Climate Change Bill is weak and should be strengthened

Posted on Thursday, 13 January 2011

Social Justice Ireland welcomes Government’s publication of the Climate Change Response Bill 2010.  While some of its proposals are welcome the Bill is weaker than the Government’s Framework Document published in December 2009.  It is weaker than the commitment to legislation contained in the renewed Programme for Government. It is also weaker than what was proposed by the cross-party Oireachtas Committee. Changes have been introduced at the behest of major vested interests with the result that the current draft of the Bill needs to be strengthened if it is to be fit for purpose. Social Justice Ireland believes the Bill should be amended.

Friends of the Earth have published a Bbreifing on the bill and recommend that people contact Senators and TDs with their suggestions on how this Bill should be amended if it is to safeguard the long-term public interest.

Context and background
Over the past number of years many questions have been raised with regard to the appropriateness and reliability of the scientific evidence on climate change. In particular, there have been a number of politicians and academics who have dismissed the available evidence and suggested that the identified effects of global warming are part of the Earth’s natural cycle. In response to this uncertainty the British Government commissioned an independent report to critically examine the available evidence. Nicholas Stern, a former chief economist of the World Bank and the current head of the British Government Economic Service, researched and wrote the report.

Key Findings are the following:

  • Carbon emissions have already pushed up global temperatures by half a degree Celsius
  • If no action is taken on emissions, there is more than a 75 per cent chance of global temperatures rising between two and three degrees Celsius over the next 50 years
  • Rising sea levels could leave 200 million people permanently displaced
  • Up to 40 per cent of species could face extinction
  • There will be more examples of extreme weather patterns
  • Extreme weather could reduce global gross domestic product (GDP) by up to 1 per cent
  • A two to three degrees Celsius rise in temperatures could reduce global GDP by 3 per cent
  • In the worst case scenario global consumption per head would fall 20 per cent
  • To stabilise at manageable levels, emissions would need to stabilise in the next 20 years and fall between 1 per cent and 3 per cent after that. This would cost 1 per cent of GDP

International reports such as those issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC, 2001 and 2007) have provided further details on the international implications of climate change. To complement these, two reports focusing on Ireland have been prepared for the EPA by the Department of Geography at the NUI, Maynooth. (Sweeney et al, 2003; McElwain and Sweeney, 2007). These presented an assessment of the magnitude and likely impacts of climate change in Ireland over the course of the current century.

The 2003 report entitled Climate Change: scenarios & impacts for Ireland predicted the following:

  • Current mean January temperatures in Ireland are predicted to increase by 1.5°C by mid-century with a further increase of 0.5–1.0°C by 2075.
  • By 2055, the extreme south and south-west coasts will have a mean January temperature of 7.5–8.0°C. By then, winter conditions in Northern Ireland and in the north Midlands will be similar to those currently experienced along the south coast.
  • Since temperature is a primary meteorological parameter, secondary parameters such as frost frequency and growing season length and thermal efficiency can be expected to undergo considerable changes over this time interval.
  • July mean temperatures will increase by 2.5°C by 2055 and a further increase of 1.0°C by 2075 can be expected. Mean maximum July temperatures in the order of 22.5°C will prevail generally with areas in the central Midlands experiencing mean maxima of up to 24.5°C.
  • Overall increases of 11 per cent in precipitation are predicted for the winter months of December–February. The greatest increases are suggested for the north-west, where increases of approximately 20 per cent are suggested by mid-century. Little change is indicated for the east coast and in the eastern part of the Central Plain.
  • Marked decreases in rainfall during the summer and early autumn months across eastern and central Ireland are predicted. Nationally, these are of the order of 25 per cent with decreases of over 40 per cent in some parts of the east.

(Sweeney at al, 2003)

Both reports also examine the specific implications of these findings for agriculture, water resources, forestry, sea-levels and eco-systems in Ireland.

A more recent report by the Community Climate Change Consortium for Ireland (2008) published the following key findings:

  • Warming of the climate is to continue, particularly in autumn and winter, and in the South and East. Possible increases of 3 to 4°C are expected towards 2100.
  • Towards the end of the century, autumns and winters will become 15-25 per cent wetter, while summer will become 10-18 per cent drier. As a result stream flows will be reduced in summer and increase in winter, increasing the risk of flooding.
  • An increase in the frequency of very intense cyclones is probable.
  • The seas around Ireland will continue warming at trend – 0.3-0.4°C per decade, except for over the Irish Sea, which will continue to warm by 0.6-0.7°C.
  • Sea levels are rising 3.5cm per decade.
  • Changes in climate may impede the recovery of the ozone layer, bringing the negative health consequences of UV radiation.
  • Demand for heating energy is likely to decline significantly with further warming.

Overall the reports suggest that there are considerable implications of climate change for Ireland and they underscore the necessity to adequately address this issue in the immediate future.

Social Justice Ireland believes the Government’s Climate Change Response Bill should be strengthened to address the weaknesses highlighted by Friends of the Earth and others. These weaknesses are listed here:
·   The Bill is weaker in key respects than the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Climate Change’s cross-party Bill e.g. absence of legally-binding 5-year carbon budgets.
·   There is no provision for five year targets in the Bill. The first target is for 2020, which is too far away to be politically effective.
·   Carbon Budgets, the best way of managing the delivery of emissions targets, and much vaunted by this Government, are completely absent from the Bill.
·   The Framework Document promised the Bill would enshrine emissions reductions of 3% a year until 2020. The published Bill only promises reductions of 2.5% a year.
·   IBEC are mistaken – the 2020 target in this Bill is the same as Ireland’s EU target, not more demanding.
·   The IFA are mistaken – agriculture is not penalised or singled out in any way. The Oireachtas Committee Bill, which has cross-party support, has much stricter targets for agriculture.
·   The independence of the Expert Advisory Body is severely undermined in the published Bill – it can’t even publish its own reports.