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Climate Bill NI: 'The only Plan B is that we will have to start again if it doesn't get through'

Farmers and climate campaigners are holding opposing climate protests as Poots' Bill is introduced at Stormont

Northern Ireland could be left without any climate legislation if MLAs fail to pass either of the two Bills currently going through the Assembly.

The country remains the only part of the UK and Ireland without law on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Edwin Poots’ Bill and 80 suggested amendments will be considered by politicians on Tuesday as climate campaigners and farmers rally for and against net-zero emissions targets outside Stormont.

But despite having two Bills in play on the same issue, Environment chiefs say “if it doesn’t get through, really the only Plan B is that we will have to start again” if or when Stormont resumes after May’s elections.

The Department for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs briefed MLAs and later reporters on Minister Poots’ Bill on Monday to set out their stall for an 82% reduction in greenhouse gases, citing the economic impact on agrifoods.

A more ambitious cross party Bill led by Green Party NI leader Clare Bailey aims for a 100% reduction on baseline emissions.

he Minister, however, has also tabled an amendment to his paper that could bring his Bill more in line with net-zero.

But a DAERA spokesperson told us: “The Minister’s position has not changed.

The Bill’s target of an at least 82% net reduction in all greenhouse gases by 2050 remains in place, however a supplementary and complementary target to achieve net zero emissions of carbon dioxide in Northern Ireland by 2050 has been tabled as an amendment to clearly show our commitment to reducing emissions to effectively tackle climate change.

“Both targets are based on the advice and recommendations from the UK Climate Change Committee.

“The Minister’s amendment makes it clear that his Bill, in line with global commitments, will deliver net zero emissions of carbon dioxide, which is the predominant greenhouse gas emitted in Northern Ireland.”

During the press briefing we also learned a suggested Green Party amendment to Minister Poots’ Bill calling for a ban on oil and gas exploration in Northern Ireland has been binned.

Belfast Live asked Department experts why such a ban wasn’t included in their original paper considering UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ repeated calls for “no expansion in oil and gas exploration”.

A DAERA spokesperson said: “We had a very short remaining mandate and what we were asked for was a piece of climate change legislation to get targets into law.

“If we included absolutely everything that you want to include it would never have got through within this mandate.”

We also raised growing concerns the Northern Ireland Energy Strategy could pave the way for an oil, gas and blue hydrogen [gas derived] industry rather than focusing on the electrification of home heating which could come from renewables.

A Department for Economy spokesperson said: “I have no expectation of any fossil fuel exploration taking place any time in the foreseeable future in Northern Ireland.

“We agree with you about the electrification of energy supply but then you have to look at what are the sources of that electricity.

“The strategy sets out a target of achieving 70% renewables by 2030.

“That is work that comes directly out of the energy modelling system that we developed over the last two years - which says that’s a reasonable way to go forward in terms of what’s feasible on reducing the greatest impact on the environment but at the same time doing so in a way which both guarantees a reasonable but nevertheless manageable increase in costs to consumers... and also guarantee security of supply.

“At the moment two thirds of homes in Northern Ireland are heated by oil, more than are heated by fossil fuels generally and in order to move away from that we suggest a pathway which includes a variety of different technologies in order to achieve that.”

In an unusual move, Assembly speaker Alex Maskey has written to MLAs about the ‘unique and challenging’ situation they now face in considering both Climate Bills.

He said: “While having two bills on the one issue going through the Assembly at the same time, creates some unique issues, it is not an impossible position to deal with.”

Mr Maskey urged his colleagues to “avoid taking a contrary position to a specific decision it has recently resolved” to prevent “confusion and uncertainty” and to “be mindful of decisions the Assembly takes on one bill when making decisions on the other”.

Last chance' for strong climate legislation

Climate Coalition Vice-Chairperson Daithi McKay has said this is Northern Ireland’s last chance to get strong climate legislation.

He was speaking in advance of a planned demonstration at Stormont on Tuesday 1st Feb at 12pm to pressure legislators to ensure any Climate Act has strong net zero targets, the power to enforce those targets, and just transition provisions.

He said: “We are quickly running out of time before the May Assembly election to deliver a strong net zero Climate Act.

“The Assembly has failed to deliver on any climate legislation since the Good Friday Agreement.

“Some research is telling us that, at current rates of emissions, we have less than 8 years left before we lock in global heating of 1.5 degrees.

“Not delivering on net zero climate legislation after almost two years of deliberation would be a profound political failure.”

Green Party NI Leader Clare Bailey MLA called on MLAs to back amendments to strengthen the Climate Change Bill at its Consideration Stage debate today (TUES).

The South Belfast MLA said: “The breakdown of our climate is the most urgent and important issue facing us as leaders, as legislators, and as human beings.

We must ensure that any climate legislation the Assembly passes is ambitious enough to meet the scale of the crisis we face and enables all sectors to move forward sustainably. We must not allow climate delay to replace climate denial.

“This goes beyond party political interest. This goes beyond short term election cycles, and it certainly goes beyond the interests of corporate lobbyists. This is about securing our future and our children’s futures.

“For too long, Stormont has failed our people and our planet. It’s time for us to change that.”

Original source: Belfast Live


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