Vulcan Insight

Ireland commits to legally-binding net-zero emissions targets

25 March 2021

In the past two years Irish greenhouse gas emissions have fallen by 4-6%, but on Tuesday the Government approved the final text of the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Bill, which commits to reducing emissions by at least 7% per year to enable a 51% reduction by 2030 and climate neutrality by 2050.

Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications; and Transport, Eamon Ryan TD, has welcomed the Bill as the most ambitious target-setting initiative in the world. “No country has ever set such an ambitious target […] It’s a challenge beyond compare but one we are going to achieve.”

The European Commission has proposed to raise the EU’s ambition on reducing greenhouse gas emissions to at least 55% below 1990 levels by 2030, which is a substantial increase from the existing 40% target. This Bill will provide a framework for Ireland to meet its international and EU climate change commitments providing for the transition to a “climate-resilient, biodiversity-rich, environmentally-sustainable and climate-neutral economy” for Ireland.

There are a number of innovative measures being introduced as part of the Bill. This Government, and all future Governments, will be obliged to draw up five-year carbon budgets which will outline the total amount of greenhouse gases that may be emitted in the State over those five years. Once the overall carbon budget is agreed, sectoral ceilings will then be decided and corresponding actions for each sector will be outlined in an annual Climate Action Plan.

In an all-of-Government approach, Ministers will be responsible for achieving the legally-binding targets set for their respective areas and will be obliged to report on their performance on an annual basis before an Oireachtas Committee.

The obligations also extend beyond a national level to local levels of Government, whereby local authorities must prepare individual Climate Action Plans which will include both mitigation and adaptation measures to be updated every five years. Local authority development plans must now be aligned with their Climate Action Plan. Public bodies will also be obliged to take account of Climate Action Plans in the performance of their duties.

The Bill also strengthens the role of the Climate Change Advisory Council which will propose the carbon budgets, including sectoral limits to the Minister directly, in line with the Paris Climate Agreement. The Council has also been expanded from 11 to 14 members.

Upon announcement of Government commitments, Irish industry made its own promise. Sixty of Ireland’s largest companies from across all sectors and all at different stages in their decarbonisation journeys announced their own low carbon pledge overseen by Business in the Community Ireland (BITCI).

The initiative requires participating businesses to set emission targets no later than 2024 and to record their entire carbon footprint, both direct and indirect. They will report progress individually, through an annual report or other publicly available document, and collectively through BITCI’s annual low carbon report.

The Bill will now progress through the Houses of the Oireachtas as priority legislation.