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Revised climate Bill is a step forward but now comes the hard part

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The revised draft of the climate action Bill published by the Government this week goes a long way to addressing weaknesses in a previous draft published last autumn. It is not perfect – no legislation is. There is an opportunity to strengthen some of the language during its passage through the legislative process. But it is also important that the Bill be enacted soon.

There are a number of notable improvements in the new draft. The language around the 2050 climate target has been strengthened. The Bill includes the programme for government commitment of a 51 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 by specifying that the first two carbon budgets recommended by the Climate Change Advisory Council must provide for this level of reduction. In theory the Government could deviate from this recommendation, but to do so it would have to ignore both the advisory council’s advice and its own core programme for government commitment, which seems utterly implausible.

There is a welcome inclusion of biodiversity in the new text. There is also new language on climate justice and just transition. Some of these provisions could be stronger and the legislative process will provide an opportunity to strengthen this language. The nomination of Patricia King, general secretary of ICTU, to the revamped Climate Change Advisory Council will also help to enhance the belated focus on just transition.

For some the main purpose of a climate law is to provide an appropriate yardstick against which to measure government (in)action

Much of the commentary on the Bill has centred on its level of ambition. Some view it as not doing enough, others that it sets extremely challenging targets that may not be achievable. It is perfectly possible to hold both of these views at once: that the Bill is both very challenging and not enough.

There is strong evidence to support the position that 51 per cent emissions reduction by 2030 isn’t enough. According to the United Nations environment programme, global greenhouse gas emissions need to be cut by 7.6 per cent every year this decade to stay below the Paris agreement limit of 1.5°C. As a wealthy country that has failed to do its fair share to date, there is a compelling argument that Ireland should go further than this.

Steep trajectory

On the other hand, no country has enshrined in law as steep a decarbonisation trajectory over one decade as is provided for in the climate Bill. Of course, part of the reason the planned trajectory for the next decade is so steep is because Ireland has done so little to address climate change to date.

The level of ambition – as expressed in legally-enshrined targets – has important implications for the functioning of the system envisaged by the climate Bill, but this depends how we understand the purpose of the climate Bill.

For some – particularly those who simply do not trust government to deliver on climate-action targets – the main purpose of a climate law is to provide an appropriate yardstick against which to measure government (in)action and to punish failed delivery on climate targets. Viewed from this perspective, targets should be set purely in line with climate science, regardless of how achievable those targets are considered to be.

An alternative way to view the climate Bill is as a framework that enables government and society to undertake meaningful climate action

According to this view, legal accountability provides a mechanism to force a recalcitrant government to mend its ways. But there is a limit to what litigation can deliver. It can certainly be used to compel government to write better climate plans. This was the case last year, when the Supreme Court quashed the 2017 national mitigation plan. It is less likely that litigation can be used successfully to force a recalcitrant government to actually implement climate policies, particularly if these are politically unpopular.

There is nothing sacrosanct about the law. Compliance with legal obligations, and with court judgments, is ultimately a political decision for any government. If the political cost of compliance is judged to be greater than the political cost of non-compliance, a government will most likely opt for non-compliance. Precise obligations enshrined in law raise the political cost of non-compliance, but they are unlikely by themselves to ensure that targets will be met, or that effective remedy will be available in case of non-compliance.

Framework

An alternative way to view the climate Bill is as a framework that enables government and society to undertake meaningful climate action. This perspective presupposes a belief that there is at least some chance of meaningful climate action. From this starting point, the level of ambition enshrined in law becomes a balancing act between what climate science dictates and what our understanding of prevailing political, institutional and societal constraints will permit.

From this perspective, there is an inherent danger in setting climate targets that are widely considered to be unachievable. If the governance system established under climate legislation is asked to bear the weight of targets that the system believes to be completely unachievable, then the system itself may break down because policymakers won’t take it seriously.

When it comes to climate the best time to start was decades ago. The second-best time to start is now

This line of reasoning runs a significant risk of becoming enslaved to the status quo. Additionally, our collective understanding of what is politically and societally feasible is not fixed. One solution to this challenge is to set “stretch targets” that are somewhat – but not entirely – beyond what we collectively believe to be achievable.

The most important thing now is for the Government – and society – to get on with the business of delivering decarbonisation. The 2015 climate act was eight years, and two governments, in the making. We are now nine months into the lifetime of the Government. There is an opportunity to strengthen some of the Bill’s language as it passes through the legislative process, but it is also important that it be enacted soon.

Time is not on our side. When it comes to climate the best time to start was decades ago. The second-best time to start is now.

Dr Diarmuid Torney is an associate professor in the School of Law and Government at Dublin City University

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The drama behind the Anglo-Irish Treaty

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On December 6th 1921 a document was signed that would shape Ireland for at least a century.

Throughout October, November and early December of 1921, tense negotiations on the future of the island took place in London after years of conflict.

The Irish team, led by Arthur Griffith and Michael Collins, were untrained and badly prepared. They lacked clear instructions or guidance and had no agreed counter-proposals prepared. They were not even a united team.

They also faced some serious British political talent, including the prime minister Lloyd George and future prime minister Winston Churchill.

In the early hours of the 6th of December 1921, the talks reached a dramatic climax at Number 10 Downing Street.

With the British under increasing pressure to get a deal done, an ultimatum was issued: sign or face war again.

The Anglo-Irish Treaty was signed. Its aim was to bring the curtain down on the war in Ireland and while it did mark the end of the War of Independence, it sparked another conflict almost immediately – the Civil War.

It also set the scene for the partition of Ireland with the devastating consequences that was to have half a century on from the signing of the Treaty.

Countless books, plays and even a Hollywood film have been made about the Treaty but what is it legacy and why is it an important story to tell?

Playwright Colin Murphy, historian Micheal O Fathartaigh, author Gretchen Friemann and Irish Times journalist Ronan McGreevy talk to In The News about the Treaty, the negotiations and the impact the document has had on Irish history.

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Lewis Hamilton wins chaotic Saudi GP to draw level with Max Verstappen

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After chaos, needle, misunderstanding and some absolutely uncompromising racing, it took a cool head to prevail and Lewis Hamilton duly delivered, his win at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix ensuring there is now nothing in it going into the Formula One season finale.

Beating title rival Max Verstappen into second, the pair are now level on points after a race of complexity and confusion fitting perhaps in a season that has been impossible to predict. The two protagonists endured an ill-tempered race and both left with differing views, Hamilton accusing his rival of being dangerous and Verstappen aggrieved. What it made clear is that neither will leave anything on the table next week in Abu Dhabi.

The investigations and debriefs will go on long into the night after this staccato affair interrupted by red flags, safety cars and the two leaders clashing repeatedly on track but ultimately and crucially for his title hopes it was an exhausted Hamilton who came out on top.

Hamilton had gone into the race trailing Verstappen by eight points, they are now level. The lead has changed hands five times during this enthralling season, which has ebbed and flowed between them but of course Hamilton has experience in tense showdowns, pipped to his first title in the last race of 2007 and then sealing it in a nail-biting showdown in Brazil a year later.

Verstappen is in his first title fight but has shown no indication of being intimidated, instead eagerly grasping his chance to finally compete and he still has it all to play for despite his clear disappointment at the result at the Jeddah circuit.

Hamilton admitted how hard the race been. “I’ve been racing a long time and that was incredibly tough,” he said. “I tried to be as sensible and tough as I could be and with all my experience just keeping the car on the track and staying clean. It was difficult. We had all sorts of things thrown at us.”

Hamilton’s race engineer Peter Bonnington credited his man with how he had handled it, noting: “It was the cool head that won out”. It was a necessary skill beyond that of wrestling with this tricky, high speed circuit, given the incidents that defined the race as it swung between the two rivals.

Hamilton held his lead from pole but an early red flag due to a crash left Verstappen out front when Red Bull had opted not to pit under a safety car. Thus far at least it was fairly straightforward.

When racing resumed from a standing start Hamilton, off like a bullet, had the lead into turn one but Verstappen went wide and cut the corner of two to emerge in front. Esteban Ocon took advantage to sneak into second only for the race to be stopped again immediately after several cars crashed in the midfield.

With the race stopped, the FIA race director, Michael Masi, offered Red Bull the chance for Verstappen to be dropped to third behind Hamilton because of the incident, rather than involving the stewards. In unprecedented scenes of negotiations with Masi, Red Bull accepted the offer, conceding Verstappen had to give up the place, with the order now Ocon, Hamilton.

Verstappen launched brilliantly at the restart, dove up the inside to take the lead, while Hamilton swiftly passed Ocon a lap later to move to second.

The front two immediately pulled away with Hamilton sticking to Verstappen’s tail, ferociously quick as they matched one another’s times. Repeated periods of the virtual safety car ensued to deal with debris littering the track and when racing began again on lap 37, Hamilton attempted to pass and was marginally ahead through turn one as both went off but Verstappen held the lead, lighting the touchpaper for the flashpoint.

Verstappen was told by his team to give the place back to Hamilton but when Verstappen slowed apparently looking to do so, Hamilton hit the rear of the Red Bull, damaging his front wing. Mercedes said they were unaware Verstappen was going to slow and the team had not informed Hamilton, who did not know what Verstappen was doing. Hamilton was furious, accusing Verstappen of brake-testing him. Both drivers are under investigation by the stewards for the incident and penalties may yet be applied.

Verstappen then did let Hamilton through but immediately shot back up to retake the lead but in doing so went off the track. He was then given a five-second penalty for leaving the track and gaining an advantage and a lap later Verstappen once more let his rival through, concerned he had not done so sufficiently on the previous lap. After all the chaos, Hamilton finally led and Verstappen’s tyres were wearing, unable to catch the leader who went on to secure a remarkable victory.

It was all too much for Verstappen who left the podium ceremony immediately the anthems concluded. “This sport is more about penalties than racing and for me this is not Formula One,” he said “A lot of things happened, which I don’t fully agree with.”

Both teams had diverging viewpoints on the incidents but both must now look forward. After 21 highly competitive races, the last a febrile, unpredictable drama, the season will be decided in a one-off shootout where both drivers have without doubt earned their place but just when the respect between them appears at its lowest ebb. – Guardian

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Covid testing rules for all arrivals into State come into force

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New Covid testing rules for travellers arriving into the State have come into force today.

At the start of the week the Government announced that all incoming travellers except those travelling from Northern Ireland will have to present a negative test result in order to enter the country irrespective of the vaccination status.

The move came in response to concerns about the spread of the Omicron variant of Covid-19.

The test requirements were due to be introduced from midnight on Thursday. However the system was postponed at the last minute to midnight on Sunday in order to allow airlines prepare for checks.

For those with proof of vaccination they can show a negative professionally administered antigen test carried out no more than 48 hours before arrrival or a PCR test taken within 72 hours before arrival. Those who are unvaccinated must show a negative PCR test result.

Ryanair’s Michael O’Leary had described the move as “nonsense” and “gobbledygook”.

Meanwhile more than 150 passengers have departed Morocco for Ireland on a repatriation flight organised by the Government.

The 156 passengers on the flight from Marrakech to Dublin included Irish citizens as well as citizens of several other EU countries and the UK.

The journey was organised after flights to and from Morocco were suspended earlier this week until at least December 13th, amid fears over the spread of the new Omicron Covid-19 variant.

The repatriation flight on Saturday was operated on behalf of the Government by Ryanair.

Responding to news of the flight’s departure, Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney hailed the efforts of the Irish Embassy in Rabat in the operation, tweeting: “Well done and thank you!”.

On Saturday the number of Covid patients in hospital has fallen to 487, the lowest level in almost four weeks, the latest official figures show. The number of Covid patients in hospital fell by 41 between Friday and Saturday. There were 5,622 further cases of Covid-19 reported on Saturday.

Tweeting about the latest hospital figures on Saturday, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said the “plan is working – 3rd doses, masks, test & isolate, physical distancing. Thank you for what you are doing. Please don’t lose heart. Let’s all have a safe Christmas.”

The figures come as the Government on Friday announced its most wide-ranging introduction of new restrictions this year after “stark” warnings from the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) to take immediate action in the face of the threat from the Omicron variant.

From Tuesday until at least January 9th, indoor hospitality will be limited to parties of up to six adults per table, while nightclubs will be closed and indoor events limited to half a venue’s capacity. Advice has been issued that households should not host more than three other households in their home, while the use of the vaccine pass is to be extended to gyms and hotel bars and restaurants.

Trinity College immunologist Prof Luke O’Neill said the main reason for the new restrictions was the new Omicron variant, and he thought they were needed as the “next three to four weeks are going to be tough”. Speaking to Brendan O’Connor on RTÉ radio, he said it was “strange” that restrictions were being introduced when things are stabilising, with the lowest hospital numbers since November 6th.

Prof O’Neill said he was “hopeful” at news that the Omicron variant may have a piece of the common cold virus in it which could make it more like the common cold.

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