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Government rolls back on plan to set up statutory office for Just Transition Commissioner

The plan to set up this commission was included in the Programme for Government.

Environment Minister Eamon Ryan.
Environment Minister Eamon Ryan.

THE GOVERNMENT HAS rolled back on a commitment to set up a statutory office for the role of a Just Transition Commissioner to help workers and communities impacted by industry changes as a result of the climate crisis. 

The Programme for Government (PfG) committed to establishing the currently temporary Just Transition Commissioner “as a statutory office, with appropriate staffing and resources”. 

However, this plan has now been rolled back and changed with the focus for the just transition to be embedded into all climate policy instead of a “stand-alone statutory commission”. 

Just transition refers to the need to protect jobs and livelihoods while also ensuring Ireland meets its energy and emissions targets. 

Ireland’s Just Transition Commissioner, Kieran Mulvey, was appointed in 2019 primarily to focus on a just transition for workers in the midlands. He will finish up in this role at the end of this year. 

A spokesperson for the Department of the Environment said the revised Climate Action Plan – intended to be published in the next couple of weeks after the release of the first carbon budget – will outline “specific commitments on the just transition”. 

The carbon budget and revised action plan were due to be published earlier this month but this has been delayed. 

“[The Climate Action Plan] will detail key principles that should be followed, when designing and implementing our climate action policies,” the spokesperson said. 

This will embed a just transition approach into the overall architecture of our climate policy (provided by the new Climate Act), rather than establishing a stand-alone statutory commission.

Although the commissioner finishes up later this year, the department spokesperson said Minister Ryan or another minister could take a “similar approach in future, should the circumstances warrant it”. 

The Social Democrats climate spokesperson Jennifer Whitmore described the move as “very disappointing” and “worrying” to be “going back on a promise made under the Programme for Government”. 

She told The Journal: “We all know that we have to make major changes to meet climate targets.

“How and what those changes are is very important.”

She said it’s crucial that those “least equipped to make the changes are supported by government to do so”, and believes the statutory role of the commissioner would further aid this. 

“[Just transition] should be part of policy as well – a key part,” she said. “The concept and principles of just transition should go through every department and every portfolio. 

“It needs to be statutory office that is set up to work and engage with communities and to ensure that just transition is implemented and not just a policy promise.”

She said this is one of the PfG commitments that “should have been implemented immediately”. 

Midlands

The goal to reduce greenhouse gas emission and reach net zero emissions by 2050 is not possible without stopping the use of fossil fuels – including peat. 

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A significant midlands employer – Bord na Móna – has been moving away from peat harvesting in recent years, with many job losses along the way but also a focus on creating more environmentally-friendly roles.

In July, the semi-state company announced plans to create 885 new jobs in the midlands over the next five years as it continues its focus on renewable energy. 

550 roles were also created in renewable energy in the months prior.

In 2019, then-environment minister Richard Bruton said the commissioner’s job was to be the “person on the ground” who would feed back ideas to government as part of the just transition plan.

The spokesperson said the Department of the Environment is currently working on a plan to set out the supports for regions and activities from the €77 million funding Ireland received under the EU’s Just Transition Fund. 

The department “intends to hold a public consultation on the draft plan before the end of the year”, the spokesperson said. 

Mulvey was appointed as commissioner in November 2019 to “facilitate discussions and engagement with stakeholders – to develop, mobilise and deliver opportunities for the midlands, for both the workers directly affected and the wider community”. 

“The Commissioner, through his three progress reports, has made a number of recommendations to help achieve a just transition in the Midlands,” the department spokesperson said.

These recommendations have been taken forward through a number of strands, including the Just Transition Fund, the Bord na Móna Enhanced Peatlands Rehabilitation Scheme, and the re-configuration of the Midlands Regional Transition Team.

“It has been agreed that the Just Transition Commissioner’s work will reach its natural conclusion at the end of 2021, with the submission of a fourth progress report.”

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