CIEH urges DAERA Minister to introduce Domestic Solid Fuels Regulations in fight against climate change

06 October 2022, Ciaran Donaghy

Following comments from the Northern Ireland Minister of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, Edwin Poots MLA, that he has no plans to introduce Domestic Solid Fuels regulations, the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH) has urged him to reconsider his position in order to protect public health.

The Minister cited the rising cost-of-living crisis and poorly insulated homes as reasons behind his decision not to introduce such regulations.

The release of particulate matter into the air is a key contributor to air pollution, negatively impacting air quality and posing a risk to public health The Clean Air Strategy for Northern Ireland, published in November 2020 by DAERA, acknowledges that burning solid fuels releases the most particulate matter into the air.

The World Health Organisation has identified particulate matter as the single most damaging air pollutant and have suggested a target of reducing particulate matter to 5 μg/m3, down from a previous target of 10 μg/m3. Many areas in Northern Ireland are in breach of these limits, with Belfast being the United Kingdom’s 3rd most polluted city for particulate matter.

CIEH acknowledges both the rising cost-of-energy, significant levels of fuel poverty in Northern Ireland, as well as the need to improve Northern Ireland’s air quality. Therefore, we urge the Assembly to bring forward measures that will address these issues by introducing targeted energy efficiency measures this winter alongside domestic solid fuel regulations in the near future. Such measures would tackle NI’s overly excessive reliance on highly polluting fuels as part of its efforts to tackle climate change and will protect public health without disadvantaging the most deprived households in the region.

Gary McFarlane, Northern Ireland Director at the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, said:

“Poor air quality is one of the leading causes of premature mortalities. Northern Ireland has a much higher reliance on “dirtier fuels” such as coal and oil, than other parts of the UK. This is something that needs to be addressed.

However, NI also has the highest levels of fuel poverty in the UK, and perhaps most significantly, the current absence of an Executive means that measures introduced by Westminster to assist people in other parts of the UK remain absent here. With this in mind, it is understandable why the Minister may not seek to introduce stricter controls on solid fuels right now, in what could be an incredibly difficult winter for many people.

Northern Ireland also lags behind the rest of the UK with respect to air quality, and despite introducing a Clean Air Strategy in 2020, still has not introduced a Clean Air Bill which must include regulations on the most polluting fuels, including solid fuels. Such a bill must also be coupled with policy initiatives that address our thermally inefficient housing stock. The scale of such an undertaking requires a joined up, innovative and progressive set of policy interventions right across government in NI.

Therefore, as we go beyond this winter, we urge the Minister to introduce domestic solid fuels regulations as a means of improving public health alongside a wholesale government approach to introducing energy efficiency measures. Such an approach supports households reduce their rising energy bills, reduces our carbon reliance and consumption, and delivers significant health benefits thus delivering savings for our health service"

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