Submission on the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Bill 2020. Joan Collins TD, Catherine Connolly TD, Thomas Pringle TD.

Introduction: Climate Justice, and why it should be the basis of the Bill

Before proposing specific amendments, we wish to outline the key issues which underlie them.

For us, the biggest single problem with the Bill is that it does not define ‘climate justice’. Most of the Bill’s other deficiencies flow from this failure.

We believe that the absence of a definition of climate justice is not accidental. We believe it is absent because it is simply not something that the Government is interested in, or committed to; because it is in fact a concept that the Government either cannot

understand, or does not wish to understand. The lack of ambition in the Bill, the absence of compulsion and interim targets, all of these stem from this lack of commitment and

understanding. If legislation can ever be described as lacking passion, then that is how we would describe this Bill. It conveys no sense of the overwhelming urgency of the problem, and no evidence of a desire for a solution which is, above all, just.

So how should we define ‘climate justice’?

Climate justice has three elements.

Firstly. One of the defining features of poverty is almost always having access to a worse environment than those who are richer. As the planet warms, it is those with the least

resources who are usually harmed first and most – and these are the people who have contributed least to global warming.

A recent report for Oxfam estimated that the richest 1% of the world’s population

accounted for over 15% of the cumulative emissions between 1990 and 2015, more than twice the combined emissions of the poorest 50%, at 7%.

n 2015, Chancel and Piketty estimated that, worldwide, the top 10% of emitters contribute about 45% of global emissions annually, while the bottom 50% of emitters contribute about 13%.

Those individuals and societies who have contributed most to global warming must pay to protect poorer individuals and societies from its negative effects, and must also play the biggest part in halting and reversing those effects.

To quote firstly the Malaysia-based Third World Network, and then the

‘People’s Declaration of Cochabamba’, agreed in 2010 at a conference of about 30,000 people from more than 100 countries :

“As the starting point for climate justice, those who are the main cause of climate change must embrace and address their responsibilities”.

“Developed countries, as the main cause of climate change, in assuming their historical responsibility, must recognize and honour their climate debt in all of its

dimensions as the basis for a just, effective, and scientific solution to climate change.”

Secondly, measures to counter global warming due to human activities, and its effects, must decrease inequalities whenever possible, and must never increase them. Even for those who do not see inequality as something to be fought against, in principle and in

general, tackling climate change demands a commitment to increasing equality. Why? We cannot stop global warming, or even slow it enough to avoid catastrophe, without the vast majority of us in richer countries making major changes in how we live. And for most of us to accept those changes, the efforts involved will have to be shared equitably. The working and middle classes in countries like Ireland cannot be expected to make huge efforts to lessen emissions if they feel that society’s richest members are not playing their part, if they can continue to live, and to emit, as before. [These last words are based on those of the economist Thomas Piketty.]

What does this mean in practice? Well, it means that carbon taxes must be progressive, so that the proportion of income due in the tax increases with increasing income and wealth – and hence with increasing emissions. It also means that, when it comes to cutting consumption, it is those who consume the most who must decrease their consumption the most, while those who currently cannot afford to consume enough even to meet their most basic needs,  – must have enough to live fully and in dignity. And there can be no doubt about this: global warming and the other negative effects on the environment caused by humans can only be reversed by decreasing our collective consumption. How many times do we have to be reminded that we cannot pursue infinite growth on a finite planet?

Thirdly, actions to reverse climate change must involve a ‘Just Transition’, so that “those whose livelihoods are jeopardised by the transition to a low-carbon economy are protected, taken care of, remunerated in some way”. Sam Adler Bell (2019) NI 519. {Scottish definition will do nicely for the amendment.]

Proposed Changes to the Bill

In the light of this understanding of climate justice, what are the changes that we wish to see made to see this Bill?

1. The Bill should include a definition of climate justice along the lines of that offered above[i]. In my amendment, I propose my own wordings for the first two elements above. For the last, the ‘just transition’, we believe that the wording of the Scottish Climate Acts can be adopted in full, with one additional point.

Amendment

In Section 3, replace 3 ‘(c) climate justice’ with the following:

(c) ‘climate justice’, which is the concept that those individuals, corporations and societies that have contributed most to the problem of global warming must contribute most to its solution, and which is based on three core principles, as follows,

(i) those individuals, bodies and countries which have contributed most to global warming must pay to protect poorer individuals, bodies and countries from its negative effects, and must also play the biggest part in halting and reversing those anthropogenic climate change;

(ii) measures to counter global warming due to human activities, and its negative effects, must decrease inequalities whenever possible, and must never increase them;

(iii) the move towards net zero Irish greenhouse gas emissions should be a ‘just transition’, meaning that action is taken in a way which

(a)supports environmentally and socially sustainable jobs,

(b)supports low-carbon investment and infrastructure,

(c)develops and maintains social consensus through engagement with workers, trade unions, communities, non-governmental organisations, representatives of the interests of business and industry and such other persons as the Scottish Ministers consider appropriate,

(d)creates decent, fair and high-value work in a way which does not negatively affect the current workforce and overall economy,

(e)contributes to resource efficient and sustainable economic approaches which help to address inequality and poverty, and

(f) assists those whose livelihoods are threatened by the transition to a low-carbon economy to take up other work and to at least maintain their current income levels.

[The wording in italics is taken directly from Section 35C of the Climate Change (Scotland) Act of 2009.]

.

2. The global target for net greenhouse gas emissions is that they reach zero by the year 2050. However, the living standards of the poorest people, i.e. those who are least

responsible for climate change, must rise to acceptable levels, meaning that the poorest countries should be allowed to increase consumption for some time after the richest

nations. Therefore, they should not be expected to reach zero net emissions until after 2050. To achieve the global goal, then, countries like Ireland need to reach zero net

emissions before that year. Accordingly, Ireland must set a more ambitious goal. I propose that we follow the example of the Scottish legislation, and set the target of achieving net zero emissions by the year 2045.

Amendment

In Section 3, replace 3. (1) with:

“3. (1) The State shall achieve the transition to a climate resilient and climate neutral economy by the end of the year 2045 (in this Act referred to as the ‘national 2045 climate objective’).”

3. Throughout the Bill, there is a need to replace the language of possibilities and

aspirations with definite commitment. For example, the word “pursue” in Section 3, 3.(1) should be replaced with “achieve” as the amendment proposed in 2 above. In other cases, the words “must”, “shall” or “will” need to replace the word “may”. We will support the

detailed amendments to be proposed by Climate Case Ireland to address this issue, and the absence of strict accountability in the Bill.

4. The Bill needs to be amended to include a series of specific interim targets. Once again, the Scottish legislation provides an excellent example of the required approach. Scotland’s climate change legislation also includes annual targets for every year to net-zero.

Section 2 of the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009, as amended in 2019, reads as

follows:

(1)The Scottish Ministers must ensure that the net Scottish emissions account for the year—

(a)2020 is at least 56% lower than the baseline,

(b)2030 is at least 75% lower than the baseline, and

(c)2040 is at least 90% lower than the baseline.

(2)In this Act, each target set out in subsection (1) is known as an “interim target”.

A similar section needs to be inserted in the Bill. The formulation of the interim targets must occur before the legislation can be passed.

Similarly, the Bill should be amended to present annual targets for each year from 2021 to 2044. See Section 10 of the Climate Change (Emissions Reduction Targets) (Scotland) Act 2019.

6. Ireland’s current carbon tax regime involves a simple tax on kerosene, marked gas oil, liquid petroleum gas, fuel oil, natural gas and solid fuels. There is no element of progressivity in the tax, and this must be rectified. The Climate Change Bill should include progressivity in carbon taxes as a guiding principle of climate action.

The Minister for Finance stated that the revenue from carbon tax increases in the Budget for 2020 would “be ring-fenced to protect those most exposed to higher fuel and energy costs, to support a just transition for displaced workers and to invest in new climate action”. This was a welcome commitment, but the current legislation should guarantee that such ring-fencing always applies to all revenue from carbon taxes.

Amendment

To Section 3(3), add a new sub-section:

(z) the need for all carbon taxes to be progressive, that is for the proportion of individuals’ income or wealth paid in tax to increase with increasing income and wealth, and for the revenue from such taxes to be spent solely on measures to further climate justice and a just transition.

6. A country’s greenhouse gas emissions are conventionally defined, and measured, as the mass of gases produced within that country. However, as noted by Chancel and Piketty (2015), a key limitation of these “production-base (or territorial) emissions” is that they “relate to all CO2e emitted on a given territory: emissions attributed to China take into account all emissions which were produced in China, even if these emissions were used to produce goods or services consumed elsewhere in the world. It is then misleading to only focus on production-base emissions and one should also look at “consumption-based emission”: emissions attributed to countries or individuals on the basis of what they really consume.””

As Chancel and Piketty (and other authors) have argued, this method allows for a better assessment of the contribution of individual countries to climate change. For example, Chancel and Piketty show that average global emissions were 6.2 tonnes of Carbon Dioxide Equivalent per capita in 2013. Using ‘production base’ emissions, the average for Western Europe was 9, but for ‘consumption-based’ emissions, as calculated by Chancel and Piketty, it was 13.1, representing a 46% higher per capita emission rate[ii]. If one assumes that the true per capita emissions of all Western European countries are higher by a similar percentage than the production-base figures, it can be estimated that Ireland’s per capita greenhouse gas emissions in 2017 were 19.4 rather than 13.3 tonnes of Carbon Dioxide Equivalent reported by the EPA (https://www.cso.ie/en/releasesandpublications/ep/p-eii/eii19/greenhousegasesandclimatechange/).

Adoption of the amendment proposed here would need to be accompanied by a directive to the Environmental Protection Agency to immediately formulate appropriate methods for the realistic estimation of ‘consumption-based’ emissions for the State.

Amendment

In Section 2(b), replace

“ ‘emissions’ means, in relation to greenhouse gases, emissions of those gases into the earth’s atmosphere attributable to industrial, agricultural, energy, or other anthropogenic activities, in the State;”

with

“ ‘emissions’ means, in relation to greenhouse gases, emissions of those gases into the earth’s atmosphere attributable to the consumption of products or utilisation of services or other anthropogenic activities in the State;”.

7. Because the principles of climate justice dictate that there is a need for the State to reach net zero emissions as quickly as possible, the Bill should preclude the possibility that any part of the carbon budget be ‘carried forward’ from period to period; this possibility is allowed for in the Bill as presented.

Amendment

Change Section 6D(4) to read:

Where the total greenhouse gas emissions during a preceding budget period are less than the carbon budget for that period, the Minister may not revise the carbon budget for the current budget period so that the surplus from the preceding period is carried forward.

8. A just transition is best achieved through the ‘solidarity economy’, meaning through initiatives controlled and owned by local communities. For example, there is a body of research which shows that a community is much more supportive of renewable energy production if they have a stake in it. And the Western Development Commission has shown demonstrated that community-owned energy initiatives have greater economic multiplier effects than externally-owned projects.

Therefore, there needs to be a concerted effort to encourage and help communities to become more self-sufficient with regard to energy production and conservation. In particular, the State should be making a huge effort to promote and support community initiatives in relation to:

  • Energy production
  • District heating
  • Energy-efficiency measures (the pioneers in this sector in Ireland were community-based organisations).

Section 14A deals with ‘local authority climate action plans’. In Denmark, local authorities are mandated to include in such plans positive steps to foster the production and consumption of renewable energy, and to support communities to set up renewable energy co-operatives. This legislation should include similar responsibility for local authorities. Similar arguments apply in relation to local reuse and recycling initiatives[iii].

Amendment

Section 14A, add new subsection (3)(e):

(e) the importance of the local authority acting to foster the production and consumption of renewable energy, and the resuse and recycling of goods and materials, by supporting communities to set up local sustainable development co-operatives.


 

 

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