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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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‘I’m alone’: How I’m finding friends in Italy during the pandemic

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Breaking into a new social circle is tough pretty much anywhere in the world once you get beyond university exchanges and gap years.

In your 30s, people are settled and busy with their own families, established friendships and demanding jobs. Throw in a new culture and language and there’s an extra challenge you have to face.

But face it you must if you’re going to make the most out of life in Italy and especially as, for me it seems, I’m in it for the long haul as I’m marrying an Italian.

READ ALSO: ‘We’re exhausted’: What it’s like planning a wedding in Italy during the pandemic

Finding your own friends and people you can call on is as important as registering with your local town hall and all the other seemingly endless bits of bureaucracy you need to do to live in Italy.

The pandemic has been a test of mental and emotional strength and my wellbeing has undoubtedly taken a hit after months of restrictions, unable to either leave the apartment or not stray very far from it.

And working from home, or ‘Smart Working‘ as the Italians dub it, has only increased my isolation further.

READ ALSO: Not just teaching: The jobs you can do in Italy without speaking Italian

Once Italy opened up again for the summer season, I was ready to get out and live again. But then I felt blocked when the realisation dawned on me: I’m alone. What friends can I call on to go out for a drink or a wander?

So, I was determined to take charge of my social life and finally take the chance to create my own support network.

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

I’m usually outgoing and sociable – and have lived in many places around the world, normally making friends fairly easily.

But after months of being cooped up, I recognised I needed to push myself back out into the world before I became a complete grouch.

I’d got used to this new life of relative solitude, unable to travel to see friends and family, but I knew it was neither healthy nor sustainable for me.

READ ALSO: ‘I’m going crazy’: Why international residents in Europe will travel this summer despite Covid

Another problem was I had no established social life in Italy before. I arrived six months before the pandemic hit and so I’d only just about managed to get going with a job and start receiving invitations to aperitivo nights or a passeggiata.

But with various lockdowns after almost two years here, I’ve been in stasis and I have to start from square one again.

I scoured Facebook for meet-up groups around Bologna, as it’s the bigger of my two closest cities.

That’s another problem you might face if you move to Italy. For whatever reason, by accident or design, you might live in the countryside, which narrows your options even further.

So you have to accept you’ll need to put a bit of extra effort in to see new faces and make connections.

Turns out there are plenty of online groups for meeting new people in my nearest city and, after months of suspended activities, it seems people are coming out their shell again to mingle and enjoy Italy once more.

Friends wanted for frolicking in sunflowers. Photo by Antonino Visalli on Unsplash

I clicked ‘going’ on a Facebook event I found for women in Bologna, called ‘Girl Gone International’. That’s it, once I’ve committed I don’t back out so it was my own insurance to force myself to make the 40-minute journey after work.

We met in the park in the centre of the city for a chat. It was really informal, relaxed and everyone was curious about each other.

The usual social dynamics of new people all together for the first time came into play and I did my usual fretting of whether I spoke too much, asked others too many questions or revealed too much too soon.

Everyone there was intelligent, had interesting jobs and stories of how they’d ended up in Bologna. I found out new restaurant recommendations from long-term residents and tips for hiking spots.

These are the gems you miss out on if you stay in your own bubble.

A few weeks passed in between and I wasn’t very proactive in asking people if they wanted to meet up. Between work, planning a wedding and buying a house, the spirit was willing, but the flesh was too hot and tired.

Another opportunity cropped up though, and I was back in the city on a Friday night, meeting more of the group and getting to know them better over a glass of wine and a plate of Italian bread snacks called taralli.

Turns out I just might have found people I have lots in common with. They love the outdoors, trying new food and do litter clean-ups.

Plastic-hating, nature-loving foodies? Jackpot.

Sometimes, just knowing there are people who are keen to meet up is all you need.

Making true friends takes investment and I expect it’ll be a while yet before I have that person in my life I can call anytime and be fully myself with. Politeness is tiring, after all.

But for now, I’m a little less alone and a bit more me. And after a fairly rocky start to my life in Italy, having something to look forward to, at last, is enough.



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Nadine Lott told ex-partner who later killed her not to ‘threaten’ her, court hears

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Nadine Lott told her former partner not to “threaten” her two weeks before he killed her, the Central Criminal Court has heard.

The jury in the trial of Daniel Murtagh was given transcripts on Tuesday of WhatsApp messages between the accused and his ex-girlfriend in the days and weeks leading up to her death.

In them, the accused asks her if she is “seeing someone from Dublin”. In reply, Ms Lott tells him she is not seeing anyone. Mr Murtagh asks her if there was a “Dublin lad” in her “place” and she tells him to “leave it out”.

She tells him that “nothing is ever going to happen between us again, I want to make that clear.”

In another text from December 5th the accused said: “Nadine I worry about ye, not in love, just don’t slip”.

She replied: “Don’t threaten me either”.

Evidence has previously been given that Mr Murtagh told a motorist that he had “killed my wife because she was with my friend”, just hours after he assaulted her.

John Begley testified last week that he saw a car in a ditch as he was travelling over Bookies Bridge in Laragh on the morning of December 14th and then came across the accused man standing at the side of the road.

“Daniel said to me ‘you don’t know what I’ve done”. I said what did you do. He said ‘I killed my wife’. I didn’t think anything of it. He said it a second time and said he hoped she was not dead. He said ‘she was with my friend’,” said Mr Begley.

Mr Murtagh (34), of Melrose Grove, Bawnogue, Clondalkin, Dublin 22 has pleaded not guilty to murder but guilty to the manslaughter of his 30-year-old ex-partner Ms Lott at her apartment in St Mary’s Court, Arklow, Co Wicklow on December 17th, 2019.

The jury has heard that Ms Lott suffered “severe blunt force trauma” and stab injuries at the hands of her former partner “in a sustained and violent attack” in her Arklow home.

They have heard evidence that the injuries to Ms Lott were so serious that she never regained consciousness and died three days later in St Vincent’s Hospital in Dublin.

An intensive care nurse at the hospital has told the jury that Ms Lott was “completely unrecognisable” and that she had never seen anybody so badly injured. A paramedic who attended to Ms Lott at her home told the jury that the call will “haunt” him for the rest of his career and was one of the most “horrendous scenes” he had ever walked into. The garda who telephoned ambulance control informed them that Ms Lott had been “beaten to a pulp”.

The trial continues before Mr Justice Michael MacGrath and a jury of seven men and five women.

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Five unwritten rules that explain life in Austria

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Adjusting to life in a new country takes time – even more so when navigating unwritten rules of how to act in social and professional situations.

But learning how to live like a local in Austria will not only make it a more pleasant experience, it will also show that you fit in and respect the rules.

To help you further understand Austrian culture, here are five unwritten rules that explain life in Austria.

Always say hello – at least in the countryside

Austrians have a reputation for being direct in their communication, but politeness is also highly valued. 

A prime example is the unwritten rule of saying hello to people – even if you don’t know them.

This applies more in the countryside than in the cities but it’s worth being aware of to avoid making a social faux pas.

According to a Kurier article, failure to greet others will even have you labelled as unfriendly, arrogant or badly educated.

READ MORE: Nine things you might be surprised are actually Austrian

So, if someone is walking towards you, you walk into a bakery (for example) or you see neighbours on the street, then a greeting is expected.

It could be a simple nod of the head, but in most cases it will be “Servus”, “Griaß di” or even “Hallo”.

But don’t try it in a city like Vienna. Saying hello to strangers will just result in funny looks.

Saying hello to someone will show them that you come in peace. Photo by Tom Leishman from Pexels

Always bring food or drink to a social gathering

If invited to a barbecue or dinner party at someone’s house, always take a drink or something to contribute to the meal.

For example, if your host is cooking, offer to bring a salad or a dessert.

If they are taking care of the food then offer to bring a nice bottle of wine or a selection of beers.

If you’re going to a gathering, always bring something – especially if someone tells you it’s not necessary. Photo by Nicole Herrero on Unsplash

And if they are hosting a barbecue, always take your own meat and expect a wide selection of salads and bread that other guests will also bring and share with everyone else.

Not only is this polite, but it will stop other people from talking about you because you violated the unwritten rule.

Don’t expect polite queues at ski lift stations

While Austrian society can be polite in many ways, queueing at ski lift stations in the Alps is a different story.

In fact, it’s a free-for-all and it’s something that both tourists and international residents in Austria have experienced.

REVEALED: What do Austrians think about foreigners?

An Austrian in Tyrol, who asked to remain anonymous, summed it up when he told The Local: “Don’t be civilised and politely queue up at the ski lifts – just push in.”

So, when going skiing in Austria, leave your manners at home, be prepared for others to cut in front of you and get ready to push to the front of the queue.

For a country that loves order and predictability, Austria sure doesn’t know how to queue. Photo by Mael BALLAND on Unsplash

Lateness is not appreciated

People in Austria are generally punctual, like to be on time and expect others to do the same – just like in neighbouring countries Germany and Switzerland.

The unwritten rule applies to both work and social situations, including going out to dinner at a restaurant.

READER QUESTION: Is it legal to drink in public in Austria?

This means if you’re running late it’s polite to call the host and let them know. Likewise if you have a reservation at a restaurant.

However, there is still a limit on how much lateness can be tolerated, with 15 minutes typically the maximum delay before people become annoyed.

Always carry cash

Cash is king in Austria. 

What can I get for this many? Always carry cash in Austria. Photo by Christian Dubovan on Unsplash

It always has been and it probably always will be, with a pre-pandemic study showing that 83 per cent of Austrians preferred paying with cash.

Customers can even expect a grumpy roll of the eyes when trying to pay with cash in some places because it’s so deeply ingrained in the culture.

READ MORE: Why is cash so important to Austrians?

This attitude towards cash is perfectly reflected in the Austrian saying “Nur Bares ist Wahres” (only cash is true) and there are three reasons for this – freedom, anonymity and control. 

Austrians like to have the freedom of not relying on a bank, the anonymity to spend money on whatever they like and control over spending.

For international residents from card-favouring countries like the UK, Ireland and most of Scandinavia, the best way to deal with this is to just get used to carrying cash.



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