Dáil debates

Thursday, 29 April 2021

Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Bill 2021: Second Stage (Resumed)


3:25 pm

Photo of Emer HigginsEmer Higgins (Dublin Mid West, Fine Gael) | Oireachtas source

I welcome the Bill and applaud the ambition behind it. If the past year has taught us anything, it is that governments can take extraordinary action to tackle extraordinary issues. The Bill will, I hope, be a significant step towards tackling the climate crisis. It is, without doubt, the most ambitious climate action legislation this country has produced. Its provisions are nationally significant for Ireland's climate policy but they are also internationally significant because they clearly set Ireland's intention to become a global leader in tackling the climate emergency, an ambition I wholeheartedly welcome.

The legal targets contained in the Bill are a positive step. I refer to the 51% reduction in emissions in the next decade and achieving carbon neutrality by 2050. These are ambitious goals but they should not be the limit to our ambition. If we can reach these targets before the legal deadline, we should of course do that. The most important thing is that we set these targets and that they are met because we cannot afford to miss targets this late in the game.

We are no longer living through a time of climate change, we are in a climate emergency. We owe it to our younger generations, who have been so vocal about their feelings on the issue, to get this legislation right. Before the pandemic, I was so proud to see young people taking to the streets, using their voices and collective power to call for action on climate change. The youngest members of our society are not just engaged but also enraged by the crimes being committed against our natural world. Last week, many young people celebrated Earth Day. My nephews, Cian and Blaine, planted trees and took a virtual tour through the Amazon rainforest. In Cian's words, they planted trees because they wanted to bring more nature into this world. The Bill can be our message to kids such as Cian and Blaine, and to the generations who will come after them, that their voices will be heard loud and clear by the Government. What a legacy that would be. Protecting the world we live in needs to be a top priority for everyone, everywhere. It is as simple as that.

I was concerned to read recently that leading climate experts from Irish universities have voiced their opposition to what they are concerned may be fundamental flaws in the Bill. They view the emissions targets and the proposed management of greenhouse gas reductions as ambiguous and are worried that could leave us open to legal challenges. I understand that their recommendations have been sent to the Minister as well as the climate action committee and the Climate Change Advisory Council, and I ask that they be taken into consideration.

In order to ensure that targets are no longer missed, we need some clarification on how the limitation of liability will work. After all, targets are only as strong as the actions behind them. Within the Bill, there are no fines for not meeting targets or for Ministers exceeding their carbon budgets, but Departments could instead face budget cuts. I am concerned that any budget penalties could inadvertently hurt essential Government-run programmes and schemes that are so badly needed by the people. The Bill has been widely welcomed by society, but concerns must be listened to as we move to the next phase. The inclusion of local authorities in the plan is really welcome. We need every level of our society and of the Government working towards addressing this problem, and we need to listen to every group.

Let us remember why the Bill is so necessary. For the past year we have been living through a pandemic.

Every aspect of life has been impacted. If allowed to run away from us, this climate crisis will have an even greater and more detrimental impact on us all. Dr. Mike Ryan of the World Health Organization has clearly stated that we are pushing nature to its limits. By doing so, we are creating the conditions for new epidemics to grow and thrive. We need to face up to the climate crisis and we need to find a way to limit the real damage already being done. Protecting the world in which we live needs to be a top priority for everyone everywhere. This Bill is a welcome and significant step in tackling that crisis.


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