Just transition, along with “many” of the targets, “is an optional extra” in the new climate bill, according to deputy Richard Boyd Barrett.

Speaking in the Dail this week on the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Bill 2021, the People Before Profit TD said that the bill is “littered” with the phrase ‘as far as practicable’.

“It is a constant refrain,” the deputy said. “It is stated that, as far as practicable, we will do this, that and the other.

“If it is not practicable, we will not be doing it. In spite of all the references to climate justice, the single reference that the minister [Eamon Ryan] was forced to put in, which was not included in the first draft in the context of the just transition, is that of ‘as far as practicable’.

“As a result, the just transition is an optional extra. Many of the targets are also optional extras.”

Bill does not front-load just transition enough

Meanwhile, deputy Brendan Howlin also said that the bill “does not front-load the issue of a just transition enough”.

The Labour TD said that public support for the bill can only be achieved if it is ensured that any harm done to individuals and their standard of living can be mitigated.

“No one can be left behind. Nobody can be allowed to endure fuel poverty, loss of employment or disadvantage,” he said.

“In agriculture, the minister must be honest and set out the changes that will be required and the real supports that will be put in place to bring about that achievement in a painless and supported way by our public.

“In essence, what we have now is a destination. It is a set of legally binding targets. We have to fill in that framework now because just as with fixing the economy, the declaration of the goal is one thing; the specifics and how they will impact on our people are quite another.”

Social and environmental policies ‘are not contradictory’

Deputy Barry Cowen read out a letter that he previously sent to the Taoiseach, saying that “not one job has yet been created by just transition funding”, “only €166,000 has been drawn down to date”, and that “the county most impacted by [Bord na Móna and] ESB job losses & economic damage [Offaly] is not prioritised or benefitting as proportionately as it should”.

Deputy Holly Cairns acknowledged during the debate that a carbon tax “is a necessary tool to reduce emissions, but it will only work if there are alternatives in place”.

“We need sustainability and equality to go hand in hand,” the Cork South-West TD said.

“Social and environmental policies are not contradictory – they can and should be complementary. We need progressive and ambitious measures to support low-income households and rural areas.

“Most importantly, we need joined-up thinking. A just transition recognises the supports needed for families and communities, but it also holds polluters to account.

“The majority of global emissions come from large corporations, especially fossil fuel companies. We need a tax regime that targets them rather than ordinary people.”

Deputy Mick Barry added that these taxes “are counter-productive”.

“The idea of carbon taxes on the general population, taxes that will rise year on year up to 2030, is something I oppose,” he said.

“They will rightly be perceived by many as unjust and they have the potential to turn people away from the necessary climate action agenda.”