Bill from Senator Alice-Mary Higgins would give Coillte and Bord na Móna a “Mandate for Nature”

Alice Mary Higgins Climate Action And Biodiversity Bill
Alice Mary Higgins Climate Action And Biodiversity Bill

The Bill from Independent Senator Alice-Mary Higgins and her colleagues in the Seanad Civil Engagement Group would amend the Turf Development Act 1946 and the Forestry Act 1988 to change the outdated mandates of Bord na Móna and Coillte and insert new language on climate action and biodiversity.

In the case of Bord na Móna, this would strengthen the protection and restoration of bogs and in the case of Coillte the development and protection of native woodlands.

Speaking ahead of the debate, Senator Higgins said: “My Bill seeks to amend the outdated mandates of Coillte and Bord na Móna, which are currently framed in narrow commercial terms, when we know they can, and should, also be playing a powerful transformative role in the achievement of our national biodiversity and climate action goals.”

“Both organisations are responsible for a huge amount of the lands, bogs, waters and soils of our country, with Coillte alone controlling 7% of land in the Irish state. Managing that land in a way that genuinely prioritises and delivers for biodiversity and climate action would be a major step forward. It would also reflect recommendations from the Citizen’s Assembly on Biodiversity and specific commitments in the Programme for Government to update the remit and objectives of Coillte and Bord na Móna”.

While public sector bodies are subject to the Public Sector Climate Action Mandate, which requires a 51% reduction in emissions by 2030 under Irish law, semi-state companies are currently not. That is why getting the legal mandates right is so important

Senator Higgins concluded.: “By going to the heart of the legal mandates underpinning Coillte and Bord na Móna, this Bill empowers and requires those bodies to act in the best public interest, the best interests of our environment and the best interests of our collective future. Our Bill also ensures just transition for workers and communities is properly reflected within Bord na Móna’s objectives.”

The Bill, which is being supported by a wide range of NGOs including the Irish Environmental Network, will be debated at second stage in the Seanad at 6:30 PM on Tuesday 16th May.

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Senator Alice-Mary Higgins speaking at the conclusion of the Climate Bill Debate

As the stark facts of the IPCC report are underscored by fires and floods across the world. I’m sharing my thoughts on the Climate Bill and how Ireland must and can do better on Climate Action. Immediate actions should include a moratorium on data centres, exit from Energy Charter Treaty, a ban on LNG terminals and leadership re global ban on fracking and #2050istoolate.

Ireland is starting late on climate action and it should be starting stronger. Here are some important challenges, gaps and concerns which will need further attention and action in the months ahead.

Limitation of liability: This problematic clause limits compensation for citizens hurt by climate inaction at the same time as the Government want to introduce new liabilities/compensation for corporations under the Investor Court System/CETA with chill effect. It's more important than ever to stop the ratification of CETA.

Climate Justice: I am glad that the Government removed a weak and damaging definition of climate justice but am disappointed they did not replace it with the strong one as proposed by NGOs and Senators. Government must now prove sincerity on this through concrete global solidarity action for example at COP26 and through funding.

Just Transition: "There are also people involved in just transition who have been ahead of us." A strong Just Transition definition is not included in the legislation. The Government will need to place communities, trade unions and others at centre of Just Transition for a ground up approach to climate action.

SDGs: Ireland played key role in negotiating the UN Sustainable Development Goals yet the Government rejected any amendments to include them in Climate Bill. The SDGs are not aspirational or optional they must be recognised as crucial blueprint for how we survive together on this fragile planet. 

Market forces: "If we try to fit climate action into stock market model, we will fail and the world will burn". The Minister's economic framing doesn’t recognise that, as with housing, speculation is a problem not a solution and we can’t afford that. 

2030 Target:”51% should be the floor not the ceiling”. Unfortunately the Government rejected my amendment to insert ‘at least’ before ‘51%’ which would have given the Climate Change Advisory Council flexibility to propose more ambitious budgets. Many scientists also have concerns regarding how the 51% target may be calculated.

Oil and Gas: The Climate Bill still allows the Minister to grant NEW licenses and leases for fossil fuel extraction, for example where there has been previous exploration licence. This actively undermines the aim of Bill and may be motivated by fear of litigation through the Energy Charter Treaty. Ireland needs to stop digging!