Discussions have started in Stormont over two potentially competing environmental bills setting out targets for greenhouse gas emissions reductions.
Northern Ireland does not currently have any legislation dedicated to climate change targets.
Climate Change Bill
The Climate Change Bill - a private member's bill lodged by Green Party leader Clare Bailey - passed through its first stage at Stormont on Monday (March 22).
Bailey's Climate Change Bill is the most austere out of the two, proposing a legally-binding goal that Northern Ireland should achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2045.
The bill will also powers for the establishment of a Northern Ireland Climate Commissioner and Northern Ireland Climate Office; and guarantee existing environmental and climate protection.
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Meanwhile, the Environment Bill drafted by the Department of Agriculture Environment and Rural Affairs proposes halving the region's greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and cutting all GHG emissions by 82% by 2050.
'Reduction in livestock numbers'
At the most recent Agriculture Committee meeting (Thursday, March 18) Colin Breen, DAERA’s director of environmental policy division, warned setting a target for net-zero would require a "significant" reduction in the region's livestock numbers and simply risked off-shoring food production.
Breen explained that Northern Ireland was the “worst performer” in terms of dealing with climate change in the UK, adding that the other UK regions all had their standalone environmental legislation.
In Northern Ireland, emissions have so far decreased by 20% between 2019 and 1990.
However, it compares with a reduction of 43% across the UK as a whole, with England down 46%, Scotland down 45% and Wales down 31% over the same period.
On the other hand, reports suggest the Republic of Ireland has seen a 10% increase over the same period.