Just Transition (Worker and Community Environmental Rights) Bill 2021: First Stage

I move:

That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to provide for the establishment of a body to be known as An Coimisiún Náisiúnta um Thrasdul Cóir or, in the English language, the National Just Transition Commission to oversee the bringing together of workers, communities, employers and government in social dialogue to drive the plans, policies and investments needed for a fair transformation to a low-carbon economy; to require the preparation, by certain prescribed bodies, of just transition plans; to provide for the conferral of other functions on the said body; to amend the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act 2015 (as amended by the 2021 Act); and to provide for related matters.

I am pleased that my first contribution today and in this term is on such an important issue as dealing with the climate crisis and making sure we have a just transition in doing so. When we talk about just transition, there is confusion over what it means. It is quite a technical term. What do we mean? Just transition means those people, workers and communities who may face significant changes to their lives as a result of the need to move to a zero-carbon society are supported in making those changes. It means a fair deal for workers, farmers and communities, and it means protecting their rights. We really cannot have a successful transition without buy-in from workers, farmers and urban and rural communities. They must feel secure and supported as things around us change.

We all know we have significant changes to make. We all know we have major targets to meet. There is general acceptance that we will strive to do our best to meet those targets. However, the question of how we meet them is fundamental. We must meet them in a fair and just manner. This must be driven by the Government.

My Bill today seeks to ensure that happens. It puts in place a just transition commission, similar to the Workplace Relations Commission, to bring together workers, communities, employers and the Government into a social dialogue that will drive climate action plans, mitigation plans, adaptation plans, and policies and investments that are needed for a quick, fair and just transition to a zero-carbon economy.

Crucially, this Bill also amends the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act 2015 to include for the first time in Irish legislation a definition of just transition and its principles. Unfortunately, this was left out of the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Act 2021 earlier this year. It is a fundamental piece of the information that people need and it needs to be a fundamental piece of the legislation we put in place to ensure a just transition.

The Government has so far failed to put in place just transition mechanisms to protect our most vulnerable workers. The remit of the current just transition commissioner is limited to one geographical area only and one sector and he does not have statutory powers to carry out his work. That is despite the promises made in the programme for Government to place a just transition commission on a statutory footing. While the Government talks about just transition and often uses it as a buzzword and as a type of branding, its actions, unfortunately, are not seeing that through.

There is no reason the Government should oppose the progression of this Bill. It will be familiar to some members of the Government because the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, in his previous role as Deputy introduced this legislation in 2018. He sought progress on this to Committee Stage before the Dáil fell. In his own Dáil contribution on the Bill he said he hoped there would be "a recognition from Government that this Bill is a piece of the architecture that fits in critically within the all-of-Government climate action plan". I agree with him that this is a critical piece of the architecture. That all-of-government climate action plan is coming and I hear it will be with us in a few weeks. Not only is this crucial piece of architecture essential for workers' rights, but the success of climate change action depends on the success of a just transition and the incorporation of this into that work. Embedding this structure into our response is a priority. If the Green Party members were serious about this in 2018, they should be as serious if not more so about supporting this legislation now.

We often talk about the climate challenge. It will be a challenge to meet our targets and to make the changes that we need to make in our lives, but we need to start refocusing because there could potentially be a huge climate opportunity. The climate challenge will give us the time and the space to rebalance our lives and our society, to start focusing on what is important to us and to start living more sustainably. This opportunity will only be met if we do it in a just and fair way, and this just transition Bill is a key element of doing that. I thank the House.

I thank Deputy Whitmore. 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.