Stormont Re-Start (Northern Ireland)

Following acceptance by political parties in Northern Ireland of The New Decade, New Approach Deal, Stormont will re-start after three years.

This means restoration to full operation of all the institutions of the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement, including the Executive, the Assembly, the North South Ministerial Council, the British-Irish Council and the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference.

The following commitments in The New Decade, New Approach Deal are relevant for our purposes –

(1) The Executive will create an Executive Sub-Committee on Brexit.

The sub-committee will be chaired by the First Minister and deputy First Minister (or their nominated Ministerial representatives). The sub-committee will have at least one representative from each party on the Executive. As a matter of urgency the sub-committee will consider Brexit-related issues and will initiate, as soon as is practicable, an assessment of the impact of Brexit on the institutions and North/South and East/West relationships. The work of the sub-committee will be scrutinised by an Assembly Committee.

(2) The Executive will establish a central Translation Hub in the Department of Finance within three months of an agreement, in order to provide language translation services for the 9 Executive Departments, Arm’s Length Bodies, Local Government and Public Bodies.

The Assembly’s Standing Orders will also be amended to allow any person to conduct their business before the Assembly or an Assembly Committee through Irish or Ulster Scots. A simultaneous translation system will be made available in the Assembly to ensure that a person without Irish or Ulster Scots is not placed at a disadvantage.

(3) Representatives from the Northern Ireland Executive will be invited to be part of the UK delegation in any meetings of the UK-EU Specialised Committees or the Joint Committee discussing Northern Ireland specific matters which are also being attended by the Irish Government as part of the European Union’s delegation.

A powerful Joint Committee is established under the (international treaty) EU-UK Withdrawal Agreement to oversee that Agreement (for orderly UK exit from the EU). This Joint Committee will have Specialised Committees.

(4) The UK government will legislate to guarantee unfettered access for Northern Ireland’s businesses to the whole of the UK internal market, and ensure that this legislation is in force for 1 January 2021. The UK government will engage in detail with a restored Executive on measures to protect and strengthen the UK internal market.

The Deal, alongside its two annexes, represents a possible outline of a Programme for Government. The parties agree to publish, within two weeks of the restoration of the institutions, the fuller details of an agreed Programme for Government. The parties recognise that the final Programme for Government will need to be agreed by the parties who form the Executive.

Within its first month of operation, the Executive will publish a legislative programme and indicative timescales which will complement the Programme for Government.

The following are relevant Deal commitments –

(1) The Executive will make its first priority to ensure the best possible Brexit outcome for citizens and the economy, reflecting the priorities set out in the letter of August 2016 from the First Minister and deputy First Minister to the Prime Minister.

(2) The Executive will invest urgently in wastewater infrastructure (the Living With Water Programme) which is at or nearing capacity in many places across Northern Ireland, including in Belfast.

(3) The Executive will tackle climate change with a new Energy Strategy to address the immediate and longer term impacts of climate change, and set targets and actions for transition to a zero carbon society.

The parties agree that, within 3 months, the new Executive will publish a comprehensive timetable for the development and delivery of this and other strategies necessary to achieve the outcomes in the Programme for Government.

(4) The Executive will introduce legislation and targets for reducing carbon emissions in line with the Paris Climate Change Accord.

Specifically, –

* the Executive will bring forward a Climate Change Act

* the Executive will establish an independent Environmental Protection Agency

* the Executive will create a plan to eliminate plastic pollution

* the RHI (Renewable Heat Initiative) will be closed down and replaced by a scheme that cuts carbon emissions.

Please also note the statements made by the Irish Government which also summarises the Brexit supports available to border regions.

The Deal document is here.

Climate Action (Ireland)

On 17 June 2019, the Irish Government published the Climate Action Plan 2019 (CAP), which commits to bring forward a new Climate Action (Amendment) Bill for publication in Q1 2020.

The Climate Action Plan 2019 is here.

The new Bill will amend the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act 2015 and provide for a strengthened statutory framework for continual long-term planning. In due course this legislation will be added to subscribers’ Ireland EHS Legislation Registers & Checklists.

On 19 December 2019, the Irish Government approved the publication of the General Scheme for the Climate Action (Amendment) Bill 2019 (essentially the Heads of Terms of the new Bill).

The General Scheme for the Climate Action (Amendment) Bill 2019 is here.

The Bill aims to enshrine in law the approach outlined in the Climate Action Plan, including:

* Establishing a 2050 emissions reduction target in law (the Government has already backed the adoption of a net-zero target at EU level and says that it will continue to support this level of ambition going forward).

* Making the adoption of 5-year carbon budgets a legal requirement, starting in 2021, the Minister would bring these to the Oireachtas (Legislature) for scrutiny, if rejected they would be revised.

* Strengthening the role of the Climate Action Council in recommending the appropriate climate budget and policies, as well as requiring decarbonisation targets across all sectors, including transport, agriculture, housing and energy. The Council will replace the existing Climate Change Advisory Council that has been widely viewed as under-resourced and too heavily stocked with economists. The proposed Bill would see the Director of Met Éireann join the Council and a limit of two terms for the chairperson.

* Requiring the Government to set a decarbonisation target range for each sector. The Minister with primary responsibility for each sector will be accountable for delivering the relevant actions to meet the sectoral target and for reporting annually on the delivery of their actions and the achievement of sectoral emission targets.

* Giving the Oireachtas a central role in the setting of the carbon budget and overseeing progress to delivery (see above).

* Banning the sale of fossil fuel cars by 2030, the Bill also seeks to stop the granting of NCTs for such vehicles from 2045.

* Establishing that the Climate Action Plan shall be updated annually, with actions in every sector.

Queens Speech (UK)

Exit day is 31st January 2020 – DExEU government department will close on that day

Of relevance (for this Blog) in the Queen’s Speech today are :

(1) the Environment Bill – this will be brought back with alterations

(2) a new Fire safety and Building safety bill or bills

(3) the withdrawal agreement bill and associated Brexit bills

Please look out for further Blog posts when the bill text is published.

European Green Deal (EU)

11 December will see the incoming Commissioner (European Commission) for the Green Deal present a draft of a new environmental law (a new climate EU Law, part of the European Green Deal) to Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) ahead of the 12/13 December Council summit.

European watchers have seen a draft version of the European Green Deal (also known as “Green New Deal”) – it comprises a summary of an early draft proposal – marked “for internal use only” – that was circulated to EU countries’ national representations in Brussels in order to get some feedback. European watchers describe the draft document as more like a shopping list, filled with numerous bullet points stacked under a series of headlines.

First in the list (in the draft European Green Deal document) is Europe’s objective of reaching climate neutrality, to be achieved by a European ‘Climate Law’ enshrining the 2050 climate neutrality objective, to be submitted by March 2020.

The European Commission 2050 long-term strategy is here.

And by October 2020, the draft says, the European Commission “will present a comprehensive plan on how to increase the EU’s greenhouse gas emission reduction target for 2030 to at least 50% and towards 55%”.

The European Commission 2030 climate & energy framework is here.

Credit Euractiv for the text below in italics that gives other details –

Further down, the Commission promises “mainstreaming sustainability” into all policies, by adopting “a green oath: ‘do no harm’”. In practice, Brussels will seek to eliminate “incoherent legislation that reduces the effectiveness in delivering the Green Deal”.

This includes financial aspects with a proposal to “screen and benchmark green budgeting practices” both at EU and national level. An “action plan on green financing” will be submitted in June 2020 in this regard. A review of “state aid guidelines for environment and energy” is also on the agenda.

Other widely-anticipated initiatives include a proposal to revise the Energy Taxation Directive with a view to “align it” with Europe’s climate ambitions. And while the Commission wants to “pursue efforts” to scrap the unanimity rule on taxation, there is no mention of the announced carbon border tax meant to protect industries like steelmaking from dumped Chinese imports.

Under the “zero-emission nobility” heading, the Commission plans to extend the EU’ cap-and-trade scheme for carbon emissions, to the maritime sector and reduce the amount of free pollution credits allocated to airlines.

Brussels will also “assess the possibility of including road transport emissions” in the scheme, a proposal which has long been resisted by environmental groups. And it plans to “withdraw and resubmit” proposals on the Eurovignette directive to charge heavy-duty trucks on European roads, a proposal which is currently stuck with EU member states in the Council of Ministers.

Under the ecosystem and biodiversity preservation heading, the Commission proposes to “review all existing legislation affecting agriculture and forestry to ensure it is in line with renewed climate and biodiversity ambition”.

And under the “farm to fork” strategy, the EU executive intends to adopt “a toolbox for alternatives to pesticides” and reform food information rules “to improve consumers’ information”.

Finally, the Commission aims to review air, water and chemicals legislation with a view to “eliminating all sources of pollution.”

Further Blog posts will be issued in due course on the various matters. Please look out for them.

European Parliament declares Climate Emergency (EU)

Ahead of the UN COP25 Climate Change Conference in Madrid 2-13 December, the European Parliament has today approved a resolution declaring a climate and environmental emergency in Europe and globally.

The adopted resolution will be available here.

The European Parliament also wants the European Commission to ensure that all relevant legislative and budgetary proposals are fully aligned with the objective of limiting global warming to under 1.5 °C.

In a separate resolution, the European Parliament urges the EU to submit its strategy to reach climate neutrality as soon as possible, and by 2050 at the latest, to the UN Convention on Climate Change. This adopted resolution will be available via the above link.

Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) also call on the new European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen to include a 55% reduction target of greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 in the European Green Deal.

In addition, MEPs say that all countries should include emissions from international shipping and aviation in their national contributions plans (NDCs), and they urge the European Commission to propose that the maritime sector be included in the EU’s Emissions Trading System (EUETS).

Note – the European Commission has already proposed the goal of net-zero emissions by 2050, but the European Council has not endorsed it as some Member States are opposed.

Long-term Strategy on Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction (Ireland)

Article 15 of the European Regulation (EU) 2018/1999 on the Governance of the Energy Union and Climate Action requires each Member State to prepare and submit to the Commission a long-term strategy for greenhouse gas emissions reduction with a perspective of at least 30 years.

Ireland has already established a detailed decarbonisation pathway to 2030 in its Climate Action Plan 2019. This will be reflected in Ireland’s final national energy and climate plan (NECP).

As part of the NECP consultation process, the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment sought views on decarbonising beyond 2030.

The Climate Action Plan 2019 puts in place a decarbonisation pathway to 2030 which would be consistent with the adoption of a net zero target in Ireland by 2050. Action 1 under the Plan has also committed to evaluating in detail the changes required to adopt a more ambitious commitment of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, as part of finalising Ireland’s long-term climate strategy by the end of 2019 as per the advice of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the recommendation of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Climate Action.

The Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment is now seeking further views in relation to decarbonisation pathways beyond 2030, including transition options across all key sectors of the economy (energy, buildings, transport, enterprise, waste, agriculture and land-use), on the role of innovative technologies and on socio-economic factors.

Link to Long-term Strategy Consultation Document – here.

Page 5 sets out the ways in which a response may be made. The deadline is 16th December 2019.

Environment Bill (the OEP) (England & UK part)

The Environment Bill creates a new Office for Environmental Protection (OEP), in England (with extension to Northern Ireland), I identified this in an earlier post.

This is necessary because Exiting the EU will leave a gap in governance.

The Bill –

– creates a statutory obligation on the Secretary of State, in exercising functions relating to the OEP, for example when making ministerial appointments to the OEP, to have regard to the independence of the OEP

[a Ministerial Statement will confirm the OEP will be given five year ring fenced indicative budget]

– covers climate change – the earlier exclusion of climate legislation is removed

– could consider in scope the spending of other departments on matters that related to environmental law (this is not however, the same, as the EU’s explicit incorporation of the environment in the policy making of all departments)

– envisages and facilitates (via information sharing) cooperation and mandates consultation (on transboundary areas) with any equivalent ‘devolved environmental body’ that is set up in Scotland and Wales

– extends to Northern Ireland (a Schedule in the Bill covers this) if so mandated by a restored Stormont – the Schedule provides for the Chair of such a NI extension to be selected by the Secretary of State for NI and DAERA (the environment department in NI)

– includes ‘environmental review’ enforcement powers in the Upper Tribunal

The OEP will launch to coincide with the IP (Implementation Period) completion day – 31st Dec 2020.

Scotland and Wales have made no announcements re their own bodies.