Wednesday, 24 November 2021
Companies (Emission Reporting) Bill 2021: Second Stage
Pauline O'Reilly (Green Party)
I welcome Senator Ruane's Bill and I also welcome the Minister of State. The Bill would require companies operating in Ireland to make annual disclosures of greenhouse gas emissions caused by their activities within the State. As many have said, that is not unusual, and there is already a directive in that regard, but this Bill would go further than the directive, and that is important to point out. Whereas the directive refers to 250 employees, this Bill refers to 50 employees as the starting point. Disclosures would have to include plans to bring the company in line with the Paris Agreement commitments. There would be fines of up to €50,000 for companies not complying with the Bill, and a log would be kept of those fines. The Bill is modelled on the gender pay gap legislation, which has a similar model of reporting and which also has such a phased approach to companies to help small and medium-sized companies to put in the investment to get the returns.
As I said, I welcome the Bill. We made a submission as a party to the consultation on the directive. A lot of the work on that was done by Senator Garvey and several other party members. We argued then that, while the directive was an improvement, the EU should push for much more than it was initially proposing, including metrics having a clear focus on absolute emissions reductions, a much wider focus on social sustainability and natural capital metrics. Companies would have to show how they were preparing for a just transition, for instance, and statements on the climate literacy of the company's board would be required. This Bill is timely in light of the directive and I hope it will influence the EU in drafting its own directive. That is what is important about bringing the Bill to the floor of the Seanad.
I wish to address some of the commentary on emissions reporting generally, where the focus tends to be negative and on what companies have to pay. However, reporting of emissions is a huge opportunity for companies. It allows those already leading the way to show their customers that they are greener choices. While it is envisaged that complying with the new directive will require investment, the costs of corporate climate inaction are far greater. We think we could run the risk of SMEs becoming uncompetitive if they do not report and change their business practices and leave them unprepared for climate risk and the transition. Of course, they need to be supported to do this by Government policy. I believe they are but I also believe that the directive and this Bill would be part of that support. We on the Joint Committee on Climate Action considered this in the context of regulations in respect of the circular economy. It is important we have regulations in place because, unless we do, there will not be a level playing field for all companies. If not, companies that are ethically responsible and greener will put investment in and those that are not will not. That is why it is important for everyone to be on the same pitch, and that is why this Bill and what the Government is doing in this regard are important. That is, in substance, what we say in our submission on the directive. Companies tell us this would support them to meet these regulations because it would allow them to compete with others.
The Greens are supportive of the Bill. It is on the record that we have already put in a submission. The Minister of State should have a look at it.