Minister Eamon Ryan has introduced amendments to the climate bill to give the “[environment] minister the ability, through regulation, to designate how carbon budgets are accounted for”.

Today (Friday, July 9) the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Bill 2021 is being discussed in the Seanad.

Last week, the minister said that he intended to accept two amendments to the climate bill brought forward by senators that would allow recognition for carbon removals as part of sectoral targets and carbon budgets.

Senator Tim Lombard, who brought forward one of the amendments, said that this would “give due recognition for the idea of carbon sequestration”, and told Agriland that this is a “game-changer”.

Removals to be accounted for

Today, Minister Ryan said that his tabled amendments follow “reflection and further legal advice from the Attorney General’s office and others” on last week’s amendments that had been agreed.

“The [new] amendments give the minister the ability, through regulation, to designate how the carbon budgets are accounted for and how the removals and the emissions reductions on the sinks are accounted for through this process,” the minister said.

“These amendments amend [those] agreed [in] Committee Stage to provide greater clarity on how the minister will apply the sectoral regulations to regulate evolving accounting mechanisms, having regard to the rules applying in the EU.”

Senator Tim Lombard welcomed the minister’s amendments on foot of those proposed last week; saying that they bring “clarity to how we can work through the ministerial ability to set the removal targets going forward and also how the legislation will work”.

The senator said he received a briefing last night on the amendments – and that he was initially “deeply concerned about where this was going to go”.

However, he is now “very much in favour” of the changes.

‘We should not underestimate the challenge’

“The last week has been an eye-opener for me in terms of the number of phone calls I received from all over the country regarding the real frustration in the agricultural community on how the bill has been put forward in recent months,” the senator said.

“The belief is that a level of engagement is now taking place and that community is beginning to buy into it. That will be the key driver going forward.

“I fully understand the need for the amendment. It gives the power to the minister to work with the legislation to establish that appropriate mechanisms are put in place to ensure we do removals.

“A key element of the debate was that the ability of the farming and agricultural community to account for removals was not considered. A week later, we have that enshrined in legislation, which is an important step forward. We must build on that.”

Senator Victor Boyhan said that the amendment “goes some way towards the issues – but we have a hell of a lot to do”.

Minister Ryan added that “this is a huge opportunity – but we should not underestimate the challenge in terms of land use emissions”.

“There is real potential income for farming as we rewet certain land, as we do agri-forestry and forestry and as we restore peatlands, but there are also real challenges,” he added.

“Our net land use emissions in 2018 came to approximately 4 million tonnes, so the emissions are greater than the sinks from the whole land use sector.

“We can radically change that, and get an income for farming as we do so, but there are also changing factors.

“The land use change and forestry mechanisms, the reduction in forestation we have seen in recent years and the clear-felling of certain forests have meant that we have a whole range of moving parts.

“We have to focus on 2050. The key target is a net-zero economy then. The work we start now in land use and nature-based solutions will really start kicking in over subsequent decades.

“It takes time for forestation to deliver carbon sinks. The curve of emission reductions from bog rehabilitation shoots up in the second decade, but not necessarily in the first.

“These amendments are being proposed to facilitate regulations to provide for that. It does provide opportunities but no one should underestimate the challenges in land use, as well in as other sectors.”