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A RADICAL shift in policy on climate change is to be outlined by Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan today, when he announces that a climate change Bill is not a priority.

It signals a major change from the policy of his predecessor John Gormley, who rushed to publish legislation setting binding statutory targets for emissions reductions in the weeks before the previous government collapsed last January.

Mr Hogan said yesterday he wanted to concentrate on other initiatives and policies before turning to legislation. There is a commitment to a Bill in the programme for government but he would say no more than that it would be published during the coalition’s lifetime.

In another departure that will be seen as controversial, he said he would not set sectoral targets for emissions reductions as he did not subscribe to them. This is likely to attract criticism from environmental organisations and opposition parties.

While accepting that legislation might be of benefit, Mr Hogan said policy “would be the fundamental priority”. He was speaking in advance of the publication today of the review of climate change policy that he ordered soon after taking office.

The 40-page review states that Ireland will meet the Kyoto targets for the end of 2012 but concedes: “Even under the most optimistic scenario, Ireland cannot meet its 2020 emissions target on the basis of existing policies and measures.”

The 2020 targets set by the EU will require a 20 per cent emissions reduction compared to 2005 output. The two areas where that will provemost problematic for Ireland are agriculture and transport, which together comprise 70 per cent of the non-traded emissions.

Mr Hogan indicated he would seek concessions for Irish agriculture and would also argue for a change of the basis on which emissions from the sector are calculated.

He also argued that a balance needs to be struck between climate change and agriculture policy. “Food security is being ignored at a time when we have reached the 7 billionth person on Earth. This area has to be looked at.”

He said the other fundamental difference between him and Mr Gormley was that he believed that environmental protection and a competitive economy were complementary, not competing. “We are aiming to become a low-carbon competitive economy,” he said.

Mr Hogan said critics who said he was a climate change sceptic were “misinformed”. The criticism was prompted by his near silence on the issue of climate change since taking office and his decision to axe Comhar, the national sustainable development council.

Mr Hogan has asked the National Economic and Social Council to report to him within 12 months on policy initiatives to achieve a low-carbon economy. He will also begin a consultation process with all relevant groups. The Cabinet subcommittee on climate change, he said, would also “ratchet” up its work to achieve emissions reductions.

Irish Times, 3 November 2011