Climate Change Bill

In Q4 2009, the Dept Environment published a Framework for the Climate Change Bill 2010 promising a Heads of Bill by Q1 2010. The Oireachtas Joint Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security decided not to wait for that and published a draft bill. This was “published” to members of the press last week, and has been made available to all this week.

There are two significant differences between the Government’s sketch and the Oireachtas’ draft. First, the Oireachtas sets a target for energy efficiency whereas the Government does not. Second, the Oireachtas puts an Taoiseach in charge whereas the Government puts the Minister of the Environment in charge.

Energy efficiency is a means to an end. Setting an energy efficiency target is therefore inappropriate. Greenhouse gas emissions are primarily from agriculture, energy and transport — that is, beyond the control of the Minister of the Environment. It is therefore appropriate to put an Taoiseach in charge.

The Oireachtas’ draft is considerably more detailed and specific than the Government’s sketch (as you would expect). It is long on creating bureaucracy but short on details how emissions would be cut.

Oireachtas and Government agree that the target for greenhouse gas emissions in 2050 is 20% of the 1990 level.

If we run Hermes/IDEM/ISus out to 2025 and extrapolate trends from there, assuming a 2% annual growth of the economy between 2025 and 2050, we find emissions of 49 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2050 — 87% of 1990 levels. 60% is from fossil fuel combustion, and 36% from agriculture.

If we double the rate of decarbonisation of the economy (3.3% for energy, 2.8% for construction, 0.2% for methane, 0.9% for nitrous oxide between 1990 and 2025 in the baseline), 2050 emissions fall to 44% of their 1990 levels.

If we triple the rate, emissions go to 29%. If we quadruple the rate, emissions go to 22%.

Quadrupling the rate of technological progress (broadly defined) is very hard — particularly since Ireland’s baseline rate is rather high compared to other countries.

If we do away with agriculture, 2050 emissions would be 56% of 1990 levels. Doubling the rate of progress in energy and construction would reduce emissions to 17%.

Doubling the rate of technological progress is hard. Methane- and nitrous-free agriculture is not easy either.

It strikes me that 80% emission reduction by 2050 is on the ambitious side.

I would think that it is better to implement realistic policies than to set unrealistic targets.

UPDATE:

He_who_shall_not_be_named pointed out that the Oireachtas draft also has a target for 2020: -30%. We have repeatedly pointed out that the -20% target for that date cannot possibly be met without draconian measures such as a prolonged depression or a ban on cows. -30% is, of course, even more difficult.

26 thoughts on “Climate Change Bill”

  1. Your point about the Taoiseach being in charge is a tad simplistic. Plenty of things are outside of the control of a certain Dept, but they might have responsibility for it. Government depts overlap all the time.

    For example, a road (an area which is now run by Dept of Transport) could be proposed for a sensitive area, but Dept of Environment would have control over it being a heritage site. Similiarly, Dept of Environment do a lot of work on the nitrates directive, even though the primary source of relevant nitrates is agriculture.

    Besides, giving the issue of climate change to the Dept of the Taoiseach isn’t the best idea. Firstly, it’s an already busy department, and I imagine that environmental problems don’t get high priority there. A serious environmental problem would be top of the list in DoEHLG, but not in Taoiseach. Secondly, the Dept of the Taoiseach has little experience and few specialists for environmental issues generally, and climate change specifically.

  2. Greenhouse gas emissions are primarily from agriculture, energy and transport — that is, beyond the control of the Minister of the Environment. It is therefore appropriate to put an Taoiseach in charge.

    This is possibly the stupidest thing ever written on this website.

    (And no, not a Green party member or supporter)

  3. @Richard

    Your analyses would have more credibility if you didn’t participate in well-documented propaganda exercises like Lomborg’s, or have a history of endorsing fringe science and magic bean solutions like Nordhaus’ mythical ‘backstop’.

    As even Chris Green (Green by name but certainly not by nature) accepts, “the backstop assumption essentially assumes away the problem by introducing unspecified carbon-neutral technologies with no assessment of their technological or economic feasibility”.

    Well… quite.

  4. Modern agricultural techniques are unlikely to be sufficient to feed growing populations due to commodity speculation & shortages. The price of potash is just one example of the growing pressure of speculators and governments concerned about food security. The pace of this trend is likely to increase.

    Setting aside ideology, alternative bio-diverse & more efficient methods of food production that can harness current sunlight, whether by technological means or by nurturing naturally productive systems, will be well established by the middle of this century. Regardless of how the Oireachtas commitee derived their arbitrary target, it is likely to be hit inspite of the government’s efforts rather than because of them.

  5. Richard,

    First, the staus of this draft Bill is advisory. I can’t see any of the parties introducing it to the Dail as private members’ legislation, at least not without substantial modification. In the remaining lifetime of the current Dail I’d guess that the opposition parties would prefer to use their private members’ time on matters that might have an immediate resonance with the general public rather than proposing a measure that in essence requires a whole new bureaucratic apparatus, including a whole new department and a new ‘quango’ in the shape of the Commission to advise it.

    Given that the state is supposed to be culling the number of quangos and reducing the numbers of public servants, its hard to get one’s head around exactly what these well-meaning public representatives on the Committee are thinking about. Apart from the exorbitant costs likely to be incurred in establishing this elaborate new bureaucratic structure, I can’t see the line Minister, or his Department, readily conceding that control over climate policy should ceded to the Department of the Taosieach in this way either.

    Secondly, I’d welcome your opinion as a climate economist on whether this sort of legislation is at all wise? As an EU member state we’re already subject to compliance with specific emissions targets and implementation via statutory instruments, yes? How is similar legislation, in Scotland for example, working out in practice? To what extent might this Bill, or indeed the separate legislative initiative of the Dept. of Environment, be construed as a ‘feel good, look good’ political vanity project designed to please environmental NGos and make Ireland look good at international conferences as opposed to a necessary legislative response to fix an urgent problem? Nor do I discern any great upswell of support among the general public for urgent legislation in this area. If recent eurobarometer and other public opinion polls are anything to go by, climate change is hardly their top priority for government action right now.

    Finally, I’m wary about ‘all party consensus’ on matters of this particular kind. In the present case it may be that all party consensus doesn’t stretch any further than the level of ‘groupthink’ established among the individual Committee members – their finance, environment and enterprise/employment spokespersons might have something very different to say about it when they assess its implications, both political and financial.

  6. @Veronica
    Thanks.

    I did not follow the politics in detail. It may be that the committee wanted to take climate change out of the next election, or that they did not trust the department to draft a bill, or they want to stall legislation by creating an alternative bill, or may be we just want to keep up with Brits.

    I agree that the bill is about creating a new bureaucracy rather than about reducing emissions.

    As climate policy will be set in Brussels, it would be better to focus on increasing our influence there. Our ever-rotating civil servants backed up by haphazard analysis are no match for the dedicated specialists of the Commission with their army of consultants.

  7. @Richard,

    For various reasons I’ve been keeping track of proceedings in this Committee for quite some time now. From the howls of complaint from them about being ‘kept in the dark’ about this, that and the other it’s been clear for some time they have a few bones to pick with the Department and its agencies. In this Bill it seems they’ve cobbled together bits and bobs from their respective party policy stances on climate change . For instance, I think the proposal to put the Taoiseach in charge is the brainchild of the Labour Party. Or was it originally the Greens?

    On one level, one might dismiss the draft Bill as rubbish that amounts to no more than political grandstanding by a disgruntled group of politicians who have insulated their discourse on the matter from the real world outside their Committee Room. Given the way today’s news on the fall in emissions was disseminated by the media, the public may soon begin to associate falls in carbon emissions with economic malaise and high levels of unemployment. A view which, if it were to take hold, would hardly further the impetus for legislation designed to impose drastic emission cuts well beyond the targets we are required to achieve under EU allocations.

    Still interested in your views on my question about the international experience of similar legislation, which off-hand I think has been mixed to say the least. But ah, it’s the Bank Holiday weekend and even if it’s a wet one, the cares of this world are due a rest for a couple of days.

  8. @Veronica
    There’s not much experience with this sort of legislation. Countries like the Netherlands and Germany just get on with reducing emissions using existing institutions. The UK has a climate bill which is similar to the one proposed here, but it is too early to say whether that did any good. To date, UK climate policy has had an easy ride because of the impact of Lawson/Thatcher on energy. Labour’s energy and climate policy was by and large rhetorical. The new government has yet to find its feet.

  9. @ Veronica

    For various reasons I’ve been keeping track of proceedings in this Committee for quite some time now.

    Perhaps related to your lobbyist business?

    @ RTol

    Note that this idea is from the Oireachtas Joint Committee.

    I’m not sure that’s the defence you imagine it to be.

  10. @Richard

    How robust do you think Hermes/IDEM/ISus and its assumptions are over this time frame? In your opinion will peak oil (which will likely have occurred within this timeframe) impact on its outcomes?

  11. @ Richard

    The Committee establishes an independent climate change commission on a statutory basis, the government’s bill establishes an independent advisory body in EPA. DoE solution preferable.

    Agree on energy efficiency and disagree on DoE V DT.

    The only point of advantage in the committee’s bill is that it does not reference the 3% annual reduction target from the Programme for Government. This would defeat the whole purpose of the Bill and I understand that it is unlikely to survive in any case.

    So that’s probably 3-0 to DoE Bill.

    @ Verinoca

    This Bill will not impose reduction targets beyond what has been imposed by the EU, or is envisaged in the period to 2050.

    This bill is intended to ensure that climate policy is cost-effective and based on on best available expertise. It is intended to establish the infrastructure of implementation. The two primary reasons for the failure to implement climate policy are: lobbying of special interests against measures that are perceived to have a disproportionate impact on their stakeholders; and the support of these interests by their respective government departments. Horse trading and inertia are all that arise.

    In these instances, legislation has often been postponed indefinitely, eg: carbon taxation, reform of VRT, planning reform etc (see the first national climate change strategy from 2000).

  12. @ Richard

    ps: the rate of emissions from transport, power generation and home heating will be zero by 2050.

    As you know the reduction will not be linear, but lumpy. For example, the closure of moneypoint and its replacement with CCS (ESB’s current plan or a nuclear plant (more realistic?) around 2025 or so will reduce emissions by 4 million tonnes per annum.

  13. Ewi,

    No. It’s related to my academic pursuits, not that it’s any of your business.

    What intrigues me about your comments on this and other sites, usually directed towards any individual whose ‘take’ on the subject matter you take exception to, is your obsession with trying to diminish other people on a personal basis rather than engaging with the argument. It’s a pity, because you might have some good points to make that advance our collective understanding if you set your mind to that, rather than indulging in cheap shots and personal vituperation. The only person you diminish by that tactic, by the way, is yourself.

  14. @jc,

    I see your point, especially about lobbying by vested interests. However, I would include international and nationally based NGOs among the vested interests on environmental issues (and others too!)and they are generally far more skilled and effective at lobbying governments and international institutions, and in media communications, than the best of the rest.

    In any case, such bargaining is part and parcel of our democratic process and it’s up to the politicians, namely the executive who in our majority democracy system take the decisions before they are put to parliament for debate anyway, to make policy choices in the public interest as best they can. In some policy areas, such as banking, it’s obviously desirable that regulation etc. should be kept at arms length from government,but that hardly extends to policies like climate change where we are taking primary direction from the EU.

    Also, I’m not so sure as you are that climate policy is not being implemented. Against all the previous indicators, and sadly, thanks to the depth of our economic downturn, we’re on line to meet our Kyoto targets and although 2020 looks less likely right now, current predictions in respect of any policy area can hardly be relied upon. I’m not convinced either that a whole new layer of bureaucracy is necessary or that ring-fencing the executive from their own responsibility in the climate policy area is either necessary or desirable. That said, there’s food for thought in your argument all the same.

  15. In the US, they went about dealing with AGW in a very bureaucratic manner aswell. The Waxman-Markey bill just kept getting bigger and bigger as they tried to make allowances for all the special pleaders.

    The two major opposing economists in this debate – Weitzmann and Nordhaus (Economist mag) both recommend a straight carbon tax. As Weitzmann says:

    “One can only wish that U.S. political leaders might have the insight to understand and the courage to act upon the breathtakingly-simple market-friendly idea that the right carbon tax could do way more to unleash the decentralized power of greedy, self-seeking American inventive genius on the problem of developing economically-feasible non-carbon-intensive alternative technologies than all of the command-and-control schemes and patchwork subsidies making the rounds in Washington these days.”

    It would seem to be more of the same here – create another needless quango. Why are politicians so reluctant to choose the simple hands off approach? (if that’s not too ‘green’ a question!)

  16. @ Veronica

    I take your points. On the envi NGOs, the putative committee will be as insulated from their influence as they will from the influence of other special interests.

    On implementation, cataclysmic recession is no way to implement climate policy!

    On your last point re a whole new layer of bureaucracy, situating the ccc in the EPA should help, but on the more substantive point I suppose it’s one of those “agree to disagree” situations. From my analysis of the situation a new approach is required.

    I take your point on personalizing the debate also, a trap that I have fallen into more than once on here.

  17. @ RTol

    We have repeatedly pointed out that the -20% target for that date cannot possibly be met without draconian measures such as a prolonged depression

    I think we’re going to get that “draconian measure”, whether we like it or not. I see that RTÉ report that emissions decreased by 8% last year alone:

    http://www.rte.ie/news/2010/1022/environment.html

    30% isn’t looking far-fetched.

    @ Veronica

    I said nothing about “academic pursuits”. I’m referring to your long-running lobbyist business (formerly noted for being BNFL’s lackey in this country) – but thanks for playing.

  18. EWI – the 8% breaks out very unevenly. Most comes from the catastrophic fall in demand from sectors like cement (-38%). Do you see political commitment to take 3 out of every 10 tonnes produced out of the sector which generates 3 out of every 10 tonnes nationally (Agriculture), a sector which declined only marginally in the 2009 numbers? (figures from epa.ie October 22)

    When the government is willing to cut or defer investment in public transport such as rail electrification while keeping scrappage incentives, where’s the likelihood of a significant drawdown in Transport’s 21.1% share, especially since much of the reduction in the short term will be from European nationals taking their cars back where they came from during the boom?

  19. @Richard

    …assuming a 2% annual growth of the economy between 2025 and 2050…

    Scientific rationales won’t be given for figures like this because none exist and of course none can exist.

  20. Now I know why things are so out of screwed up in this country…. we are legislating for flatworld thinking, why stop at blasphomey lads the legislature is our oyster!

    One does be despairing reading these posts on this blog.

  21. @jc

    “On the envi NGOs, the putative committee will be as insulated from their influence as they will from the influence of other special interests.”

    That’s academic, jc, since the legislation as drafted so closely reflects the NGOs’ perspective it might as well have been written by them. The net result of the Irish political class blindly embracing the precepts or agenda of transnational NGOs is to risk an expensive policy failure further down the line. I happen to think that climate policy is too important to be framed in this way.

    I agree that recession is no way to implement climate policy, but my point arose in the context of public acceptability of the regime proposed under this legislation in an environment where the public may have come to associate climate policy with negative economic consequences. The bureaucratic approach taken in this particular draft Bill is fundamentally flawed. We would be better off examining, and understanding, the reasons why previous policy prescriptions, like the 2000 policy, failed to deliver the goods before embarking on an equally ill-thought through alternative.

  22. @ Mark Dowling

    the 8% breaks out very unevenly.

    Yes, I recognise that. But certain people who were using the tactic of scaring people that a recession would ensue if the any attempt were made to tackle emissions now have one less leg to stand on.

    where’s the likelihood of a significant drawdown in Transport’s 21.1% share

    Ten years is a couple of new cars down the line for most people. There are high hopes for getting the oil dependency/carbon footprint of transport greatly reduced in that timeframe through technological advance.

  23. @EWI
    The rate of replacement of cars is slower than you think, as is the rate of technological change in the automotive industry. In 10 years time, most people in Ireland will drive diesels.

  24. Veronica

    Previous policy failures can be traced back to the general failure to apply the National Spatial Strategy which resulted in developer led sprawl, inadequate public transport and associated problems

    The bureaucratic approach is nothing compared with the general pork politic application of policy that has been running wild and uncontrolled (at least until Richard’s favorite politician delivered the recent beefed up planning bill)

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