On 23 March 2021, the Irish government published the new Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Bill 2021 (the “Bill”). When enacted, the Bill will commit the Irish government to moving to a climate resilient and climate neutral economy by the end of 2050.
1. The National Climate Objective and the Climate Action Plans
Section 5 of the Bill sets out the Irish government’s objective of achieving a climate resilient, biodiversity rich, environmentally sustainable and climate neutral economy by 2050. As part of this objective, the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications (the “Minister”) will be required to make and submit a number of plans and budgets.
These plans will involve:
- Carbon budgets;
- Sectoral emission ceilings;
- A climate action plan;
- A national long term climate action strategy; and
- A national adaptation framework.
The Minister and the government will be obliged to carry out their climate change obligations in a manner that is consistent with UN targets, EU commitments and the Paris Agreement and in a manner which takes account of greenhouse gas emissions.
The Minister must ensure that Climate Action Plans are consistent with carbon budgets and must provide a roadmap of actions (eg, sector specific actions to comply with the carbon budget for the period in question).
The national long term climate action strategy will specify how it is proposed to achieve the government’s climate objectives. It will include projected greenhouse gas emissions reductions and enhancement of sinks and removals both overall and by sector for a minimum of 30 years as well as an assessment of any potential opportunities in relevant sectors.
In preparing both Climate Action Plans and the national long term climate strategy, the Minister and the government must consider, among other things, value for money, the need to promote sustainable development and restore, and protect, biodiversity and relevant scientific or technical advice.
2. Carbon Budgets
One of the most significant parts of the Bill is the proposed introduction of carbon budgets which will introduce limits on the total amount of greenhouse gas emissions permitted during a budget period.
- Each carbon budget will relate to a period of five years (a ‘budget period’), with the first such carbon budget covering the period from 1 January 2021 to 31 December 2025.
- Carbon budgets must be in place at all times for three consecutive budget periods (ie, fifteen years).
- The first two carbon budgets will have to provide for a reduction of 51% in the total amount of greenhouse emissions by 31 December 2030 as against the amount reported for the year ending 31 December 2018.
- Before the expiry of the first carbon budget, the third carbon budget must be finalised and the next following carbon budget after that third carbon budget must be proposed.
- Carbon budgets will be drafted by the Advisory Council and finalised and approved by the Minister and the government.
- For any period beyond 2035, the carbon budget must be set at least 10 years before the period commences.
The Minister will also be responsible for setting the emissions ceiling for 40 different sectors for the five year period within the limits of the carbon budget. Powers will be given to the Minister to revise upcoming carbon budgets and the Bill allows for greenhouse gas emissions inventories to be kept and reviewed in order to revise upcoming budgets where possible. Where there is a surplus, it may be brought forward to the next budget and if there is a shortfall, it shall also be carried forward and the total carbon budget decreased to reflect the amount carried forward.
The Programme for Government committed to reducing emissions by 7% per year for the next decade, demonstrated by the 51% number expressly set out in the Bill. The Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, Eamon Ryan noted in a press conference last year that the EU has agreed a reduction target of 60% and the Irish target change has followed on from this target.
3. The Climate Change Advisory Council
The Bill proposes certain changes to the structure and make-up of the Climate Change Advisory Council (the “Council”). The Council is an independent advisory body tasked with assessing and advising on how Ireland is making the transition to a low carbon, climate resilient and environmentally sustainable economy by 2050.
A summary of some of the proposed key changes is set out below:
- The Council must now consist of 14 members and the Director of Met Éireann (the Irish meteorological service) must be a member of the Council.
- The general functions and remit of the Council have been expanded. For example, the Council can provide recommendations on the preparation of a long term climate action strategy and climate action plan, as well as the finalisation and revision of a carbon budget.
- Annual reviews by the Council must now take place before 15 September every year and must address progress being made in achieving reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, complying with the carbon budget and each sectoral emissions ceiling and furthering the national climate objective.
4. Climate Reporting
Section 14 of the Bill seeks to impose further accountability measures in respect of progress under the climate action plan and related policies.
Specifically, the Minister must give an account to a joint committee of the Irish parliament at its request in relation to progress made under the most recent climate action plan, whether there has been a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, compliance with the carbon budget and plans to address any failures envisaged and the implementation of adaption policy measures under the most recent approved national adaptation framework.
Section 14 also imposes similar requirements on other government ministers to give an account to a joint committee in respect of the sector for which they have responsibility.
5. Role of the Local Authority
Section 15 of the Bill will require local authorities to make a local authority climate action plan relating to a period of 5 years laying out the measures to be implemented. The first local authority climate action plan must be made within 12 months at the request of the Minister, any such request to be within 18 months after the commencement of the Bill, and once every five every years for every subsequent local authority climate action plan.
The local authority climate action plan must specify the mitigation measures and the adaptation measures to be adopted by the local authority. The Minister may issue guidelines to local authorities in respect of the content and preparation of the local authority climate actions plans.
When making the local authority action plan, the local authority must consult and co-operate with the adjoining local authorities, consult with the Public Participation Network in the administrative area of the local authority and together co-ordinate with adjoining local authorities in relation to the mitigation and adoption measures to be adopted.
6. Climate Action Fund
In 2020, the Irish government set up the Climate Action Fund (the “Fund”). The Fund was established to provide assistance to projects which will help Ireland achieve its climate and energy targets and the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications has estimated that it will provide at least €500 million in funding up to 2027.
Section 19 of the Bill expands the scope of the Fund so that it can now be used to support research into projects seeking to increase climate resilience and nature based projects that enhance biodiversity and seek to reduce, or increase the removal of, greenhouse gas, emissions or support climate resilience. The Fund will also provide support into increasing energy efficiency, climate resilience and the removal of greenhouses gas.
7. Limitation of Liability
Section 4 of the Bill limits the liability of the government in respect of any failure to comply with the Bill and provides that no damages or compensation will be available as a result of any such failure.
This type of limitation of liability provision is not typically included in Irish legislation. However, climate change litigation is an emerging trend globally and it appears that the Irish government has included this provision in an attempt to limit damages or compensation that may be payable as a result of such litigation.