The Cabinet has approved a ban on licences for new oil and natural gas exploration which will come into effect immediately.
The ban will be enacted through legislation to be included in the Climate Action and Low Carbon Amendment Bill to go before the Oireachtas shortly
However Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications Eamon Ryan gave effect to the commitment immediately. His department “no longer accepts new applications for exploration licences for natural gas or oil, nor will there be any future licensing rounds”, he confirmed.
The “decision will send a powerful message, within Ireland and internationally, that Ireland is moving away from fossil fuels towards a renewable future,” Mr Ryan said.
“By keeping fossil fuels in the ground, we will incentivise the transition to renewable energy and put ourselves on a pathway to net-zero [carbon emissions] by 2050,” he added.
Existing authorisations will not be affected, with applications for authorisations and activities remaining subject to technical, financial and environmental assessments as appropriate.
Chairman of the Oireachtas Climate Committee and Green Party climate action spokesman Brian Leddin said the ban indicated Ireland’s commitment to a sustainable future.
“Passing this legislation...means we can now move away from fossil fuels and give our complete focus to progressing our plans to transition to renewable energy, including wind and solar, as a way meet our future energy needs,” he added.
Ireland has become the second country in Europe and only the fourth in the world to introduce a definitive national ban through legislation on all fossil fuel exploration, Friends of the Earth (FoE) acknowledged, but called for the setting of a specific date for terminating existing licences.
In 2017, it noted, Ireland took the first steps to legally prohibit gas extraction with a ban on fracking onshore. “This next step will extend that ban to any new oil or gas exploration in our offshore waters.”
“Credit is due to the many grassroots groups and activists who have contacted their TDs, signed petitions and took to the streets on this issue for many years,” said Friends of the Earth deputy director Kate Ruddock
She added: “We now need to see a legally-robust ban in legislation that prevents any loopholes or legal challenges from the offshore oil and gas industry, especially in the context of existing fossil fuel entitlements and leases.”
People Before Profit TD Bríd Smith said she was delighted for the climate movement that fought for the legislative measure over the past three years, but added, “frankly the debate has moved on and a ban on future licences alone does not reflect the scale of the crisis facing humanity.”
Several licences were awaiting decisions on renewals, extensions or conversions into different forms of licences and permits, she pointed out. “Some existing licences are good till 2034 and possible beyond and some are facing renewal immediately. We need the Minister to declare he will use his existing powers to refuse to renew these and more widely we need to ensure that the fossil fuel industry get the clear message that the game is up.”
Meanwhile, Mr Ryan has made a number of appointments to the Climate Change Advisory Council – its role is to be enhanced under the terms of the Climate Bill.
Former director general in the European Commission Marie Donnelly has been appointed chairwoman. Outgoing chairman Prof John FitzGerald is to remain on the council.
Ms Donnelly oversaw implementation of the main energy-related directives in the EU over the past decade. Since retiring, she has been actively supporting Ireland’s energy transition through a range of voluntary positions.
Leading climate scientist Prof Peter Thorne, who is based in Maynooth University and one of the lead authors of the forthcoming sixth assessment report of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, has also been made a council member.
Ms Donnelly and Prof Thorne “possess impressive skill sets and a wealth of experience in climate and energy matters which will be extremely valuable in the enhanced mandate of the council, which will include advising on carbon budgets”, Mr Ryan said.
He paid tribute to Prof FitzGerald and outgoing members for their work over the past five years in establishing the council as key advocate for action and ambition in the development and implementation of Ireland’s climate policy.
Once the Climate Bill is enacted, further appointments will include experts on biodiversity; just transition, sustainable transport and climate communications, among other areas of experience, he said. Existing ex-officio members – the EPA director general; the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland chief executive, the Teagasc director and ESRI director – will remain in place pending the Bill’s passage.
In appointing new council members it was important to strike the right balance in terms of range of expertise required, its continuing smooth functioning and need for gender balance, Mr Ryan said. “The council will be instrumental within the context of how we transition and achieve our climate ambition,” he added.
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