Two climate change bills go head-to-head in Northern Ireland

A compromise is needed between the NI Green Party Leader’s vision and that of DAERA
13 October 2021 , Katie Coyne

Northern Ireland has two competing climate change bills on the table, one of which calls for net zero emissions by 2045, the other which calls for an 82% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. The Climate Northern Ireland (CNI) partnership urges urgent action, and says net zero would align with the rest of the UK and Ireland.

As world leaders gear up for COP26, heads in Northern Ireland have been thrashing out action on climate change as it currently has no binding targets on the issue.

The matter has been muddied with two competing Climate Change Bills. The first, a private member’s bill, introduced by NI Green Party leader, Clare Bailey, aims for net zero by 2045 and completed the first stage in the Assembly in March.

The second bill completed its first stage in July, and was introduced by the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) and its minister Edwin Poots. It calls for an 82% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

The private members bill has wide political support and backing, but Poots has argued that the emissions targets would cause “devastation” to the NI farming community, and points to the UK Climate Change Committee (CCC) which has said it would be “morally wrong” to set unachievable targets for NI.

CIEH NI Director, Gary McFarlane said: “What DAERA and the minister seems to be suggesting, yet again, is that the economy is to take precedence over the environment and I am afraid we are just not in the position to do that any longer because this is, in a nutshell, why we are in the place we are in now.

“For 150 years plus the economy has been the top priority. We are at the point now where the planet just cannot support it.” – Gary McFarlane, CIEH NI Director

“For 150 years plus the economy has been the top priority. We are at the point now where the planet just cannot support it.”

McFarlane said that clearly both bills cannot go through, and that a compromise would have to be made.

Over the summer calls were made for evidence and views on the DAERA bill, which closed at the end of September, 2021. One of the groups that responded was the Climate Northern Ireland (CNI) partnership, of which McFarlane is a member.

CNI urged that NI “act now” and, as well as implementing greenhouse gas emissions targets, it called for it to aim for wider goals such as enabling mitigation and adaptation for climate change, provide a “just transition”, and look for “nature-based solutions”. It suggested introducing mandatory reporting for public bodies of climate change duties.

On net zero versus 82% reduction in emissions, CNI argued that aiming for net zero in a climate change bill removed the temptation for different industry sectors to lobby government for a share of the remaining emissions.

Net zero also offered clarity and certainty, would align with the rest of the UK and Ireland, and could help spark innovation and a “race to net zero” across industry sectors, potentially bringing down the overall cost of climate mitigation.

However, CNI noted the potential £900m costs annually of net-zero, as well as the CCC’s guidance on a target for NI of “at least 82%”. But it recommended that if the NI government opted for the 82% target, it must also take into account the CCC’s comments about clarifying what it required of each industry sector, and what percentage of the remaining emissions capacity would be shared by which sectors.

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