Environment Bill targets halving NI emissions within next decade

Legally-binding goals to cut greenhouse gas emissions by half by 2030 and 82% by 2050 are set to be included in Northern Ireland’s proposed Environment Bill.

The figures compare to the benchmark year of 1990.

The Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) consultation on the bill received 269 unique responses, with template responses grouped together as one.

Briefing the Stormont Agriculture Committee on its findings, Colin Breen explained the purpose of the bill was to give the region’s environmental targets a “strong legal underpinning”.

He added that Northern Ireland was the “worst performer” in terms of dealing with climate change in the UK.

In Northern Ireland, emissions have so far decreased by 20% between 2019 and 1990.

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.

Four main themes had been identified in the responses:

  • The need for reporting from public bodies;
  • The need for an independent advisory body;
  • A net-zero target by 2050; and
  • A need for reporting from non-public bodies.

“39.8% of respondents wanted a bill which would require NI to have net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, and 12.3% said they didn’t know or they weren’t sure which they preferred,” Breen said.

“Another point of note is that 83% of respondents want flexibility built into the bill to take consideration of updates to evidence, science, and understanding of climate change.

“87% of respondents want a provision in the bill for public bodies to report on adaptation to climate change, and 77% of respondents want the bill to include provision for an independent, Northern Ireland advisory body on climate change.

The first aspect of the bill will concern emissions reduction targets, it is proposed to include a headline long term net greenhouse gas emissions target to 2050 to be set at least 82% lower from 1990 levels, with further interim reduction targets of 48% lower by 2030 and 69%, lower by 2040.

“These are in line with the CCC advice, and with the outcome of the Stage One analysis of the consultation.”

As part of the bill, each government department will have to make a plan to meet the target. Should a department fail to meet its target, it will have to prepare a shortfall report outlining how it plans on meeting the targets through policy and other proposals.

A challenge for agriculture?

Committee chairman Declan McAleer said: “It would be wrong for us to send the message out to the rest of the world that we aren’t a region committed to sustainable practices in areas like agriculture.”

However, he added that it was important measurements take into account the ability of farms to sequester emissions.

“Given the fact that we are a very strong food-producing region, I think it is important that there is a just transition so that our agri-food producers are supported to make this transition, and also recognising that a lot of the emissions produced by the farming community are circular – there’s a balance between what is produced and what is sequestered,” McAleer said.