The Problem With The Climate Bill

Last week, Minister Eamon Ryan thanked the school strikers for all of our work, which he says has lead up to the version of the climate bill which is now being proposed. The problem with the Irish Government’s newly amended version of the climate bill (more formally known as the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Bill 2021) is that it is a step forward, it is better than what was passed in 2015, and it is better than the previous draft that was released in the Autumn. The problem with the climate bill is that it is better and stronger than what we have right now — and it is still not good enough.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

While this revision of the climate bill does patch a lot of the loopholes from the last incarnation — the language around the climate objective, for example, is much stronger — it is also a far cry from what is needed from Ireland in order for us to live up to the claims of climate “leadership” that some in government are currently crowing. The bill only aims to reach net-zero by 2050, a target which we have explained many times is inadequate, and the bill contains a massive loophole, one which means that the government itself has no obligation to have regard to its own climate policy*. Unlike the first version published in October, this new bill does mention climate justice, but it is defined in such a weak way as to be utterly meaningless. The phrase “in so far as it is practicable to do so” should not be present in the discussion about Ireland, as a rich country, doing its fair share to make sure that further harm is not done to those facing the worst impacts of the climate crisis. The Irish government claims it values the lives of those in the Global South, those in the people’s and areas most affected by the climate crisis, the livelihoods, and the welfare of the most vulnerable populations, but only “in so far as is practicable to do so”.

There is similar vague language used in the bill’s definition of the phrase “just transition”, a defining element of any and all climate legislation — there is a huge need to make sure that workers do not bear the brunt of the transition to a more sustainable society, however, just as with climate justice, the government has made sure to include their get out of jail free card in this definition. Let’s be clear, redefining the language used by the climate movement to fit what you are already doing, is not listening to or meeting the demands of the climate movement. We are not stupid. We see you.

Then there’s the elephant in the room. The ultimate objective of being “climate neutral” by 2050. This is the part of the bill that is being heralded as a massive success — and I understand why. This is a part of the bill that has been significantly strengthened, and by all accounts, it is much, much better than nothing at all. However, for a rich country like Ireland, 2050 is much too late. And net-zero, or to use the language in the bill, “climate neutrality” is simply not good enough. This language allows the government to sound as if they are cutting emissions down to zero, in reality, what they are doing is making sure they offsetting or removing as much greenhouse gas as they emit. Not only is this disingenuous, and scientifically dubious, it also relies heavily on technologies that simply do not exist yet, as well as offsetting and various market mechanisms. On paper, it may look like Ireland is doing what’s needed, but in reality, we are buying indulgences with the promise of going directly to heaven.

So this is the problem with the climate bill: it isn’t good enough. That is a full sentence, no ifs or buts, it isn’t good enough. It is also significantly better than what is in place right now, and that isn’t something we have the liberty to take for granted. The moral dilemma that we are now faced with is this; we can either support something that is light years away from where we need to be right now, from where we needed to be yesterday, because it’s all that’s on the table, or we don’t support it, and we accept that in all likelihood, that means we get nothing at all. I can’t, in good conscience, say that I support this bill. I can’t do that, because, from the perspective of someone who has read the science, who understands the scale of what we’re dealing with, who’s listened to the stories told by people already experiencing the climate crisis every day, this bill is pathetic, it’s infuriating. I can’t explain the frustration of facing the enormous time pressure of the climate crisis, and being faced with either immensely slow progress — almost so slow as to be negligible — and no progress at all, and being asked to choose one option to wholeheartedly support. That is where we are right now.

Here’s where I’m at: pass the bill. It’s not good enough, not even close, but pass it anyway. We’ll do everything we can to make sure as much improvement as possible happens while it goes through the legislative process. The Government shouldn’t expect a pat on the back for this, they shouldn’t expect praise, and they should understand that any attempt to paint themselves as “leaders” for their work here is a joke. But they should pass it anyway. Meanwhile, the climate movement will be here, striking, organizing, online, and, hopefully someday soon, back in the streets, until we get what is needed.

*Read the press release from Friends of the Irish Environment regarding the High Court judgment delivered by Justice Garrett Simons dismissing a Judicial Review brought by Friends of the Irish Environment challenging the inclusion of the Shannon LNG project in the EU Projects of Common Interest list [PCI] here https://www.friendsoftheirishenvironment.org/press-releases/17953-no-obligation-on-government-to-have-regard-to-national-climate-mitigation-plan

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