I thank the committee members for the invitation to talk to them. I am speaking in a personal capacity as the Climate Change Advisory Council has not yet had time to formally consider the draft legislation. When we do so next month, we will write to the committee.
I welcome the ambition and serious commitment to tackle climate change underpinning the Bill. I also welcome the members' deliberations as I feel there are aspects of the Bill that could do with greater clarity.
My comments today are confined to the issues of direct relevance to the work of the council rather than over the range of the Bill.
In singling out particular elements for comment, I am concerned that this important legislation should offer mechanisms that would be practicable to operate and to ensure that, in the detail of the Bill, we do not tie ourselves up in knots or bring about unintended consequences.
I have five key points. On the national targets for climate change, EU legislation is the key framework within which we define our national targets and how we successfully pursue ambitious climate action. While the EU defines our minimum national target, Ireland may choose to set a more ambitious one. I welcome the Government's increased ambition reflected in the Bill.
The EU is planning to raise our ambition as EU citizens for 2030 and to define the 2050 objective for the EU as net zero emissions. The EU legislation could be very helpful to us.
In the separation of policy-making and policy advisory roles, the major strategic decision on the scale of our national climate goals for 2030 and 2050 should be determined by the Oireachtas in legislation. We need a clear and unambiguous definition of the targets for 2030 and 2050. The role of the council is to develop policy advice and carbon budgets within those clear parameters.
The council has recommended a split national target for 2050, net zero emissions of long-lived gases and a separate target for biogenic methane. The targets set by the Oireachtas should be consistent with evolving EU legislation and informed by the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC. The council will then work within that framework.
The carbon budgets which will be adopted by Ireland will have very far-reaching consequences. They should be based on detailed research and analysis that stands up to independent scrutiny. That will require a much better resourced secretariat, and the time to do their work properly.
The expected timeline for development of carbon budgets is not practical, given experience in other jurisdictions which demonstrates the need to mobilise significant resources for the task.
Drawing up carbon budgets requires the use of detailed models to explore the implications of different pathways and policy interventions. A memorandum of understanding guaranteeing the council's access to the necessary skills, expertise and models in Departments, Government agencies and academia should be put in place before Christmas.
In developing the council's advice on carbon budgets, it would be desirable that the Department and other bodies that will have to implement the budgets should participate in the research undertaken by the council to ensure they fully understand the scientific basis for the council's recommendations.
The Bill should seek to identify the general set of principles which shall be taken into account in carbon budgets rather than listing a long list of possible issues, which might or might not be relevant. The list of 25 criteria which the council may or shall have regard to in making its deliberations is lengthy and would make council deliberations very difficult. It could also leave the council's advice exposed to legal challenge.
The council should be required to frame its recommendations taking full account of the legislated national targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, as I have indicated. However, it is essential to retain criterion (e) that would require the council to consider the cost effectiveness of the policies. Its exclusion will make it extremely difficult for the council to make recommendations that were either sensible or workable.
On climate justice, under the Bill one of the criteria the council should take into account is climate justice. The council has advised that climate justice and related issues are very important and these should be addressed in the implementation of mitigation and adaption actions. However, while I believe that the council may make recommendations on this issue, the details of these distributional issues are ultimately for the Oireachtas to consider and resolve. I would be concerned, if the legislation is not carefully drafted, that recommendations by the council could end up in the courts rather than being determined by the Oireachtas.
Regarding adaptation, climate resilience is an essential component of proposed national objectives for 2050. There is a danger that adaptation risks do not receive adequate attention if they are only considered once every five years as part of the adaptation framework rather than being part of the normal process of drawing up plans and climate governance.
On the composition of the council, I welcome the intent of the Bill to ensure a more diverse range of experience and expertise on the council. In addition to any formal qualifications, members need to be people who have qualities of judgment and independence, can make forthright and well-grounded contributions, are open-minded and listen to others. It would also be valuable to have international expertise at the table.
While I acknowledge the Bill's intentions in setting out a list of expertise required of council members, the outcome could be exclusionary in practice. For example, Greta Thunberg probably would not qualify on these criteria for membership. It also makes no reference to expertise in adaptation resilience. A more general formulation in the Bill itself, with more detail possibly fleshed out in the explanatory memorandum, would give some desirable flexibility.
The council needs to be strategic in achieving its statutory functions of advising Government on climate policy and in preparing carbon budgets. There are a number of additional tasks and processes implied in the Bill that, unless carefully considered and sequenced, could overload the council and dilute the impact of its work. I thank members for this opportunity to talk to them.