Our Environment > Legislation

Climate legislation is still developing and evolving at EU and national level. Here’s an overview of the policies that are driving change.

The global picture

At the Rio Summit in 1992, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was signed by 150 nations. It was a voluntary, non-binding agreement that led directly to the production of the Kyoto Protocol in Japan in 1997. It took more rounds of discussion at Buenos Aires in 1998 and The Hague in 2000 before the Kyoto Protocol finally came into force on 16 February 2005.

Its objectives were to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from fully industrialised countries as well as those countries in transition to a market economy. Such countries were classified as ‘Annex 1’. Quantified emission limitations were set for six greenhouse gases.

Targets were set for each country that allowed a certain emission rate relative to that country’s 1990 emissions. For some countries this meant a cut in emissions, for others it meant a lower rate of increase in emissions. The commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol is 2008-2012.

In 2012, an ammendment was made to the Kyoto Protocal, (known as the Doha Ammendment.)  Ireland has yet to ratify this ammendment, though only 19 UN countries have thus far agreed to it.

As well as making the necessary changes to try to reduce emissions, countries are allowed to use three other mechanisms to reach their targets: the ‘Joint Implementation (JI)’, which enables reductions from project investments in other Annex 1 countries; The ‘Clean Development Mechanism (CDM)’, which allows the reductions to come from investments in non-Annex 1 countries; and the International Emissions Trading scheme, which allows Annex 1 countries to buy and sell their allowances on an international carbon trading market.

Down at the EU

The emissions target that the EU must reach between 2008 and 2012 requires a reduction of 8% of the 1990 levels of CO2. To facilitate this goal, the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (EUETS) has been set up. Initially, each member state was allocated ‘allowances’ based on their reduction target with one allowance being equivalent to one tonne of CO2.  However, as of 2013, all member states will have the same cap on emissions.

These allowances are then allocated, on a yearly basis, to each company involved in the scheme. Each member state develops a National Allocation Plan (NAP) which has to be approved by the EC. It applies to energy intensive industries such as mineral companies, pulp and paper companies and energy companies. Companies can trade allowances, purchase additional ones or sell any surplus if, at the end of the year, they have enough allowances to account for their emissions.

A number of other EU directives will have significant impacts for UK businesses and organisations. These include the EU Directive on the Energy Performance of Buildings, which sets minimum performance standards applying to all new constructions, as well as large old buildings undergoing major refurbishment from January 2006; and the Promotion of Electricity Produced From Renewable Energy Sources, which requires each country to commit to specific targets for renewable energy.  Additionally, there is the EU Climate and Energy Package which has the following aims;

  • A 20% reduction in EU greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels
  • Raising the share of EU energy consumption produced from renewable resources to 20%
  • A 20% improvement in the EU’s energy efficiency

Current information on how Ireland is doing is available here

In the UK

The primary piece of legislation governing the UK’s response to climate change is set to be the Climate Change Bill. A culmination of the Climate Change Programme, the Bill was introduced into the House of Lords on 14 November 2007 and aims to receive Royal Assent by early summer 2008.

The bill moves beyond the UK’s Kyoto requirement and sets targets to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 26-32% by 2020 and by at least 60% before 2050. These targets will become a statutory duty under the Climate Change Bill. The Bill makes provisions for reviewing these targets, via a special Committee on Climate Change, and making them more stringent.

The Bill contains enabling powers to introduce new trading schemes through secondary legislation, increasing policy options for the Government. The first use of these powers will be to implement the Carbon Reduction Commitment, a mandatory cap-and-trade scheme covering energy use emissions from approximately 5,000 large, non-energy-intensive organisations. It will also provide a power to pilot local authority incentives for household waste minimisation and recycling.

To help UK organisations gain experience at trading prior to the introduction of the EU ETS, the UK Emissions Trading Scheme was implemented. 34 organisations (‘Direct Participants’ in the scheme) voluntarily took on a legally binding obligation to reduce emissions against 1998-2000 levels. This resulted in over 4 million tonnes of reductions by 2006, in return for incentive payments.

In Ireland

Under the Kyoto Protocol, Ireland has agreed to a target of limiting its greenhouse gas emissions to 13% above 1990 levels by the first commitment period 2008-2012 to help achieve overall EU targets.

The National Climate Change Strategy (2000) identified methods of meeting Ireland’s commitments under the Kyoto Protocol – that is, to limit the increase of greenhouse gas emissions to 13% of levels in 1990. The National Climate Change Strategy 2007-2012 follows on from that, taking account of the public consultation process and incorporating the commitments outlined in the Government’s White Paper on Delivering a Sustainable Energy Future for Ireland and the National Bioenergy Action Plan.

The National Climate Change Strategy sets a range of targets to be attained by 2020. These include renewable energies achieving a 12% share of the heating sector; biofuels to account for 10% of fuel used in road transport; and for 33% of electricity consumption to come from renewable energy sources. It also sets out to ensure that nationwide energy generation includes a 500MW capacity for ocean energy, with 800MW to be sourced from combined heat and power.

Other legislation operates under the National Climate Change Strategy, including amendments to the Electricity Regulation Act, 1999, which in February 2005 rolled out full deregulation of the market for electricity generated using renewable forms of energy as its primary source; priority dispatch of electricity generated from renewable energy sources; and the establishment of the Commission of Electricity Regulation with a duty to encourage research and development into methods of generating electricity using renewable, sustainable and alternative forms of energy.

Finally, the National Development Plan 2007-2013 builds on the progress made in the area of sustainable energy under the previous NDP 2000-2006 by investing some €276 million under the Sustainable Energy Sub-Programme over the period 2007-2013. This aims to promote the use of renewable energy technologies (including the large-scale deployment of wind and emerging biomass and biofuel), implement energy efficiency measures, and encourage integration and innovation in the use of sustainable energy.

The Climate Change Response Bill 2010 laid out some guidance for medium and long term energy reductions.  Then in 2011, a review of how Ireland was keeping up with targets was released  entitled “Review of National Climate Policy.”