On Friday 13 May 2016, European Commissioner for Energy and Climate Change Miguel Arias Cañete met with Taoiseach Enda Kenny TD, Minister for Agriculture, Michael Creed TD and Minister for Climate Change Denis Naughten TD. Mr Arias Cañete spoke on EU’s next steps after the Paris Agreement and renewable energy opportunities for the EU.

The Current state of play:

Yesterday, 24th May 2016, Ireland’s former president, Mary Robinson, was appointed as UN Special Envoy on El Niño and Climate.

Ireland is legally bound by Article 7 of the UNFCCC COP21 Paris Agreement, signed in December 2015, to prepare and submit periodic updates on its national adaptation and mitigation plans in the global effort to keep global warming below 1.5 °C.

There has been no Government Climate Action Plan since 2007.

The new Programme for Government 2016 dedicates an entire chapter to climate action, stating that Ireland will be “repositioned to give global leadership in this area”. The Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act 2016 requires the new Government to produce a National Low Carbon Transition and Mitigation Plan. This is to be Ireland’s first statutory low carbon strategy for the period to 2050. The first National Mitigation Plan will be published within 6 months of the new Government forming and will focus on electricity generation, built environment, transport and agriculture.

The public were invited to submit views on the development of Ireland’s first statutory National Climate Change Adaptation Framework (NAF). The closing date to submit views on the NAF was 20 May 2016.

The current National Adaptation Plan has not been updated since 2012, It is not on a statutory footing and contains no set boundaries or targets. Views were also invited on the National Mitigation Plan in July 2015.

State bodies are obliged by the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act to have regard to the National Adaptation Framework and Mitigation Plan. More information on the climate change policy that will inform the NAF and National Mitigation Plan can be found here.

An article by Philip Lee partner Alice Whittaker published in The Irish Planning Law Digest (Spring 2015) can be found here. The article runs through the accompanying legal and policy framework and should be very helpful to clients looking to learn more about the implications of this significant sea-change in Government legislation and policy.

What’s Happening?

EU Targets

The Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act sets out a National Transition Objective which aims to achieve a “low carbon climate resilient and environmentally sustainable economy by 2050…at the least cost to the national economy and adopt measures that are cost-effective and do not impose an unreasonable burden on the Exchequer”.

  • Ireland is projected to miss its EU greenhouse gas emission reduction targets of 20% below 2005 levels by 2020. EPA projections (see Figure 1) indicate that emissions will be 6 – 11% below 2005 levels by 2020. SEAI projections also indicate that Ireland is set to miss its EU 2020 renewable and energy efficiency targets. These unachieved targets will result in significant fines for the exchequer, and will make the subsequent task of achieving targets even more difficult.

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Sectoral Mitigation Measures

Under the 2016 Act tailored sectoral adaptation measures must be prepared. IBEC and ICTU will be sitting down this summer to discuss the concept of a ‘Just Transition’ and what this means in terms of energy efficiency, job losses, job-transfers and job creation in green sectors of employment. The agricultural industry has also been very proactive, preparing a mitigation plan in January 2015. The Office of Public Works in May 2015 also proactively published a Climate Change Sectoral Adaptation Plan on Flood Risk Management for the period 2015 – 2019.

  • The Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources White Paper on Energy commits to organise a National Energy Forum to maximize and maintain consensus on policy measures required to achieve the energy transition, scheduled for July 2016.

2016 Programme for Government

  • The new government will agree Ireland’s first statutory National Low Carbon Transition and Migration Plan within 6 months.
  • Establish a National Dialogue on Climate Change to ensure engagement with citizens on the decisions made about them. There have been calls from civil society groups for Government to establish a 3 year long Citizen’s Convention on Climate Change.
  • Work with local authorities to improve the carbon footprint of social housing, including the replacement of oil heating with other ‘greener’ fuels.
  • Update the planning guidelines for wind farms within 3 -6 months to incorporate the concerns of local communities, balanced with the need to invest in indigenous energy projects.
  • Increase new forest by up to 8,200 by 2020.
  • €430 million will be provided for flood mitigation initiatives – Spending more on flood relief in the next 5 years than in the last 20. There will also be a voluntary property relocation scheme for those affected by intractable seasonal flooding.
  • A national bioenergy strategy is being planned for Bord na Móna and Moneypoint is to be replaced with low carbon technology.
  • Biomass cultivation is promoted as a key development opportunity
  • €3.6billion of the Capital Plan will be invested in public transport

The Department of the Environment has ‘disappeared’ and its functions split across three departments :

  • The Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, under Minister Simon Coveney, will include housing, planning and water
  • The Department of Communications, Climate Change and Natural Resources, under Minister Denis Naughten, will include climate, energy and pollution
  • The Department of Regional Development, Rural Affairs, Arts and the Gaeltacht, under Minister Heather Humphreys, will include conservation and biodiversity

In other news, vocal climate-sceptic, Donald Trump, has admitted climate change is real in a planning permission application for a sea wall to protect Doonbeg golf course from erosion. Trump’s application includes an environmental-impact statement which notes a wall is required to protect the golf-course from “global warming and its effects”.