Climate, Sustainability and the Environment
The latest initiatives in the areas of energy and environmental protection law and regulation are driven by the theme of just transition to a low-carbon economy.
In the Spring Horizon Tracker we discussed the extensive legislative measures proposed by the European Commission over the preceding months with the overarching aim of reducing net emissions in the EU by at least 55% by 2030. As the year has progressed, catastrophic events such as the Ukraine crisis and the disruption of European and global energy markets leading to rising energy costs for consumers have seen the European Commission proposing to take further decisive action, including the introduction of the REPower Plan which, among other things, sets more ambitious carbon reduction targets to accelerate the green transition and reduce Europe's reliance on Russian fossil fuels. There are two new legislative changes relevant to this area in the Government's Summer Legislative Programme. They are the Circular Economies Bill and the Just Transition Commission Bill.
The unifying theme of all measures is transition: transition from an unsustainable linear take-make -waste consumption model towards a circular economy in the Circular Economies Bill; the establishment of a National Just Transition Commission to facilitate a fair and just transition to a low-carbon economy; and an acceleration of the green transition towards renewable energy and increased energy efficiency.
The commentary in this Horizon Tracker focuses on the impact of these initiatives in two sectors, the Food and Beverage sector and the Energy sector.
According to the United Nations, if food waste were a country, it would be the third largest global greenhouse gas emitter, behind only China and the United States. The Circular Economies Bill moves Ireland's economy away from an unsustainable linear take-make -waste consumption model towards a multifactorial model that takes into consideration how materials and resources are consumed, how the products are designed, how to prevent waste generation and resource consumption and how to extend the productive life of all goods and products in our society and economy. This transition is required throughout industry and society so that sustainable goods, services and business models become the norm.
In general terms, the bill:
- places the Circular Economy Strategy and National Food Loss Prevention Roadmap on a statutory footing (Sections 7, 15), establishing a legal requirement for governments to develop and periodically update these two policies;
- streamlines the national processes for End-of-Waste and By-Products decisions (Section 30), tackling the delays which can be encountered by industry, and supporting the availability of recycled secondary raw materials in the Irish market.
The Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Act 2021 sets Ireland on the path to a 51% reduction in emissions by the end of this decade and to net-zero emissions no later than 2050.
Delivering a just transition recognises the transformational level of change required to meet these targets as well as the need for an understanding that the transition is fair, just, and that the costs are shared equitably in order to protect the most vulnerable. The National Economic and Social Council described a just transition in the following way: "…one which seeks to ensure [that the] transition is fair, equitable, and inclusive in terms of processes and outcomes”.
A just transition refers both to the broader policy framework of climate action to support individuals and communities as well as the process of ensuring that individuals and communities have a voice and a role in informing and shaping these supports. The Just Transition Bill establishes a National Just Transition Commission to provide strategic advice to the Government on the mainstreaming and integration of just transition principles into climate action policy design and delivery.
The measures in the Commission's REPowerEU Plan respond to the double challenge of climate crisis and the invasion of Ukraine through energy savings, diversification of energy supplies, and accelerated roll-out of renewable energy to replace fossil fuels in homes, industry and power generation.
REPowerEU is based on two main pillars:
- diversifying supply and increasing the use of renewable gases; and
- accelerating the transition to clean renewable energy.
This accelerated transition includes new proposals to raise the EU’s renewable energy target from 40% tabled last year, to 45% by 2030 and increase the energy efficiency target from the 9% goal put forward in July 2021 to 13%, thereby reducing energy consumption by 13% of current levels of consumption of oil. It also proposes making solar panels mandatory for public and new residential buildings by 2025 and 2029, respectively.
To accelerate deployment, the EU executive wants to make permitting procedures simpler, with new wind and solar projects being declared a matter of “overriding public interest”, and ‘go-to’ areas introduced at the national level in zones with low environmental risk. This plan will entail an additional investment of €210bn from the EU budget and carbon market revenues between now and 2027, rising possibly to €300bn by the end of the decade.
"Renewables give us the freedom to choose an energy source that is clean, cheap, reliable, and ours. And, instead of continuing to fund fossil fuel imports and fund Russian oligarchs, renewables create new jobs here in Europe"
Executive Vice-President Frans Timmermans, Press Conference on the REPowerEU Communication.