Minister Eamon Ryan publishing the draft of the Bill last year. Julien Behal/

Carbon neutral by 2050: President Higgins signs Climate Action Bill into law

“Today is a landmark day,” said Green Party leader Eamon Ryan.

PRESIDENT MICHAEL D HIGGINS has signed a new bill into law that makes Ireland’s green targets legally binding.

The Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Bill 2021 was brought forward to the Dáil by Minister for the Environment and Climate and Green Party leader Eamon Ryan. 

It was passed in both the Dáil and the Seanad and has now been signed into law by the president.

Minister Ryan said it was a “landmark day” in Ireland’s journey to net zero emissions.

“The extreme weather events around the world over the past month have shown us all that we must act quickly, to protect ourselves and our planet,” he said.

“Our immediate target of halving emissions by 2030 is challenging, but it is also an opportunity to transform our economy, create new jobs, protect our environment and build a greener and fairer future.”

The Climate Action Bill commits to Ireland becoming carbon neutral by 2050 and contains provisions for legally binding emissions targets through the introduction of five-year ‘carbon budgets’, proposed by the Climate Change Advisory Council.

It also commits 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.

But the Bill has come in for criticism from opposition TDs and campaigners, particularly after a number of “last minute” amendments were passed in the Seanad on 9 July.

The ammendments revised how greenhouse gas emissions are calculated for different sectors, particularly around land use for agriculture, while also impacting the independent body charged with devising Ireland’s future ‘carbon budgets’.

One amendment will now see the Government take responsibility for determining how emissions are calculated for each sector, and what each will contribute over a five-year period.

The Climate Change Advisory Council will also now be required to comply with these  government regulations when carrying out its functions. 

Speaking in the Dáil at the time, Social Democrats TD Jennifer Whitmore said that “after spending weeks and months, hundreds of hours of work, listening to advice, listening to the experts and trying to work as collaboratively as possible, to see these amendments come in at the last minute with no real notice was incredibly disappointing”.

“It is a very important bill and we all wanted to work with the minister to make it stronger and to future-proof it to make it a bill for future generations and governments. Unfortunately, these amendments have undermined that completely,” she added.

Climatologist Professor John Sweeney also criticised the amendments at the time, telling Green News that they had “taken the guts out of the Climate Bill and destroyed the principles under which it was established.”

The Bill also states that Government ministers will be responsible for achieving the legally-binding targets for their own sector, actions for which will be updated annually in a Climate Action Plan. 

Local Authorities will have to prepare individual Climate Action Plans, which will include both mitigation and adaptation measures and will be updated every five years.

The Climate Action Plan 2021 will be published in full in early autumn.

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