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Carbon neutral by 2050: Ireland's green targets to be legally binding for the first time

The Climate Action Bill has been launched by the government.

Minister for Climate Action Eamon Ryan
Minister for Climate Action Eamon Ryan

THE GOVERNMENT HAS published a revised edition of the Climate Action Bill, which commits to Ireland becoming carbon neutral by no later than 2050.

The proposed legislation includes a number of targets that would reduce carbon emissions over the next three decades in line with international commitments.

The bill was first set out in the Programme for Government last year, and contains provisions for legally binding emissions targets through the introduction of five-year ‘carbon budgets’.

The government has also committed to an ambitous 51% reduction in 2018-level carbon emissions by 2030, plans for which will be set out in the first two of these budgets.

It’s hoped this reduction will be achieved through targeting the transport sector and industry, as well as an increased reliance on renewable energy.

The carbon budgets will be proposed by the Climate Change Advisory Council, which will be given enhanced powers under the bill, to the Minister for Environment.

All forms of greenhouse gas emissions will be included in future carbon budgets and governments will be required to adopt sectoral ‘emission ceilings’ within the limits of each budget.

However, the government in charge at the time each budget is enacted will be allowed to decide how different sectors must reduce their emissions.

Individual ministers will be responsible for the legally-binding targets for sectoral areas relevant to their brief, and will be obliged to appear before an Oireachtas Committee each year to account for how these sectors have performed.

Meanwhile, local authorities will be asked to prepare individual climate action plans, which will be updated every five years and inform how their development plans are drawn up.

Cabinet approved the final text of the bill when it met this afternoon, and Taoiseach Micheál Martin described the agreement as a landmark day for Ireland, telling reporters this afternoon that it showed the country was “choosing action”.

He said the enactment of the bill would bring economic opportunities through the provision of jobs and upskilling and apprenticeship programmes in areas like green tech, retrofitting, forestry and bog re-wetting.

“We all know that climate change is already happening, and the time to act is now,” Martin added.

“The bill we are publishing today affirms our ambition to be a global leader in this field.”

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said the bill aimed to make Ireland an energy exporter to other parts of the world, including the UK and mainland Europe.

Also commenting today, Minister for the Environment and Climate and Green Party leader Eamon Ryan – who authored the bill – said it was a strong piece of legislation that will change Ireland.

“It’s time to set out a new climate action plan, to begin the journey to net zero, by halving our emissions over the next ten years,” he said.

“In doing so, we can build a cleaner, more sustainable and secure future for us all.”

Asked what would happen if a government missed its targets in future, Ryan told reporters that the legislation would potentially mean a court case could be taken against the State.

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He also suggested that the Climate Change Advisory Council would require the government to change their targets immediately if they were missed.

Environmental group Friends of the Earth described the publication of the bill as a “big step in the right direction” but noted that the agreement of its text was only the beginning of the legislative process.

The group’s director Oisín Coughlan called on TDs and senators to ensure the bill is as robust as possible as it passes through both houses of the Oireachtas.

“The climate dialogues launched today are the chance for a national conversation about exactly how we cut our polluting emissions in half in a decade and grasp the opportunities for cleaner air, warmer homes, more liveable cities, and green electricity,” he said.

“The climate law is the starting gun for the race of a lifetime. The race to zero pollution fast enough to prevent complete climate breakdown and fairly enough to leave no one behind.” 

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