No Climate Change Bill (yet)

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There have been strong reactions to the announcement by the Minister of the Environment that he will not be introducing a Climate Change Bill quite yet. See Irish Times (again, and again).

The Irish Examiner has a response by Friends of the Earth: “With seven billion people on Earth, it is more important than ever that we reduce our carbon emissions. Ireland is never going to be the bread basket of the world and we must recognise the profound impacts that climate change will have on food security.” FoE argues at once that Ireland is too small to have an impact on global food supply and so big that is has an impact on the global climate.

(FoE omits that climate change will increase global food supply, at least according to the IPCC, and that biofuels have a negative impact on food production.)

The Irish Times broke the story. The Review of National Climate Policy has yet to be published, so I won’t discuss its contents. It is worrying that the government releases documents to a select few. They then set the public agenda. By the time the public gets access to the document, the news has moved on.

I agree with Minister Hogan that a Climate Change Bill is not a priority. The government has a lot on its plate, including the Department of the Environment — floods, water charges, septic tanks.

Besides, a Climate Change Bill is not required for climate policy. Ireland has had climate policies for many years now, and there is no sign that these policies will be abandoned.

The two draft Bills (discussed here and here) were primarily about creating new bureaucracy and had little to do with emission reduction or adaptation.

Ireland’s emission reduction targets are set by the EU.

UPDATE: The Review of National Climate Policy was published less than an hour after I posted this. It notes that Ireland will probably miss its 2020 targets with current policies, but does not suggest how policy could be reformed. It does not discuss the Climate Change Bill.

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21 Responses to “No Climate Change Bill (yet)”

  1. Paul Hunt Says:

    The Review of National Climate Policy is here:
    http://www.environ.ie/en/Environment/Atmosphere/ClimateChange/ClimatePolicyReview2011/Publications/FileDownLoad,28328,en.pdf

    The economic reality of this EU-driven nonsense seems to be impacting – and not just in Ireland. Most member-states seem to be trying to create some ‘wriggle room’ as thier economies come under severe pressure – and are likely to remain under severe pressure.

  2. Richard Tol Says:

    Thanks, Paul

    It was uploaded less than 30 minutes ago.

  3. EWI Says:

    I agree with Minister Hogan that a Climate Change Bill is not a priority.

    Curious, that. Champagne out for yourself and your comrades at the denialist GWPF then?

  4. EWI Says:

    @ Paul Hunt

    Please let us all in on the exact nature of the “nonsense”. It surely cannot be that global warming is real and happening exactly as predicted, as recently confirmed by a Koch-funded study by denialists – an update that Richard Tol (eager to run here with tales of supposed GW fraud at CRU a ear ago) seems to have neglected to provide the good readers of IrishEconomy with.

  5. EWI Says:

    *year

  6. Ossian Smyth Says:

    So the climate policy review is not full of surprises. We are going to meet our Kyoto targets in 2012 – thanks partly to the recession. We are entering legally binding annual targets on emissions from 2013 onwards. We will start to miss these targets from 2016 onwards with our current policies – these include re-insulating houses, promotion of wind farms, electric car promotion, and so on.

    There is also a discussion of whether the 20% reduction target for 2020 will be made more ambitious and how LULUCF will be treated.

    Conclusion:

    The most cost-effective approach to the mitigation challenge is to identify the least-cost mitigation measures in a sector-neutral manner and implement all of those measures up to a certain marginal cost threshold after which flexibilities would be used. This approach would require mitigation policy to become fully mainstreamed and a primary criterion in decision-making in all sectors.

    I guess the question is how this would work. If the most cost effective emissions reductions are in department X, where is the incentive for dept X to cut those emissions? Would an interdepartmental emissions trading scheme work?

  7. Richard Tol Says:

    @EWI
    As you know, I only discuss matters of climate change that relate to Ireland on this site.

    My (minimal) contribution to the BEST debate is at Climate Etc http://judithcurry.com/2011/10/20/berkeley-surface-temperatures-released/

  8. fergaloh Says:

    Coincidentally the floods and septic tank problems arise from the ignoring planning policies and creating urban sprawl that has left Ireland with a car dependent population poorly served by public transport

    Ireland’s problem is not abandoning policies or having too many, it never implemented them in the first place

  9. Brian Woods Snr Says:

    EWI: There are two separate, but inter-linked issues and unfortunately they are easily mixed up. Sentiment, not logic rules. KO!

    1. Absolute need for the consumption of copious quantities of fossil fuels. If you shrink useage, economies go down in parallel. This is a very simplistic statement.

    2. Copious consumption of fossil fuels result in increased levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide (I’m ignoring other so-called greenhouse gases – they confound the issue). One of the physico-chemical attributes of carbon dioxide is that it ‘traps’ radiant energy. The consequence of a steady increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide for this planet is a very contested discussion: ie. the Global Warming shouting match.

    The substantive issue for us humans, is we will not know the truth/untruth of the GW issue until it happens (too late) or it does not (sighs of relief). There are sufficient examples of mass die-offs to worry some folk.

    The economic issue is about Permagrowth. This paradigm mandates increasing energy use. So unless our only energy source is via photo(whatever)….. from our sun – with very limited use of fossil fuels as a complement, Permagrowth slows, plateaux, then goes down that Senaca Cliff. That’s “goodnight time”.

    Take care we are not approaching one of the limits to Permagrowth. Easter Island is (maybe) an example of the clash of ideological sentiment versus nature. Who ‘won’? If we are ‘lucky’ enough to have a 50yr long decrease in global economic ‘growth’, then we may get some answers. That’s not a experiment that many folk would want to endure.

    Brian Snr.

  10. Paul Hunt Says:

    The “nonsense” is not what the EU Grand Panjandrums hope to achieve, but the way they are going about it. GHG are GHG are GHG but there is no consistency of policy across the sectors emitting them. It is creating a paradise for special interests, lobbyists, subsidy grabbers, regulator capturers and consumers gougers.

    DG ENER recently issued a major energy infrastructure initiative:
    http://ec.europa.eu/energy/infrastructure/strategy/2020_en.htm

    Over €9 billion of taxpayers’ money will be spent in the next EU budget period to part-finance infrastructure projects of ‘Community Interest’ that will help to complete the internal market, improve security of supply and advance the climate change agenda. This marks a move in two contradictory directions. First, it reflects a move away from a reliance on markets by supplanting them in certain areas with multiple government interventions and the use of public funds. It is viewed by some as the ‘end of market innocence’. It is, in fact, the unfortunate outcome of ‘market ignorance’ and will lead, inevitably, to an even worse outcome. But, secondly, it is being matched by an intent to push ahead with the completion of these internal markets in electricity and gas so that they might shoulder some of the burden of the climate change agenda – something which they are totally incapable of doing without adding excessive costs on consumers and economies.

    The EU’s Grand Panjandrum’s are putting great store in this Eurobarometer survey:
    http://ec.europa.eu/energy/studies/doc/20110131_eurobarometer_energy.pdf
    but it is a bit like asking are they in favour of world peace and posperity for all. Of course, a majority of people will say yes, but it is not an informed decision, as there is no indication of the price tag or the trade-offs that arise.

    It beggars belief that the fundamental building block of energy demand and supply is being either ignored or detroyed. Most final consumers and small businesses present a solid, and almost indefinite, commitment to pay for the electricity and gas they consume – and there are generally public transfer schemes to assist vulnerable consumers or those on low incomes. The traditional vertically integrated monopoly industries converted this commitment into an assurance of recovery of the investment in long-lived, specific assets that characterise the electricity and gas industries.

    This consumer commitment still exists, but competing retail suppliers cannot secure it and convert it into the long-term contracts for production, generation and transmission services that providers of finance need to see before they will commit to invest in these facilities. The existence of deep, liquid wholesale markets with trading out along the curves might provide some assurance of investment recovery, but these markets are being rigged and distorted.

    There is a huge demand for infrastructure investment across the EU (and it is being increased to meet the climate change agenda), but providers of finance are reluctant to commit funds or, if they do, only at a very high cost of capital. This is why all sorts of government financing and other interventions are being contemplated.

    The irony is that the commitment of final consumers to pay for electricity and gas services is probably more solid than their willingness and ability as citizens to pay taxes to service sovereign debt. If this commitment were secured the cost of capital for financing energy investments would be below the yield on sovereign debt and consumers and economies would benefit enormously.

    Unfortunately, most economists – and certainly all politicians, policy-makers and regulators – do not see this, even though the capital markets are screaming it at them.

  11. Ossian Smyth Says:

    …need for the consumption of copious quantities of fossil fuels. If you shrink useage, economies go down in parallel.

    Emissions fell in Europe over the past decade yet GDP rose.
    The ratio between emissions & GDP is not fixed (see p21 of this )

  12. Brian Woods Snr Says:

    @OS: Thanks for that link. Need time to read and digest. Have a ‘day job’ and all!!

    My guess is that there is a fundamental thermodynamic link between ‘economic activity’ and energy source (nature and type of, etc.). I did make my statement with a very big qualifier – its a veritable minefield. Emissions are an output of the system. Its the inputs that I am concerned about. Big problem here.

    You have to be most careful when you discuss energy, GDP and money cost and possible returns on investment. The significant – and final arbiter here is, the actual energy unit input. Not all energy sources are the same – like different currencies. Some are good, some are not so good. PH has some interesting commentary on an aspect of this predicament. I’m not up to spec on the finance side of things, but I do know about energy – well, perhaps just enough to know to be careful.

    Brian Snr.

  13. veronica Says:

    No doubt Phil Hogan would wish to honour the commitments for early legislation on climate change that he gave to environmental organisations following his appointment to the environment portfolio. But since those early, heady days of this new government, neither the national nor international economic indicators have improved as might have been anticipated and the future remains highly uncertain. Climate change is thus not a primary order issue in the media or amongst the public and climate change legislation hardly a political priority when there are many other compelling issues absorbing the energies of government.

    In a narrow political sense, Fine Gael is also aware of the impact which the previous government’s support for a Climate Change Bill had on support for Fianna Fail amongst the farming community, and which apparently was a factor in the en masse migration of that vote to Fine Gael in February’s general election. A political strategist of Hogan’s calibre is not blind to the increased volatility of the electorate, and how quickly traditional pockets of support for any party can dissipate. Why irritate whole sections of society with measures they will deem unfair to their interests when it’s not necessary?

    Ministers consistently stand accused of ‘rushing’ legislative measures without adequate consideration of their implications, economic or otherwise. In that context, Phil Hogan’s approach looks commendable. The previous Climate Change Bills were flawed, particularly in their top down, centralised, bureaucratic emphasis as a means of delivering results. Tweaking the previous government’s failed Bill, and reintroducing it, would not necessarily do anything much towards moving Ireland in the direction of achieving its international obligations in this policy area. A properly worked through national legislative framework for climate change is surely more desirable and likely to be successful in achieving its objectives in the long run?

  14. fergaloh Says:

    It’s consistent with the general policy of kicking cans down the road

    His strategy regarding agriculture is to go back to Brussels cap in hand pleading for a special dispensation or maybe leave that to his successor

  15. Paul Hunt Says:

    @Veronica,

    “A properly worked through national legislative framework for climate change is surely more desirable and likely to be successful in achieving its objectives in the long run?”

    I think you’re well aware that the Government will claim that this is precisely what it’s doing. But we all know that the intent is to deliver something that will (1) be dressed up as being compliant with the primary EU legislation, (2) provide the maximum ‘wriggle room’ as it inevitably fails to deliver, (3) ensure tight, top-down, control by the various departments and government bodies and (4) prevent, insofar as it is possible, any politically difficult eruptions in the various sectors affected.

    So we’re going to have this ‘independent assessment’ by the Secretariat of NESC and another of these wonderful ‘publc consultations’. Let me make it clear that I am not alleging any lack of professionalism, integrity or capability on the part of the NESC Secretariat, but how on earth could anyone view them as being independent with the NESC locked into the Dept. of the Taoiseach?

    And as for these ‘public consultations’, they are a total and utter waste of time and effort. Various parties will advance submissions. If they concur with the Government’s proposals, they will get a pat on the head and there’ll be self-congratulations all round at the extent to which a ‘consensus’ has been reached. But if they critique or conflict with the Government line, regardless of the nature or quality of the evidence and analysis presented, they will be simply rejected, ignored or dismissed. Even if some reasons are advanced as to why they were rejected – this is vanishingly rare – there is no opportunity to advance a counter-rebuttal or to contest the pronouncements made. There is no engagement or effective adversarial disputation where some common ground might be secured, conflicting interests balanced and decisions made in the public interest. The Government’s line will be enforced, come what may.

    This is how many policy and most regulatory decisions are made. The same approach is used in the UK and throughout the EU. No attempt whatsoever is made to secure some genuine democratic legitimacy. It is assumed that this is fully secured by having this faux ‘public consultation’ and when government faction TDs are whipped through the lobbies to enact any ensuing legislation.

    It is a total and utter farce and is a major contributing factor to the mess the country is in, but there is no groundswell of popular revulsion that might provoke some reform – and no hint of one surfacing.

  16. Cearbhall O'Dalaigh Says:

    .
    India plans ‘safer’ nuclear plant powered by thorium

    Use of relatively low-carbon, low-radioactivity thorium instead of uranium may be breakthrough in energy generation

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/nov/01/india-thorium-nuclear-plant

    .

  17. Alan Matthews Says:

    The National Climate Policy Review is actually quite a useful document, it is simply misnamed as it has nothing to say about climate policy. Minister Hogan described it as a stocktaking. But it is a stocktaking of where we stand with respect to various climate commitments and targets, both those already signed up to and those which might be coming down the tracks. It is not a stocktaking of the relevance or effectiveness of policies in place or which might be put in place.

    Given this focus and limitation, the document is sober, clear and well-written and makes some useful points. For example, it notes that there is a trade-off between meeting our annual emission targets in the non-ETS sector after 2013 by making use of the flexibility mechanisms allowed and the need to get on to a longer-term trajectory towards a low-carbon economy by 2050. It underlines that the most cost-effective approach to the mitigation challenge is to identify the least-cost measures in a sector-neutral manner and to implement all of those measures up to a certain marginal cost threshold after which flexibilities would be used, while acknowledging that other government priorities may justify deviations from this criterion.

    The document makes clear that we are bound by the 20% target reduction in non-ETS emissions over 2005 levels by 2020. It notes that there is substantial pressure to move to a unilateral increase in the current EU target of an overall reduction of 20% in emissions compared to 1990 to 30% but carefully avoids any commitment to supporting this move. Even more so, it shies away from any commitment to a solo run whereby Ireland would attempt to reduce emissions by more than the EU targets up to 2020.

    Although the Minister has been criticised for backing away from emission reduction targets by not proceeding with a climate change bill at this time, it is probable that his critics’ main ire is drawn by the fact that the bill introduced by the previous Minister contained a higher unilateral 2020 target (a reduction of 29% in total emissions relative to 1990), which sensibly is now dropped.

    The scale of the challenge in meeting the current 20% EU target, particularly in the non-ETS sector dominated by agriculture and transport, should not be underestimated. Much is made of the fact that agriculture and the food sector can be a driver of the necessary and sought-after recovery in economic growth by achieving the output targets set out in the Food Harvest 2020 report.

    If, however, increased agri-food exports imply that Ireland exceeds its EU emissions targets post 2013 and (as one possibility) is forced to purchase emission rights under the flexibility provisions, then that cost must be reflected back to the industry. Not to do so would imply higher taxes and thus job destruction in other sectors of the economy. Time is short to come up with mechanisms on how best to do this.

  18. Paul Hunt Says:

    @Alan Matthews,

    Many thanks for this level-headed antidote to much of the polemic here – and, yes, I’ll put my hands up for contributing to some of it!

    I understand your interest and focus on the agri-food sector, but my sense is that the sectoral allocation of responsibility for emission reductions is totally imbalanced. And the primary cause is that the EU targets are unrealistic and lack effective means of achievement – and are becoming more unrealistic and potentially damaging in the context of the current Euro crisis which will not be resolved anytime soon.

    The EU set these targets to set an example to encourage other major economies to step up to the plate so as to secure a new global deal. Political polarisation means that the US response has been patchy, but other major economies, in particular China, have been pursuing their own approaches.

    It is now time to review and repeal this primary EU legislation and to replace it with something fit for current purposes. There is no pressing moral or pragmatic requirement for the EU to take the lead anymore. Many governments are seeking to secure some ‘wriggle room’ to avoid full compliance with these targets as the price tag is becoming clearer. It would be far better for the Government to advance the case for a review in collaboration with other national governments in an open and transparent manner. I reckon EU voters have had more than enough of dictats from the top-level of the EU and ducking and diving by their own governments seeking to ameliorate the impact of implementation on various sectors while punishing others with less economic power and influence.

  19. Ryano Says:

    @Alan

    “Although the Minister has been criticised for backing away from emission reduction targets by not proceeding with a climate change bill at this time, it is probable that his critics’ main ire is drawn by the fact that the bill introduced by the previous Minister contained a higher unilateral 2020 target (a reduction of 29% in total emissions relative to 1990), which sensibly is now dropped.”

    That is unlikely for two reasons:
    - Proponents of the 2010 Bill (not excepting myself) argued until they were blue in the face that the targets were equivalent to the EU 2020 target and not additional.
    - His critics in the NGO sector would not have been expecting the new government to revive the 2010 Bill in any case.

    The reason for the dismay over the postponement of the legislation is not “backing away from emission reduction targets” (we have legally binding targets already), but backing away from a consensus that legislation is required to ensure that the system is effectively mobilised to meet these targets and to complete the longer-term project of transition to a low-carbon economy.

    Minister Hogan is setting out the view that what we need are good policies and legislation is a secondary issue. This is a perfectly reasonable view but unfortunately experience has shown us that it is incorrect. Our history of policy implementation in this area is not good, and crucially we have no history of policy integration, where policies outside of the climate area are evaluated for their impact on the overall goal of transition to a low-carbon economy.

    If all we need are good policies, and if Minister Hogan is confident that the entire system is already well equipped and willing to implement them, then the need for climate legislation is obviated and there’s no point in promising it at some stage in the future. But if the system has shown itself incapable of responding to the need to implement existing policies and avoiding or mitigating policies that lead to increases in emissions, then legislation must at least as urgent a priority as further policy-making.

  20. Richard Tol Says:

    @Alan
    All agreed. The background report is sound and sober. It does not contain anything new or surprising (for those who pay attention) but it is a very decent overview.

    @Ryano
    The two draft bills were silent about policy. The bills would have created new bureaucracy, but more civil servants does not imply better policy.

  21. Ryano Says:

    @Richard

    The bills would have created new obligations for the existing bureaucracy rather than new bureaucracy or more civil servants. The only additional personnel envisaged by the 2010 Bill was an expert advisory group serviced by the EPA.

    Clearly more civil servants does not imply better policy, but existing civil servants working within a clear legal framework can certainly imply better policy implementation.

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