The Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Bill 2015 (the Bill) was published by the Department of the Environment on 15 January 2015 and is currently before the Dáil. It comprises a framework designed to achieve, by 2050, a low carbon, climate resilient, and environmentally sustainable economy. Two statutory plans, a National Mitigation Plan and a National Adaption Framework, will guide policy in relation to greenhouse gas emission reduction and climate change adaption, with potentially significant consequences for, among others, agriculture, transport, energy, and construction. Key players in those sectors will want to avail of the Bill's public consultation mechanisms to ensure that their particular challenges and opportunities are fully considered by Government and its Departments in making mitigation plans and adaption frameworks.
The National Mitigation Plan will set out national and sectoral measures for the management and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Some political parties and NGOs have expressed their disappointment at the Bill's omission of binding emissions reduction targets. There is scope for their inclusion in the National Mitigation Plan, which the Bill mandates must take into account Ireland's EU law and international obligations; these include a binding emissions reduction of 20% of 2005 emission levels by 2020. In its current form, however, the Bill would leave the Government at liberty to entirely omit reduction targets.
The Bill anticipates the making of adaption policy on a primarily sectoral basis. The National Adaption Framework, will be a Government-approved framework for adaption policies, but policy will be made by select Departments, not the Government, in the form of sectoral adaption plans. Nevertheless, the National Adaption Framework will constrain, both politically and legally, the plans of individual Departments. Food producers, utilities, developers and other businesses critically exposed to the effects of climate change should ensure that their concerns are considered in its preparation.
A deadline of 24 months from the Bill's enactment is provided for the submission by the Minister for the Environment to the Government of the first National Mitigation Plan and National Adaption Framework, with sectoral adaption plans to be prepared subsequently. The preparation of sectoral adaption plans is not constrained by a time limit. The Minister for the Environment must put the National Mitigation Plan and National Adaption Framework out to public consultation for up to two months prior to adoption, affording an opportunity for interested parties to make known their views. Submissions will be similarly invited on sectoral adaption plans.
The Bill also provides for the establishment of a national expert advisory council on climate change (the Expert Advisory Council). The heads of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, Teagasc and the Economic And Social Research Institute will be ex officio members of the Expert Advisory Council. Although further members will be appointed, it is noteworthy that none of the bodies from which ex officio members are derived directly concerns transport or construction, industries specifically mentioned by the Minister for the Environment in his remarks on the Bill's publication.
In summary, the Bill's contribution to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions is composed of tools, not targets. This approach has been criticised, but may proceed from a justifiable desire on the part of the Government for flexibility in pursuing an objective it anticipates will take decades. The key demonstration of its commitment to climate action and low carbon development will be the goals it sets in the short term and the use it makes of the new statutory tools in achieving them.