I am honoured to be here to debate Second Stage of this Bill. This is hugely significant legislation that is central to our programme for Government and is one of our key legislative priorities. I am keen that we pass this Bill in a timely manner in order to allow us to play our part both within the European Union, which is looking to set higher and more ambitious climate targets, and as part of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which will meet in Glasgow this November to commit to higher ambitions. That is what this Bill does, by building on the existing structures, the 2018 Citizens' Assembly report, the 2019 report from the Joint Committee on Climate Action and the climate action plan that came with that. It has been almost nine months since that plan was first introduced in October 2020.
I thank and commend the Senators who engaged in the pre-legislative scrutiny that the Joint Committee on Climate Action undertook on this Bill. I am very grateful for the committee's in-depth review. It was unusual in that the committee went through the draft text of the Bill line by line and word by word. It was not presented with only the heads of the Bill. Those 50 hours of discussion produced a detailed report with 78 recommendations. I was very pleased to be able to take on board the vast majority of those when further refining and developing the Bill, which took some time. That was hugely beneficial and the finalised text of the Bill was approved by the Government on 23 March.
As is right and appropriate on this Stage, I will set out the key provisions of the Bill to help shape the debate.
The Bill sets out a comprehensive and strengthened institutional framework for the governance of climate action by the State in order to realise our national, EU and international climate goals and obligations. The Bill commits us in law to pursuing and achieving a climate resilient and climate neutral economy by no later than 2050 and will drive implementation of a suite of policies to help us achieve that goal. It provides that the State must: prepare five-year carbon budgets covering all of Ireland's greenhouse gas emissions; apportion each five-year carbon budget among key emitting sectors and establish emission ceilings for those sectors; define the key Ministers who will be responsible for achieving emission reductions in those sectors and makes them accountable for doing so; require us to prepare an annual climate action plan that describes the action that every Minister will take to achieve his or her sectoral emission ceilings; and require us to develop a national long-term climate action strategy at least every five years that describes the mitigation and adaptation policies that we put in place towards meeting the next national climate objective.
Recognising the need to accelerate our domestic climate action, the Bill ensures that our efforts are front-loaded and that the first two carbon budgets will provide a 51% reduction in the annual level of greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 relative to a baseline from 2018. This commitment is one of the most ambitious of any developed country, but it is appropriate for us to set that high-level goal because there will be opportunities for our country as well as challenges. The Climate Change Advisory Council, an independent statutory body established under the 2015 Act, will have a crucial role in developing carbon budgets. It is being given additional responsibility to propose such carbon budgets to the Minister.
In everything we do, we will have to ensure effective public participation in all key steps of the process. The Bill provides for extensive consultation on the development of carbon budgets as well as future plans and strategies. The Bill also provides for a greater level of oversight and accountability. The new section 14A provides that the Minister with responsibility for climate action must give a joint committee of the Oireachtas an annual account of compliance with the carbon budget and progress under the climate action plan. Other Ministers must account for progress in their own sectors, with the context of the adopted sectoral emission ceilings ensuring enhanced individual ministerial accountability.
In order to achieve this transformation, we must ensure that there are clear obligations that compel the Government, individual Ministers and public bodies to act. To this end, the Bill imposes specific obligations on the Government as distinct from any relevant body or Minister, all of which are justiciable. It imposes a specific obligation on the State to pursue and achieve the national climate objective and, in that context, obliges the Minister to make and submit to the Government for approval a carbon budget, a sectoral emission ceiling, a climate action plan, a national long-term climate action strategy and a national adaptation framework. Under the new section 3(3), the Minister and the Government will be bound to carry out their respective functions in a manner consistent with the ultimate objectives specified in the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, UNFCCC, and the Paris Agreement. These are specific and far more onerous obligations than were imposed on relevant bodies under section 15 of the 2015 Act.
To this end, the Bill requires Ministers and the Government to perform their functions in a manner consistent with, insofar as practical, the carbon budgets that are in effect. Each Minister is also required to comply in a similar manner with adopted sectoral emission ceilings and relevant plans and strategies. Consistent with this approach, public bodies will have a general obligation to perform their functions, insofar as practical, in a manner consistent with the requirements of the various plans and strategies under the legislation and with furthering the achievement of the national climate objective.
The urgency of addressing climate change, but in an equitable and sustainable way that is informed by science, is at the heart of the Bill. To this end, the Bill sets out key principles that will influence and guide the development of carbon budgets, sectoral emission ceilings and the underpinning plans and strategies so that we ensure that the transition is managed in as fair and just a way as possible and is informed by climate science.
As I mentioned, the new section 3(3) will provide that any function the Minister and Government undertake as part of the Bill must be consistent with the objectives of the UNFCCC and Paris climate agreement, which include the principles of climate justice taking account of more recent inventories and projections at their centre. These are treaties we have signed up to.
The new section 4(8) will provide a further extensive range of key matters to which the Minister and the Government must have regard when preparing and adopting sectoral emissions ceilings, a climate action plan, a national long-term plan of action strategy and a national adaptation framework. This includes the requirement for a just transition, maximising employment opportunities and supporting and protecting persons and communities that may be negatively impacted. It also acknowledges the need to continue to engage and support communities for a just transition.
The Bill provides for the annual update of the climate action plan, which includes measures to inform and promote dialogue with the public regarding the challenges and opportunities in the transition to a climate neutral economy. A new and enduring structure is also being established for the national dialogue on climate action, which will support implementation of these actions. It is important to outline specifically the just transition considerations in the Bill, which were a considerable focus of attention in the Dáil debate. I believe just transition is sufficiently captured in the Bill in its current form.
With regard to amendments agreed in Dáil Éireann, I paid close attention to the views of others inside and outside the Oireachtas following the Bill's publication on 23 March. In particular, I have taken on board how it could be improved to ensure its practical implementation and that it remains effectively robust.
To address concerns regarding possible ambiguity in the interpretation of section 6A(5) regarding the ambition of carbon budgets to 2030, the provision was amended to clarify that the annual emissions recorded for the end of the year 2030 should be 51% less than the annual emissions recorded for the end of the year 2018.
Section 12(1)(a) provides that the Climate Change Advisory Council will present its annual report by 30 October rather than 15 September each year. This is to ensure that reports are based on the final rather than draft version of the EPA emissions inventory for the preceding year.
I introduced amendments to the Electricity (Supply) (Amendment) Act 1954 to increase the ESB's statutory borrowing limit from its current level of €6 billion to €12 billion. This will support the ESB group's efforts to decarbonise the energy sector in Ireland and support the achievement of the climate action plan and the associated 2030 targets. I also included amendments to the Petroleum and Other Minerals Development Act to ensure a statutory ban on future oil and gas exploration. Legislation to end the issuing of new authorisations for offshore petroleum exploration and extraction in Ireland underpin the programme for Government commitments on divestment from oil and gas. These are provided in the new sections 20 and 21.
The Bill strikes the right balance between ambition on our clear climate targets and obligations and a much stronger governance structure to support its delivery. More crucially, it also ensures our transition is managed in a way that is just, fair and leaves no one behind. It is inclusive with more opportunity for public participation. There is commitment for regular dialogue and engagement with the public and a significant role for both Houses of the Oireachtas.
While I am satisfied the Bill is fully fit for purpose, I look forward to actively listening to and discussing with Members their contributions over the coming days and weeks. My officials are available to meet with Senators to discuss any provision of the Bill in advance of Committee Stage. That said, I am equally struck by the need to advance the climate work we critically need to achieve. The Bill is just a starting point to drive a systemic change of direction in our country and will cement a gateway for new opportunities for citizens and local and national government towards delivering a more sustainable healthier planet and society. It will provide new jobs and businesses and will lead to the emergence of an entirely different economy over the next three decades, positioning Ireland to become a leader, rather than the laggard we have been, in the climate change story. Critical to this is recognition that every place and person matters. We should not, and I hope we will not, divide on this issue. It is one that could unite us and give us real strength.