its plans. 

The amendment also committed the Dáil to endorsing last year’s report from the Committee on Climate Action. This report includes over 40 recommendations, including:

  • A call for new legislation setting ambitious climate and renewable energy targets;
  • An increase in the existing carbon tax from €20 to €80 per tonne by 2030;
  • The establishment of a forum for developing programmes to support diversification in agriculture;
  • A target for farm-based tree planting with copses of native trees. 

And it is likely now that the Citizens’ Assembley will be asked to look specifically at how the State can improve its response to biodiversity loss. 

The Citizen’s Assembley already published a report last year with recommendations on how the State can make Ireland a leader in tackling climate change. 

Speaking to TheJournal.ie, Green Party leader Eamon Ryan said this will put pressure on the government in terms of its policy proposals. 

“It will force them to step up and be more ambitious,” he said.

“We’re facing an election and part of that will be about this plan and I think the way we’ve worked, we’ve been chipping away for more ambition in policies.

“We have science and new economy on our side as well so we’re not pushing a negative thing. There are lots of opportunities there if they decide to take them.”

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