Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Thursday, 7 October 2021
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Climate Action
General Scheme of the Circular Economy Bill 2021: Discussion
I welcome the officials to the meeting. This is important legislation and it is the context within which all materials that do environmental damage can be considered and removed, insofar as is possible, from the supply chain. That includes fossil fuels. It is the context within which the climate challenge should be considered.
It promotes designing out any negative while still enjoying the service, and that is really important. It is broader than climate alone or waste alone, which has been the focus of traditional policy, and it embraces consumption as well as production. This is crucial.
I have the following concerns. For a strategy to work, it needs clear targets, defined responsibilities, adequate budget, authority to deliver, rigorous oversight and capacity to adapt. Those are six crucial elements. There have been suggestions there will not be firm targets in the strategy. That is something we need to be concerned about. There is no evidence that a budget commensurate to the challenge will be available. I am concerned that the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, which is charged with implementing it, does not have the authority to drive the cross-sectoral change that is necessary here. In my belief, it needs to become a central spine of the climate strategy and have that oversight from the heart of Government with annual actions updated, timelines set and delivery. That is one area of concern.
The other issue is the definition of the circular economy. We should define it more broadly than has been defined here, which is, essentially, only looking at resource use and trying to keep it going as long as possible. We should be looking at it in the broader sense to cut the environmental damage all along the supply chain. That means taking out some materials that should not be there in the first place in the supply chain. One of the concerns of the committee that has been expressed on a number of occasions is that challenges such as that of biodiversity do not get caught up in the climate and waste debate whereas if you look at that broader context, they do. Some definition change is necessary.
My final point is that the legal framework for creating this strategy needs to be more ambitious. We need to have in the legislation some sense of what the ambition is and a guidance of how the strategy should be evolved, particularly in the key sectors, such as construction, mobility, retail as well as in food, which is adequately there. It should be setting out certain criteria and subject matters that need to be addressed in the strategy. The framework needs to be stronger, albeit that a strategy will be published before the proposed Bill is passed. For the next strategy, we need to have a significant step-up. This is the opportunity to do that.