Good people do not need laws to tell them to act responsibly, while bad people will find a way around the laws. - Plato
Last year, I wrote about Ireland’s sectoral agreements around its ambitious Climate Action plan (2021-2030).
Over a month ago, a report was published by the Environmental Protection Agency evaluating the government’s plan. The headline claim was that “EPA analysis shows that planned climate policies and measures, if fully implemented, could deliver up to 29 per cent emissions reduction by 2030 compared to 2018, a reduction of 4 per cent each year from 2022 to 2030. This is insufficient to achieve the ambition of 51 per cent emissions reduction in Ireland’s Climate Act.”
The important phrase here is if fully implemented. At this stage, indications are that the government will fall well short of even that 29 per cent projected reduction.
The Irish Green Party, the main environmental party, is part of the current government (albeit a minority in a coalition government). Partly due to their efforts, a law was passed in 2021 - the Climate Act.
In other words, the Irish state now must, by /law/, reach certain carbon budget targets at certain intervals in the future.
Since the publication of the EPA report, politicians have occasionally appeared on the media to answer questions about what their plans are to address climate change.
One question that baffled reporters often ask the politicians is something along the lines of “If the targets are not met, what happens to the government (legally speaking)?”
The confusion partly arises because the classic way of holding a government to account doesn’t apply here, i.e., you can’t vote the government ‘out’ along these lines, because failure to reach the targets by 2030 will most likely be the result of actions taken by successive governments. No one group of politicians will be ’to blame’.
The government can’t exactly fine itself (in a meaningful way), and no civil servants will lose their jobs. No one will go to prison. There will be no consequences for not meeting the targets (aside from the obvious environmental, social, and existential ones!).
Maybe there is some obvious answer to the question that I’m missing but, at a certain point over the last few months, people started to realise how meaningless passing the Climate Act was (a moment that gave some genuine hope - after all, the other citizens in the country work so hard to respect the ’laws’, surely the government will do the same?)
It was a fairly big call to action, but in the end the system just continued to stumble along as it always does.
Maybe it just takes some time for the new culture envisioned by the measures to settle in, and there certainly has been some progress. But, it’s probably more likely that later generations will look at all the efforts taken now (after all, it took a lot of work to write the legislation, agree targets with stakeholders from each sector, etc.) in awe at all the ways we found to run in circles while avoiding the real questions.