National Standards Authority of Ireland (Carbon Footprint Labelling) Bill 2021: First Stage

I move:

That leave be grated to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to confer functions on the National Standards Authority of Ireland in relation to promoting the use of standard specifications and standard marks to give information about the carbon footprint of commodities, process and practices.

There is increasing awareness of the need to make informed consumer choices based on the environmental impact of goods, which is their so-called carbon footprint. Some companies have introduced their own labelling systems showing, for example, the quantity of greenhouse gas emitted in the process of manufacturing and shipping parts to consumers. However, a fuller carbon inventory would attempt to itemise all greenhouse gas emissions released for the product's life cycle, from the extraction of raw materials through to its manufacture, distribution, use and eventual disposal.

While many consumers are willing to make more sustainable choices, they face difficulties. Consumers need better information for sustainable purchase choice to become easier. Currently, there are no commonly used or accepted standards on how to calculate or communicate to people a product's carbon footprint.

There is a clear need for independent, verifiable and universal standards and specifications. An understandable carbon footprint label on product packaging can empower people by enabling informed choices to be made and encouraging the purchase of goods with a lower overall environmental impact.

Essentially, with this Bill, we want to make it easier for people to take small steps to help reduce their impact on the environment. People have a strong desire to do that but to incorporate that into their regular shopping habits, people need help. We all have our routines when going to do a shop, whether it is a weekly big shop or multiple shops. We know where the products are and we try to get through it as quickly as possible, but we also want to make more informed choices. If there is something easy and identifiable that we can look for, we may make the choice between, say, three products where the defining factor in our choice is its impact on the environment. Our Bill would do this by giving the consumer such information about the impact of the product they are going to buy, offering them an opportunity to compare and contrast with other products and to choose a sustainable product, should they wish to do so.

It puts the onus on companies to stop flag-flying on climate issues and will expose those which are not doing enough. It will also expose those who are actually making a huge effort, so this should be welcomed by those companies, of which there are a great number, that are making strides in terms of reducing their carbon footprint. However, it will expose the ones which are not, which are using unsustainable practices and which are manufacturing in such a way as to damage the environment and damage the fight against climate chaos.

By putting carbon labelling on products, we are encouraging awareness of the steps we can take to slow climate change in people's everyday lives. No one person or organisation will solve climate change. It is all about incremental changes that we can make every day, and this Bill will empower people to do that.

In the same way that people have nutritional data to manage their health, we need to provide clear carbon data so people can manage their climate impact. Research shows that nutritional labelling reduces consumer intake of calories by almost 7% and there is a clear opportunity to empower people to do the same with their carbon footprint. This needs to be done in conjunction with a wider information campaign on people's carbon footprint and information on the products and processes they use in the environment.

It would be remiss of me not to mention the publication this week of the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Bill 2021. There are elements to it that we have welcomed and it has been strengthened, of that there is no doubt. We in the Labour Party look forward to it coming before the Dáil for further discussion. We believe our standards Bill, although it is a stand-alone Bill, and depending on what way the Government views it, and we hope it will view it in a positive way, is something that can help in the fight for climate justice. We may be incorporating it with the Government’s climate Bill through amendments, so we will keep that option open.

I thank the House for the opportunity to introduce the Bill. We hope it will progress to Second Stage in the not-too-distant future and we can discuss it further.

Is the Bill opposed?

Question put and agreed to.

Since this is a Private Members' Bill, Second Stage must, under Standing Orders, be taken in Private Members' time.

I move: "That the Bill be taken in Private Members' time."

Question put and agreed to.