Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 14 October 2020
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Climate Action
General Scheme of the Climate Action and Low-Carbon Development (Amendment) Bill 2020: Discussion
I welcome Mr. Brian Carroll, assistant secretary, and Ms Emer Griffin, assistant principal, from the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications. Our witnesses are appearing remotely from inside the Leinster House complex. The format of the meeting is that they will be invited to make a brief opening statement and this will be followed by a question-and-answer session.
Before we begin, I draw the attention of our guests to the fact that, by virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. However, if they are directed by the Chairman to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and they continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person, persons or an entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable. I also advise witnesses that opening statements they have made to the committee will be published on the committee website after the meeting. Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official, either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.
I remind members and witnesses to turn off their mobile phones or to switch them to flight mode. Mobile phones interfere with the sound system and make it difficult for parliamentary reporters to report the meeting, and also the television coverage and web streaming are adversely affected. I invite Mr. Carroll to make his opening statement.
Mr. Brian Carroll:
I thank the Chairman and committee members for scheduling today's meeting to discuss the Climate Action and Low-Carbon Development (Amendment) Bill 2020. The programme for Government commits to an average 7% per annum reduction in overall greenhouse gas emissions from 2021 to 2030. That equates to a 51% reduction over the decade and to achieving net zero emissions by 2050. The 2050 target is to be set in law by the Bill, which is a priority on the Government's legislative programme. The Bill will update the Climate Action and Low-Carbon Development Act 2015 and is informed by the 2018 Citizens' Assembly report, the 2019 Oireachtas joint committee report on climate action, the 2019 climate action plan and the programme for Government. The Bill provides for a significantly strengthened statutory framework for governance of the climate challenge.
I will now highlight five key elements of the Bill: the national 2050 climate objective, climate action plans and strategies, carbon budgets, changes to the role and composition of the climate change advisory council and stronger Oireachtas oversight of climate policy. The Bill puts into law a national 2050 climate objective for the State to pursue the transition to a climate-resilient and carbon-neutral economy by 2050. A climate-neutral economy means a sustainable economy where greenhouse gas emissions are balanced or exceeded by the removal of greenhouse gases.
To enable the State to pursue the 2050 objective, the Bill provides for the making of new plans and strategies. The national mitigation plan will be replaced by the preparation of a series of annually updated climate action plans and a series of national long-term climate action strategies. Starting in 2021, the climate action plan will be updated annually and will provide a roadmap of actions, including sectoral actions, aligned to the period of the approved carbon budgets. The 2021 plan will set out how we will achieve 7% emissions reduction per annum over the decade to 2030, allowing for the fact that it is not yet possible to identify all the emerging technologies, changing scientific consensus or policies, to meet the full ambition as recognised in the programme for Government.
The national long-term climate action strategy will be prepared every ten years, with an option to update it every five years if necessary, and will specify the manner in which it is proposed to achieve the 2050 objective, including an assessment of potential opportunities in relevant sectors. In this section, all local authorities will be required to prepare a local authority climate action plan, covering both climate mitigation and climate adaptation.
The third issue I wish to highlight is carbon budgets, which will be proposed by the Climate Change Advisory Council, finalised by the Minister and approved by the Government. Each budget will set out the total amount of greenhouse gases allowed in the State within a period of five years. The budgets will include all greenhouse gases and cover all sectors of the economy. Carbon budgets will be made for three sequential five-year budget periods. The grouping of the three will be called the carbon budget programme. Each five-year budget will include sectoral decarbonisation target ranges for each sector.
As already mentioned, the Climate Change Advisory Council will have a new function to propose carbon budgets. The future composition of the council will also change. It will have three ex officiomembers, namely: the director general of the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA; the director of Teagasc; and the director of Met Éireann. Future appointments to the council will be made having regard to the range of qualifications, experience and competence set out in the Bill; and to ensure gender balance.
The Oireachtas will have a new role in the development and adoption of carbon budgets, and oversight of the Government's climate performance, including against carbon budgets and sectoral decarbonisation target ranges. All relevant Ministers will be required to give account annually to an Oireachtas joint committee, and the reporting will be informed by the Climate Change Advisory Council's annual review report; the Environmental Protection Agency's annual greenhouse gas emissions inventories and projections reports; and progress reports on the climate action plan. Following the report by Ministers, the committee may make a series of recommendations, to which the relevant Minister will have to respond within three months. I am happy to expand on any of these or any other elements of the Bill, and to take whatever questions the committee may have.
I thank Mr. Carroll for appearing today before the committee.
I have three short questions, which relate to the local authority climate action plan and the role local authorities will play. I am sure the many of us in this room who have served on local authorities will confirm that different local authorities have differing levels of ability with regard to preparing things. What happens if a local authority does not provide a climate action plan for what it will do in its authority area? What happens if the plan it provides is substandard? The level of ability varies between local authorities so who will check that plan to make sure it is up to a proper standard? Will the Department or the Climate Change Advisory Council provide support and assistance to councils in developing the plan in the first instance?
Mr. Brian Carroll:
On the first question, which related to what will happen if a local authority does not provide a climate action plan, I would be surprised if any authority did not. When the Bill is enacted, that will be a statutory requirement. Over recent years, local authorities have already shown themselves to be willing and capable of producing climate adaptation plans which look at the impacts of climate change that are already locked in and at how to respond to them. The Bill is expanding this requirement to include mitigation measures to deliver a reduction of greenhouse gases in addition to the adaptation planning authorities are already carrying out.
With regard to the standard and supports, different local authorities are resourced in different ways to take on this work, but over recent years we have developed climate action regional offices, CAROs. The country is divided into four distinct regions. These have been set up to support local authorities and to bring a level of expertise and uniformity of approach to the preparation of plans. These CAROs will support local authorities and try to bring a set standard to the plans they produce. These are the supports available.
I welcome Mr. Carroll and Ms Griffin and congratulate them on the continuing work being undertaken on the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Bill 2020, in which I was quite deeply involved at an early stage. I have a couple of questions. I am a little concerned at the way in which it is proposed to deal with consultation in the legislation. I know there is considerable interest in involvement with the consultative process. If it is not included in this legislation, are there plans for a more comprehensive climate dialogue? It is necessary to involve people in discussing the legislation as we move through the budgets and climate plans but we should also note that, without dialogue, people will not buy in in the way that is required for the necessary changes to be undertaken.
To move to my second question, has there been progress on the size or range of the sectoral decarbonisation targets? If the range is made too large, one takes away some of the drive to change. If it is made too narrow, it becomes excessively restrictive and there is a degree of uncertainty. The committee will want to see the target range being as narrow as is reasonable.
What happens if there is a shortfall in respect of the climate budgets? I note that, in the legislation, a shortfall of 1% can be carried on into the next period, but I am unclear on the compliance mechanisms that will apply where budget targets are missed. There has been some commentary on this issue. One wonders whether Departments would face budgetary restrictions. Apart from the Oireachtas making an adverse report, how can pressure be put on sectors to comply?
On cross-government oversight, with the climate action plan, as with the Action Plan for Jobs, one of the strengths has been the role of the Department of the Taoiseach in oversight. This is not referenced in the legislation but it seems to me that, if carbon budgetary targets are to be taken seriously, central oversight from the Department of the Taoiseach will be required. Will that continue in the implementation of carbon budgeting?
Mr. Brian Carroll:
I will deal with each of those questions in turn. The first question the Deputy asked was on consultation. The importance of consulting and bringing people with us is fully recognised. The legislation provides that the Minister may consult as appropriate in bringing forward plans and strategies and the intention is to do so. With particular regard to local authorities, which are probably the structures closest to local communities, section 12(5) of the Bill provides that local authorities will need to publish draft local authority climate action plans, publish a notice on the Internet and invite members of the public and any interested parties to make submissions in writing with regard to the proposed plan. That puts a very specific onus on local authorities to consult at the local level.
More generally, there are plans for a wider climate dialogue. Three pillars to this were identified. One related to the capacity of government, the Civil Service and the public service to communicate consistent messages to the public. The second related to periodically convening all key stakeholders at a national level to inform the making of policy. The third and probably most important pillar related to local engagement geared towards activation, that is to say, engaging with people at a local level. As a structure, the local authorities will obviously have a key role in that.
The Deputy's second question was on progress on the size of the decarbonisation ranges. That work will progress over the coming period in the context of the preparation of the carbon budgets and the next iteration of the climate action plan. I fully accept the Deputy's point that if the ranges are too broad, they may facilitate lesser ambition and if they are too narrow, they may be overly prescriptive. That is something through which we will have to work. Ranges will have to be managed so that the sum of the sectoral efforts will allow us to reach the target required to remain within the carbon ceiling for the particular budgetary period.
With regard to the banking and borrowing provisions, which was the third issue the Deputy raised, we followed the approach taken in the UK. They allow for the amount by which a sector came in under a ceiling in a given budgetary period to be carried forward to the next period. This was considered a prudent approach which could incentivise early action. A much more conservative approach was taken with regard to borrowing. If a sector exceeds its carbon ceiling in a given budgetary period, the amount it can bring forward or borrow from a future budgetary period to compensate is limited to 1% of the budget for the period from which it is borrowed. That was the approach taken in that regard.
The last issue the Deputy raised was the issue of compliance mechanisms where budgetary targets are missed. Primary accountability under the Bill is to the Oireachtas, whose role is to make reports and recommendations. The Minister is also required to respond and to take corrective action.
In addition, at an EU level, if we exceed our EU carbon ceilings or fail to hit our targets again, we will be exposed to purchasing compliance. Administrative arrangements could be made to distribute that purchasing cost across the relevant sectors that are not hitting their targets.
The Deputy mentioned cross-Government oversight and the delivery board. The intention is that the delivery board will continue to be co-chaired by the Secretaries General of the Departments of the Taoiseach and Environment, Climate and Communications, and the quarterly reporting will continue against the actions set out in the climate action plan.
For members who have just joined us, I ask them to indicate their intent to speak through the Chair and I will fit them in. We will certainly do a second round of questions if we have time because this is a very important session with Mr. Carroll. I call Deputy Bríd Smith.
I thank Mr. Carroll for his presentation. There has been quite a lot of criticism of the language of the Bill, as it is frequently very vague. There are many questions as to why that is. For example, it uses the phrase "have regard to" 11 times and "may" 43 times. In comparison, the Bills that have been issued in New Zealand and Scotland use much more determined language. Instead of using words like "pursue", they use "achieve". Is the reason for this vague language to allow loopholes for the Government in case it is legally challenged in the future if it fails to deliver on the emissions cuts?
My second question is about just transition. Mr. Carroll spoke about bringing people along but there is no mention of just transition in the Bill. From my understanding, in order to achieve a reduction in emissions one has to bring people along through just transition because climate change is also very much a matter of social justice rather than just science. We need to bring people, like the Bord na Móna workers and those who need retrofitting of their homes, with us. Why is the question of just transition deliberately left out of the Bill? Is it just an error?
There is a provision for gender balance and so on on the Climate Change Advisory Council but there is no provision for representatives of campaigns, of which there are many, around biodiversity, ecology and climate change, representatives of trade unions or workers who may be affected by the changes that this Bill will hopefully bring in.
Finally, the programme for Government refers to a 7% reduction in emissions each year to 2030. Can Mr. Carroll explain the difference, if there is any, between this and the Bill's reference to carbon neutrality by 2050? Does this mean the actual cuts in emissions will be balanced or accounted for in some way with sinks, credits for the future or the removal of gases via future technology which we do not have? Science is very dubious about the carbon capturing technology that is vaguely referred to in the Bill.
Mr. Brian Carroll:
The Deputy's first question was on whether the language in the Bill was designed to create loopholes. The answer to that is "No". It was not. One of the issues that has been mentioned is linking the 2050 target to the climate action plans and carbon budgets. That is quite clearly done in terms of the 2050 climate objective. The Bill reads: "The State shall pursue the transition to a climate resilient and climate neutral economy by the end of the year 2050." The word "pursue" means to follow, chase, continue or proceed to achieve that target by 2050. Section 3(2) clearly links the achievement of that target to the preparation of climate action plans and long-term strategies. It states that for the purpose of enabling the State to pursue the national 2050 objective, the Minister will make climate action plans and national long-term climate action strategies and in doing so, under section 3(3)(r), the Minister is required to take account of the carbon budget programme. There is quite a tight linking of the target with the making of plans and strategies and the creation of a carbon budget. I do not see loopholes there.
As regards just transition, section 3(3)(c) of the Bill highlights climate justice as one of the things that has to be taken into account by the Climate Change Advisory Council and Ministers. The committee must consider it in advising on carbon budgets and the Government more generally must do so in adopting carbon budgets and preparing climate action plans and long-term strategies. Climate justice very much incorporates a just transition nationally and quite a bit of policy has been brought forward already by the Government to address this in a relatively short period of time. Some of those pieces, such as the appointment of the just transition commissioner, have already been mentioned. Decisions have already been made about €20 million for energy efficiency retrofitting in the midlands and €5 million for peatland rehabilitation outside the Bord na Móna estate. A dedicated just transition fund will make €11 million available to fund innovative projects in the midlands and €15 million has been committed as part of the July stimulus to retrofit 33,000 ha of Bord na Móna peatlands, which will act as a carbon sink. A feasibility study is about to be started on establishing a green energy hub using existing infrastructure in west Offaly and Lough Ree power stations. There is quite a bit of activity already under way regarding just transition,
The Deputy mentioned gender balance and the provisions around gender balance are strengthened in the Bill. As regards the other considerations she listed, there is a long list of characteristics, competencies and expertise that are required from potential members of the Climate Change Advisory Council, including climate science, transport, energy and policy, and behavioural and communications science. Experience of biodiversity and ecosystems services, to which the Deputy made particular reference, are included in that list. Economics, finance, political sociology and ethics in relation to climate are also considered, as well as the importance of gender balance.
The Deputy raised the relationship between the 7% per annum on average reduction over the decade, the 55% reduction at EU level and the 2050 target. Basically, the 7% per annum over the decade equates to the 55% the EU is proposing for 2030. It is consistent with achieving carbon or climate neutrality by 2050, which is the objective set out in the Bill. It will involve sinks as well as technologies to reduce our production of greenhouse gases. As regards concerns, one has to account for the fact that the period out to 2050 is a 30-year period. There is a degree of uncertainty around how science and technology will develop over that time. There is a lot of research going on in the area of climate mitigation.
Obviously, nature-based solutions, such as carbon sinks and rewetting peatlands, will have a huge role to play in balancing certain greenhouse gases. In addition, one would expect scientific progress over the three decades, which will bring forward further solutions that we do not yet have.
That is a form of wishful thinking. There is no evidence that technologies can create a carbon capturing storage.
The Bill does not deal with non-territorial emissions. Does that imply we can import emissions from abroad, in other words, liquified natural gas or LNG, which is not necessarily fracked? Does that still leave the door open for the importation of forms of LNG?
I thank Mr. Carroll for his presentation. It is welcome to see progress on this important Bill, for which we have awaited for a long time. I see the committee's role as one of making the Bill as strong as possible.
I view the Bill with completely sceptical eyes because I want to make it very robust to ensure it will not only withstand this term of Government but will also reach forward and be used well into the future. I look at it as if it has been implemented by a Minister who is a complete climate denier. I want it to be very strong legislation. There are a few areas where the Bill needs to be strengthened. My colleague mentioned the language used, which I believe is very loose. It will be difficult to hold anyone to account for certain aspects of the Bill. The 2015 Act used language such as "to pursue, and achieve, the transition" to a low carbon economy, whereas this Bill refers to pursuing that. That is very much a weakening of the language. There are also issues with the Paris Agreement in that the Bill must only have regard to the agreement. There are areas in the Bill where we need to strengthen the language to ensure we have accountability going forward.
Another issue is the absence of interim targets. How we get to 2050 is very important. There needs to be an obligation to have interim targets, stick to them and, where necessary, correct course if the Government is failing to meet them. That is not provided for and it is definitely a weakness in the Bill. There also needs to be a binding duty to meet the interim targets.
There is a big gap in the Bill when it comes to the just transition. Mr. Carroll indicated that climate justice covers the just transition but traditionally climate justice has a more global understanding. It is important to include climate justice in the Bill as well as the voices of the people who will be most impacted by the legislation. We must ensure their voices are heard in the development and implementation of the Bill and the policies that will support it. It is important that we bring people along with us as it is the only way we will achieve any climate measures.
Mr. Carroll stated the Bill would ensure gender equality and gender balance on the advisory council. That is not the case as the text provides that the "best endeavours" must be used. Again, that is loose language which will not achieve what we hope to achieve.
While the Bill includes a long list of areas of expertise, members of the advisory committee must have knowledge of only one of these areas. Theoretically, therefore, we could have an advisory committee full of economists or engineers. We need to ensure there is a spread of expertise.
I would like to see a reflection of nature-based solutions in the Bill. Nature-based solutions and the biodiversity crisis are two heads of the same coin. While I welcome the amendment to the National Oil Reserves Agency Act 2007, I would also like to see that reflected in the primary legislation.
Mr. Brian Carroll:
I responded to earlier comments on language. I think the language is strong in the Bill and clearly links the target to climate action plans, strategies and carbon budgets.
With regard to the long-term strategy in particular, the Bill refers to a strategy "to specify the manner in which it is proposed to achieve the national 2050 climate objective." That is fully consistent with the 2015 Act and it is something the Supreme Court, in its recent decision, dwelt on, including what it means. The requirement to specify remains in the Bill.
In terms of interim targets, a few issues can be mentioned. First, the programme for Government contains a commitment to 7% reductions per annum, on average, over the decade. Second, once we have in place carbon budgets and sectoral decarbonisation ranges, we have a very tight structure of interim targets over five-year periods with specific sectoral requirements also delineated in terms of the quantum of reduction that will be expected across sectors.
On the just transition, I refer again to my earlier response that climate justice has been included as something that is required for consideration. I take the Deputy's point that climate justice has three dimensions, namely, a global piece, an intertemporal piece and a national piece, as I think it is commonly understood. The national piece really speaks to just transition and Government policy is quite active in this area, as I outlined.
I also agree that it is very important that the voices of the people impacted by the transition to climate neutrality are heard, and those of wider society. The provision that the Minister may consult, the particular requirements around consultation at local level and the separate development of a national dialogue on climate will all facilitate the hearing of those voices and ensure that people have an input into the making of policy.
On the climate change advisory council, the long list of potential expertise and competencies was included with the intention of creating a wider mix of skills on the council. It is envisaged that the list would be understood and implemented in that way.
The provisions on gender equality are stronger than those in the 2015 Act. I do not have the exact reference in the Act but nature-based solutions are explicitly called out. I can follow up with the Deputy afterwards and provide a note on where they are referenced.
I remind members that they have a five-minute slot to ask questions and elicit responses from witnesses. I would appreciate if they stuck to that because our time is limited.
If there is time to do so, we will have a second round of questions.
I thank the witnesses for their presentation. Previous speakers raised the very important issue that just transition is not named in the heads of the Bill. I suggest that a new paragraph (z) be added to section 3 after paragraph (y). That would be a natural place to insert a paragraph on just transition as there seems to be a gap there. Just transition is not the same as climate justice. Both terms need definition because they are not abstract concepts. Just transition, for example, has been defined by the International Labour Organization, ILO, as reflected in the Paris Agreement.
The Bill refers to the Minister and Government having regard to certain factors. More important, however, there seems to be a walking back from concrete, solid commitments Ireland has already made. Why is there not an interim target in the Bill? Mr. Carroll stated the intention was to achieve a 7% reduction in emissions every year and reach a certain reduction by 2030. Why is this not provided for in the Bill? Why should we, as legislators, not want to see it in the Bill? We would then have a bird in the hand rather than relying on what future birds there might be and what future bushes might remain. Interim targets have to be dealt with in the Bill. Why is there not a separate section on this?
There is a lack of clarity. Subsection (4) of the new section 3 states: "For the purposes of performing their functions under sections 6B and 6D the Minister and the Government shall have regard to the matters specified at paragraphs (a) to (d) of subsection (3)." It does not state that the Minister will not have regard to all the other caveats and issues. Is Mr. Carroll suggesting that in the case of sections 6B and 6D, the Minister will only have regard to the factors specified in paragraphs (a) to (d), the greenhouse gas emissions inventory and others?
Why are we speaking about article 2 of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, UNFCC? What about the other articles? Has it been decided not to worry about them? Where is article 4, for example, which commits to having the highest possible ambition in achieving the goals? That is a real concern. We signed up to the UNFCC.
What of the mitigation or adaptation commitments and the European Union targets? We speak of them as obligations. If they are obligations, why are they not in the Bill? I seek the rationale for not putting a strong 2030 target in the Bill? It seems to be legislatively poor and inconsistent with the agreements we have made and other obligations we have signed up to. Another problem arising from the absence of a 2030 target is that the sustainable development goals, which are part of Agenda 2030, have vanished and are not in the Bill. There is a provision for sustainable development but nothing about the sustainable development goals, which are a concrete set of specifically relevant measures. The goals on climate but also on sustainable cities would surely be relevant to the Bill and the roadmaps being drawn up. Those are 2030 targets. Is the Department's focus on one date, 2050, the reason it has left out the sustainable development goals and related targets and commitments?
I have other concerns on which I will not have time to dwell. Value for money is not defined. We know there is significant movement in this area. Even in procurement, we now use terms such as the "most economically advantageous", "price-quality ratio" and so on. "Value for money" is an outdated term that is not usually used.
I am particularly concerned by the line, "the policy of the Government on climate change". This is placed on a par with what we signed up to at the UN and EU. If the policy of a future government on climate change is that it is not especially worried about it, will that cancel out everything? We pass legislation all the time in these Houses and it is not usual practice to have a get-out-clause for any future government, one that provides for action unless of course the particular Minister does not really want to act. That is an extraordinarily unusual legislative measure.
I am concerned also about the inclusion of the phrase "carbon leakage". This goes against clear language requirements. A definition must be included. This is not a commonly used phrase and I suggest it is intentionally confusing. If I asked any member of the public what carbon leakage means, no one would say it means we have to compete with people or we will lose business. That is not what people would think it meant. They would think it means emissions. We need to have clear language. If the Department wants to include the word "competition", it should do so and we will try to take it out. If it want to talk about non-territorial emissions, let us put that in the Bill.
All of my questions are on the legislative aspects of the Bill. I am extremely concerned by the suggestion that in the wonderful scenario where emissions in a previous budget period fall below the target, that is, we reduce emissions by more than the set target, we will carry them over and use them in the next five years. How is that compatible with the highest possible ambition and the principles of climate justice? When drafting this Bill we need to remember that not only can we not negotiate with the coronavirus, we cannot negotiate with climate. There cannot use Christmas and birthday logic or a promise to pay on Tuesday. We need to nail this down.
People have said there is no clear accountability in this Bill. I am not interested in looking back in 2050 and asking which of the in-between Ministers was responsible or whether the advisory committee was responsible. As legislators, we are responsible for the legislation. That is what we need to answer for. I would like us to know that the legislation is succeeding by 2030. Perhaps Mr. Carroll will address those issues.
I remind all members that their five-minute slot is for questions and answers. There is no time for Mr. Carroll to answer the Senator's questions. I will allow latitude in this instance but from now on, I will be strict about the five minutes.
Mr. Brian Carroll:
I note the Senator's comments on the just transition and climate justice. On solid commitments, the Senator referred to the figure of 7% per annum in the programme for Government and asked why it was not in the Bill. A number of comments can be made. The Bill tries to strike a balance between prescription and an appropriate flexibility. The 7% per annum average will have to be translated into the series of two carbon budgets over the coming decade, and further translated into sectoral decarbonisation ranges. It is my understanding that-----
Mr. Brian Carroll:
-----once this is done, the presumption legally is that those carbon budgets will be abided by. The Senator mentioned that on the long list of factors to be taken into account was Government policy on climate change. Government policy on climate change currently is to have a 7% average reduction per annum over the decade. That part of the Bill actually hardwires a link between Government policy - the 7% annual reduction - and what is required to be taken into account in the Bill in terms of bringing forward plans and strategies in carbon budgets.
On article 2, it was highlighted as being the overarching objective. I accept, however, that there are other objectives in there. It was highlighted as being the overarching piece in that particular UN document. With regard to why the EU targets are not included, our legal advice is very clear that where an existing legal obligation has been imposed under EU law, it is not appropriate to further put the same obligation into national law. EU obligations rest on us as the EU requirement, and it is not appropriate to put it then as a further national legal obligation.
Sustainable development was put into the Bill. I note the Senator's comment on the sustainable development goals.
Value for money is in a section that refers to "consistent with the sustainable management of the public finances and to maximise, as far as practicable, the net benefits to society". It is grounded in how we go about making climate action plans and strategies to ensure that Exchequer investment is best targeted with a view to maximising the net benefits to society. That piece is important.
In terms of taking account of Government policy, I think I have mentioned that already. That means the 7% per annum, on average over the decade, has to be taken into account. It is there in the Bill as one of the factors to be considered. On page 28, I think the Senator was concerned about the question of banking in the case of overachievement in the first five-year carbon budget. There is an option to do that; it is not a requirement. It is consistent with approaches in other jurisdictions and it can be regarded as a motivation to early climate action. Finally, in terms of the clear lines of accountability, the Minister and Government are accountable to the Oireachtas in respect of the carbon budgets and how emissions progress, and whether they are sticking to the carbon budgets. The legislation tightly knits those carbon budgets to being on a path to the overall 2050 target.
I wish to follow on from what Senator Higgins asked, because she asked the question I was going to ask, but I was not satisfied with the answer. Could we have a proper definition of climate justice and sustainable development? We have talked about bringing people along with us, and we all know by amount of emails we have received and the engagement we have had locally, that this is a really important Bill. Without a proper definition of climate justice and sustainable development, it is basically just "whatever you are having yourself". Could we consider using the Mary Robinson Foundation - Climate Justice definition? It is a definition that is widely accepted, and it would tie this down, rather than using aspirational language. Language is important in the Bill, and the more that we hear about just transition, it seems that it is an instruction rather than than a means of how we are going to do this work.
I thank the witnesses for joining us today. I have a technical question, however before I ask it. I wish to ask Mr. Carroll what his view is on the comment that this Bill represents a weakening in comparison with the 2015 legisation. Purely factually, looking at the terminology in 2015 in comparison with this Bill, we are talking about net-zero emissions, and there is no numerical figure in the 2015 legislation. I do not believe I have heard any of the advocacy groups say that there is a weakening in comparison to 2015; the reverse is the case, if anything. However, there is a point on which I would like clarity, and that is the direct comparison between the Scottish legislation and the legislation we have before us here. If we look at section A1 in the Scottish legislation, it states: "Scottish Ministers must ensure that the net Scottish emissions account for the net-zero emissions target year is at least 100% lower than the baseline". This is in comparison with the legislation before us, which as Mr. Carroll is aware, states: "The State shall pursue the transition to a climate resilient and climate neutral economy". I am wondering, from a technical perspective, rather than the ins and outs of which is correct, what would it take for us, not just to amend that particular section, but what else in the Bill would need to change in order to give effect to the strengthening of that language?
Mr. Brian Carroll:
I agree with the Senator that the Bill is not weakened relative to the 2015 legislation, and in fact it is strengthened. In particular, the commitment to climate neutrality in the current Bill compares against just a commitment to a low-carbon economy in the 2015 legislation, so there is a significant ramp-up in ambition with the new Bill. In my opening statement, I talked about what climate neutrality means, in particular in relation to greenhouse gases, where greenhouse gas emissions are balanced or exceeded by the removal of greenhouse gases in 2050. I think that is a very strong statement of where we need to be. It is not just balanced, it is balanced or exceeded. I am not clear that the language used needs to change to further strengthen it relative to the Scottish legislation, but I am happy to take any input on that.
Mr. Brian Carroll:
I would need to go through the Bill to check that. Right now I could not answer that without doing so. It is complicated enough and once part of a Bill is changed, one has to check right across the Bill to ensure a consistency of language. It is not something I am in a position to comment on here, but it is something I could look at.
My question relates to an answer that Mr. Carroll gave to Deputy Whitmore. On the 2020 Bill, there seems to be a steering away from different methodologies within the text of the Bill. Deputy Whitmore's question related to nature-based solutions, and the fact that they are somewhat lacking within the Bill, even though they are referred to in respect of the National Oil Reserves Agency Act 2007. It is also acknowledged that on the Climate Change Advisory Council that there is scope to have representatives with expertise in biodiversity and nature-based solutions. I am wondering is there a reason we are steering away from the different methodologies? When Mr. Carroll referred to the Act in his response to Deputy Whitmore, was he referring to the 2015 Act, when he said that nature-based solutions were included and mentioned? If that is not the case, is there scope, under section 3, for the inclusion of some text referring to and acknowledging the importance of biodiversity and nature-based solutions? In the direction that we take in reducing our carbon emissions, battling climate change and stemming the devastation to biodiversity and wildlife nationally and worldwide, it is important that we acknowledge it in some form within the Bill.
That is my question. Given that Mr. Carroll referred to it, I presume that it is included in the Act and that he is talking about the 2015 Act.
I apologise to the Deputy, as I meant to refer to the Bill when I said that. In terms of where it is, I have since located it in section 2(b) and the definition of what "removal" means regarding greenhouse gases. It is removal of those gases from the earth's atmosphere through the use of natural or technological solutions, including the creation or enhancement of sinks or a change in land use in the State. In that section there is a very explicit reference to natural solutions, enhancement of sinks and a change of land use in the State. I apologise for the confusion regarding the Bill and the Act earlier.
Perhaps that is where the scope is so for the introduction of references to the importance of biodiversity and specifically to nature-based solutions. I understand the reference to land use, but there can be quite a broad interpretation of the term. One could be talking about wind farms or solar energy in that context. Is there scope for the introduction of nature-based solutions in that specific section?
I apologise, as I was not here at the start of the meeting. I was in the Chamber. I apologise in advance if I ask questions that have already been asked. What was the rationale for removing the word "achieve" from the Bill? It changed from "pursue and achieve" to "pursue".
I would also like to hear the rationale for the balance between climate scientists and other interests on the advisory committee. Let us compare it to the likes of NPHET where one has very great expertise in public health. It provides the advice and then the Minister, the Government and the Oireachtas decide to balance that out with other concerns, whereas this body seems to contain a balance of views within it. Is there a hierarchy for the climate scientists, who are the experts, and can we choose to look at their advice? I wonder how the balance is going to be achieved.
Equally, I have concerns about how we will do the auditing of the reductions in emissions versus how much will be reliant on sequestration and technologies, including bio-energy with carbon capture and storage, BECCS. How will we do the accounting process given that much of the technology is uncertain?
I have concerns also on why the Bill relies heavily on the UK Climate Change Act 2008, given that the ground has moved extensively since then. Why did we not take more from our neighbours in Scotland or even from the New Zealand Act? The Department chose to take the 1% borrowing, which is very much part of the UK Climate Change Act, but it did not choose to add all of the references to accountability and the objects of duty that come with the borrowing from that Act. Perhaps Mr. Carroll could explain those choices.
In terms of the stating of the objective, again the language that was put in was "to pursue" and it was then linked quite tightly to the preparation of annual plans and carbon budgets. If further language is being suggested, it can be considered.
The intention with the Climate Change Advisory Council was to bring a greater variety of skills and expertise into the council. In terms of theex officio members, the director general of the EPA and the directors of Teagasc and Met Éireann, come from scientific organisations. The first point on the list of requirements that potential members of the council need to have is climate science. Regarding the auditing function, performance is going to be judged against the inventories the EPA publishes on an annual basis.
There are well established methodologies for measuring progress. Senator Boylan highlighted sequestration. It is important to note that the methodologies are evolving over time, both at EU level and at national level. In terms of our legally binding targets, we will need consistency of approach, and to meet those targets with a new approach. An effort is on to develop robust ways of accounting for sequestration and being sure that it is achieving its end.
In terms of the 1% borrowing, as Senator Boylan says, we followed the approach in the UK Act, but there are very particular circumstances where the Government is required to consult with the Climate Change Advisory Council and to get a decision of the Government as well before that borrowing can happen. Again, the accountability in the Bill is very much geared towards accountability to the Oireachtas.
I am sorry, but like some previous speakers I did not have the opportunity to hear some of the earlier contributions so I apologise if I repeat anything. I have a specific query on the objective of public involvement. What is the rationale behind the approach, the overarching governance framework and the membership of the advisory council? For example, was it considered to use a Citizens' Assembly? I think the previous experience was a positive one, but the approach has been abandoned in this framework. Mr. Carroll's previous comment was that all of the accountability is to the Oireachtas, which is fair to a point. However, in my view it misses a real opportunity because our representative democracy is not very representative and a number of voices will feasibly and probably quite practically be completely excluded from this entire process if we adopt the legislation in its current form. I refer to workers, social justice advocates and young people. We could quite feasibly have a situation where nobody under the age of 30 would have hand, act, part or voice in any of the structures that we are about to establish. I would like to hear about the rationale for the approach and the opportunity for further consideration.
I agree with the importance of public involvement. The Bill itself provides that the Minister may consult in the preparation of plans and strategies. There are also very specific requirements on local authorities to consult.
They are set out in section 12(5) of the Bill and are the structures of Government that are closest to local communities. The Deputy mentioned, in particular, the Citizens' Assembly and, in fact, this Bill is the outworking of the Citizens' Assembly, the joint Oireachtas committee that considered the Citizens' Assembly report, the climate action plan and the programme for Government.
Earlier, I mentioned that separately there are plans to have a national climate dialogue and that will have three dimensions. One is around how Government communicates in a consistent manner with society on climate. A second dimension is around national convening of key stakeholders periodically. That will certainly give a voice to a variety of representative groups. The third and probably most important bit is around local dialogue and activation. There are plans for having that type of dialogue structure around climate going forward.
On the just transition, in particular, there are commitments in the programme for Government. We already have a just transition commissioner active in the midlands.. There is talk of the just transition commissioner being established on a more permanent and resourced footing to look forward over the coming time horizons at groups of workers who are likely to be affected by transitions, both the climate decarbonisation transition and also the digital one.
In answer to the Deputy's question, some of the pieces he raised are being dealt with in certain ways in the Bill but are separately being dealt with through other initiatives in Government policy around dialogue and around the just transition.
I thank Mr. Carroll for the presentation. If the Government was minded to extend the just transition fund that currently exists for the midlands to include workers in the west Clare area who are significantly affected by the reduction in activity at Moneypoint, would it require an amendment or could it be done under the auspices of the Bill as it is currently drafted?
I thank Senator Dooley. I remind members that as we switch seats, we need to use the wipes in front of all of us to wipe them down as part of our anti-Covid measures.
We have had one round and I am conscious we will have a private session following Mr. Carroll's engagement with us. The full time allotted to us is two hours so I propose we allow 20 minutes for private session. We will have a second round but I propose we might take questions together one after the other and then Mr. Carroll can answer in one go. I call Deputy Smith.
There is a litany of 25 issues the Minister must have regard to in deciding policy including long-term competitiveness of the State, the special economic and social role of agriculture, best policy and value for money. I wish to ask about the distinctive character of biogenic methane emissions. Could Mr. Carroll please explain that in some detail, if he has time? There is quite an argument about what was meant by in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC, report which is used here in trying to justify allowing this clause about the distinctive character of biogenic emissions. I would like to hear Mr. Carroll's version of it and, if I have time, I will give mine. The IPCC, however, was clear that this must be handled with as much efficiency as dealing with CO2.
I will follow up on my previous question around the advisory council and that hierarchy around the climate scientists. Can Mr. Carroll confirm that the advisory council will operate on a one person, one vote basis, that with all these sectoral interests the climate scientists will still have only one vote and the other sectors will also have one vote?
Given that Deputy Smith referred to the state of the alphabet of choices the Minister can have regard to, there is an opportunity that, perhaps, some of the sectoral interests could be put into that part of the Bill and we can narrow down the advisory council to look at the climate science and then the Minister can advise.
I am aware Mr. Carroll referred to elements of public participation in the Bill and that he took on board the Citizens' Assembly outcome. The first point of the Citizens' Assembly, which 97% supported, was around public participation. I do not see that call reflected in this Bill because, again, the Minister can take regard of or may consult with the public. With local authorities and public participation, we are aware our local authorities are devoid of any powers really and by the time it gets to them the job is done at central government. Therefore, we need to have greater public participation at the central government element of it. That would reflect what the Supreme Court said which is that citizens' rights are to fully engage and to have transparency in climate action.
People have spoken about the language. Has consideration been given or could it be given to separating out some of these things we hear about in the long list? I worry there might be an implied equivalence, for example, the stronger language Senator O'Reilly and others mentioned that might be attached to the specific points in terms of our obligations and whether it is appropriate we have the same regard to language applied to things which have differential weighting in terms of law.
I wish to clarify what Mr. Carroll mentioned around European Union law. I understand there is nothing to stop us from setting a target of 55%, which would be equivalent to the current target, as a minimum for 2030. If we put those hard targets we must achieve into a separate section and then look to the other factors we should have regard to, again, it is what we must do versus how we do it. Of, course, there is space for discussion on how we do it.
I mentioned there is a legal lack of clarity in that there is one point where only paragraphs (a)to (d)are mentioned. In subsection 4 on page 11, Mr. Carroll says that paragraphs (a)to (d)are relevant for the producing of functions of 6B and 6D. Is it only these which are relevant? Is this where he is trying to make a demarcation in terms of what is more important? I would appreciate if he could give even a written answer in terms of how he sees the rest of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, UNFCC, the rest of the Paris Agreement and the rest of the sustainable development goals, SDGs, being involved because they are not in the Bill. It is pretty concrete.
In terms of public participation, has it been explicitly proofed in terms of the Aarhus Convention and ensuring compatibility with the Aarhus Convention?
Lastly, in Mr. Carroll's opinion, is a target set in legislation or a target set in a plan legally stronger?
I am a firm believer that there is no need to reinvent the wheel and when developing policy or legislation we should look to examples overseas to see where it is being done well. Countries such as Scotland, New Zealand and the UK have actually done a much better job in this. How much regard to international experience did Mr. Carroll take into the development and drafting of this legislation?
In his evidence to the committee, Mr. Carroll referred frequently to the programme for Government and the 7% target set. I have a concern if that was a large part of Mr. Carroll's thinking in developing this legislation.
Our legislation needs to be stronger than a document that is applicable for only the next four years. After the programme for Government was published there was quite a bit of discussion on how it backloaded the emissions targets. From my perspective, the programme for Government is not a programme for this particular Government, it is actually a programme for the next Government because a lot of the targets are for 2030. What I do not want to see happening is that we wake up in five or six years' time and think we have not addressed any of our emissions issues. We will be wondering why and we will be so far behind at that stage.
I want to speak on the same point. There is considerable concern that there is not enough that is concrete in the legislation. Mr. Carroll referenced flexibility. The concern people have is that the flexibility will go the other way with a future Government and that we have missed an opportunity in the legislation. I am interested to hear what Mr. Carroll has to say on this.
Contrary to the tone of some of the other comments, I wish to ask Mr. Carroll whether he agrees this is the first time we will have carbon budget targets that are binding, with embedded concrete targets of 51% in two budgets, one for the first five years and one for the second five years. One of the enduring calls from many who are committed to climate action is to see embedded in legislation targets and carbon budgets. This has been the defect in our approach to tackling climate change for many years and it has allowed issues such as climate to be overlooked by successive policy makers. Does Mr. Carroll agree this is path-breaking legislation? While there can be improvement in some of the wording as we proceed on Committee Stage it would be a mistake for the committee to regard this as in some way diluting commitments. This creates a vehicle to drive change in the area. This message should come out of the committee hearings as well as the undoubted scope for improvement in some of the drafting.
Mr. Brian Carroll:
I will start with Deputy Bruton's question and comment because they speak to some of the other points raised. I agree with Deputy Bruton's views, in particular regarding some of the concerns raised about 7% per annum on average being in a programme for government and how locked-in this ambition is. Deputy Bruton is absolutely correct when he says that when we have our first two carbon budgets of the series of three they will cover the period from 2021 to 2025 and 2026 to 2030 and they will have to lock in the ambition in the programme for government. There is no provision to change these budgets, except in very exceptional circumstances where there has been a change in the climate science that warrants such a change or if we have new binding international or EU targets. Absolutely the carbon budgets will lock in the ambition in a very hard way.
I will not go back to Deputy Bríd Smith, who was the first in and asked about the distinctive characteristics of biogenic methane. It is produced through biological processes from waste or animals and it has some distinct characteristics. Its life in the atmosphere is estimated to be 12 years, compared to carbon or CO2, which lasts from a century to a millennium in the atmosphere. Its global warming potential is higher than that of carbon. It is approximately 28 times higher. The other piece about biogenic methane, and it is consistent with the UN thinking, is that while we have technological solutions to get our carbon emissions to zero by 2050 there will be residual biogenic methane and nitrous oxide emissions. What we are aiming for is that they will be balanced by the creation of sinks and nature-based solutions and other ways of removing them from the atmosphere.
The next set of comments related to climate scientists-----
My question was not to ask Mr. Carroll for the distinction between CO2 and biogenic methane. My question was to ask him to show me where the IPCC report states it should be treated differently, because it actually does not say that. He has treated it differently by saying that among other things the Government has to take account of the distinctive character of biogenic methane. It has a distinctive character but the IPCC report does not say it should be treated differently.
Mr. Brian Carroll:
To come back to Deputy Smith on this, it might be useful if I get a note to her. My understanding is the UN recognises there will be residual emissions of biogenic methane in 2050 and beyond and that they need to be balanced by removals. I am happy to get the Deputy a note on this if it is helpful.
It is probably the best chance I will get in such a short time to scrutinise the Bill. It is very difficult to do our job properly in such a short time. I will accept a note from Mr. Carroll. I wanted to correct him that my question was not asking him to distinguish between them but to show me from where in the IPCC report he drew the conclusion.
Mr. Brian Carroll:
I am very happy to get her a note along the lines we discussed.
With regard to climate scientists having one vote, there are no provisions in the Bill at present to have differential voting arrangements depending on what qualification a member has. On public participation not being reflected in the Bill, I highlighted earlier the provisions on public participation but they need to be understood alongside wider policy in the area with regard to climate dialogue and the just transition.
Coming to Senator Higgins and the question of our EU obligations, the legal advice I have is that we would not double legislate for the current legally binding target, which is a 30% reduction in non-ETS emissions, and have it in national and EU law. More generally, in terms of the need for interim targets, to go back to the comments made by Deputy Bruton and my earlier response to those, the carbon budgets will lock in these once they are in place.
In terms of how various-----
I would like this clarified because it has been stated. Will Mr. Carroll clarify there is nothing in the legislation that locks in these targets? He spoke about the programme for Government but with regard to the legislation there is nothing that locks in the targets. Is this correct?
Mr. Brian Carroll:
What I am saying is that the legislation provides for carbon budgets.
Once the first two carbon budgets are set, they are fixed. In that way, the setting of the carbon budgets locks in that ambition. Once the carbon budgets have been approved by the Government and laid before the Oireachtas, there is no revising those except in exceptional circumstances. The first is if we have new climate obligations which are likely to be an upward revision. The second is if there is some big development in climate science that warrants their changing. They lock it in in a very hard way.
The concern expressed by Senator Higgins is that as we go forward with new Administrations taking office into the next few decades, how can we be sure that Government policy is enough to drive the 2050 net zero target.
Yes. My point is to clarify two factual things. One is that there is nothing precluding us from setting an interim target of, for example, 55% by 2030, within which the budgets should operate. It does not matter whether we say it is compliant with the EU and so forth. There is nothing, however, to stop us from setting that hard figure. There is no hard guarantee percentage, however, in this budget to 2030, only that, as has been stated again and again, it will be locked in. There is nothing in this regard in the legislation, only a process whereby targets could be set.
Is it legally stronger if a target is set in legislation rather than in a plan? We can hold the Government directly to account for legislation. Will Mr. Carroll clarify that?
Questions were submitted and answers have been given. It seems a bit irregular if we are going to allow a free for all.
It is the Oireachtas which will adopt these climate budgets and give the final sanction to them. That is the arrangement in the legislation. That is respecting those who are elected here. As Mr. Carroll said, we will lock those in when we make those decisions in the next six months. They will be locked in for the decade. The commitments in the programme for Government are a powerful tool which, I hope, will be endorsed by the Oireachtas within months and drive real change in this area.
We need this legislation to be as strong as possible. It needs to be not only future-technology and climate-proofed, it needs to be future Government-proofed. We are all in agreement in what we want to achieve from this. We need to ensure this legislation will do that for us. It cannot be left to be decided by an Oireachtas in five, ten or 15 years' time. We need this legislation now.
What happens if the first carbon budget is in the net? There are no binding requirements in this legislation to meet that target. There is also no guidance to the advisory council as to what framework it needs to work within.
I want to echo what Deputy Whitmore said. Can Mr. Carroll point out where the carbon budget is binding and who it binds in this Bill? My understanding is that the Minister only has to take account of the budget under section 6C(7). I am happy to be corrected on that. As was said, we have to future-proof this because there is no knowing what kind of Government we will have next?
Mr. Brian Carroll:
On the issue of what happens over time with future Governments, the Bill does not bind any particular Government to pursue the 2050 objective. It binds the State which is this and all future Governments. It requires the State to produce plans and strategies consistent with the 2050 target.
It also provides for carbon budgets to be brought forward that are consistent with achieving the 2050 objective. Once the carbon budgets are laid before the Oireachtas and fully accepted the first two carbon budgets to 2050 are to be complied with. As Deputy Bruton pointed out the Oireachtas will have an opportunity to vote on this in the coming months.
As for the consequences of not complying with them, the accountability is in the first instance to the Oireachtas. Ministers will need to appear annually before the committee and additional measures will need to be brought forward to make up any shortfall in meeting the budgets.
The budgets are a way of embedding the hard target, which Senator Higgins is trying to talking about, in legislation. They come through the budgets which can be revised in the exceptional circumstance of there being some sort of new obligation that requires them to be possibly further tightened. On that balance between having something very locked down and sufficient flexibility, if one puts a particular target for 2030 into primary legislation now but science dictates that, through our international obligations, it has to be a more stringent target in the coming years of the decade, one will obviously have to amend the primary legislation to reflect that. There is already a mechanism through the carbon budgets to ensure that one can reflect any further or heightened ambition that may come down the line through a revision of those carbon budgets, if there are new obligations or changes in climate science. The Bill is very strong in that regard.
Thank you, Mr. Carroll. I remind members that this is the very start of the pre-legislative scrutiny and there will be plenty of opportunity over the remaining sessions to tease out these important issues.
Time is against us and we have a private session to get through. On behalf of the committee, I thank Mr. Carroll for attending today and for this worthwhile engagement. Mr. Carroll can send written replies to the committee secretariat and they can then be circulated to members.