Environment Minister Edwin Poots has criticised the Climate Change Bill currently progressing through the Assembly for having “unachievable deadlines” and “unreasonable demands” that will negatively impact the agri-food sector and the environment.
Mr Poots was speaking after the bill — the first of its kind in Northern Ireland — tabled by Green Party leader Clare Bailey, passed its second stage.
The bill sets a net zero greenhouse gas emission target for 2045 and establishes a legal framework, including a five-year plan for cutting emissions.
It would also create the position of a Climate Commissioner to oversee progress towards the targets.
It is opposed by farmers, the DUP and Jim Allister, while Ulster Unionist MLA Roy Beggs also said he does not support it.
Mr Poots said he has several “major concerns” about the bill, including the 2045 target, lack of consultation and impact assessments, and the costs to the public purse of meeting the requirements of the legislation.
“The Private Members’ Bill has passed its second reading without any regard to either the long term sustainability of our hard-working agri-food sector, nor the long term achievability of the environmental targets and commitments contained within the bill,” the DUP leadership hopeful said.
“This bill will not only have a negative impact on our rural community, it will also have a negative impact on the environment — as unachievable deadlines and unreasonable demands will disengage the very people who are a part of the solution to this issue, our farmers. We must get full buy-in and face this challenge collectively.”
The Environment Minister also raised concerns that the UK Climate Change Committee has stated that a net zero target for NI by 2050 covering all greenhouse gases “cannot credibly be set at this time”, advising that a target of a reduction of 82% net emissions is more appropriate.
“We don’t need just any climate change bill — we need the right climate change bill that sets out an achievable pathway for Northern Ireland to contribute to the wider UK and global efforts for greenhouse gas emissions reductions,” he added.
“I have alternative, evidence-based and properly consulted upon policy proposals which I have tabled for discussion at the Executive — I want these to be heard as soon as possible so that I can move quickly to introduce an Executive Bill to the Assembly.
“My role is to try and protect and enhance our environment in a sustainable way and ensure that we have a thriving agricultural sector in which they are custodians of the environment. We should not therefore be promoting actions and passing legislation which would prevent us from fulfilling that responsibility.”
Speaking in the Assembly on Monday, Clare Bailey said Northern Ireland remains the only part of the UK and Ireland with no legally binding greenhouse gas reduction targets.
“We know that Northern Ireland has an unfortunate track record of poor performance on climate. Our emissions are not falling at anywhere the same rate as those in the rest of the UK.”
“Time is no longer on our side. We need to move far, and we need to move fast. Climate mitigation will impact on all aspects of people’s lives.”
The Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) has also been critical of the bill.
“We have constantly re-iterated that the UFU supports climate change legislation and the need to tackle emissions from agriculture, but proposals must be fair and credible and backed by evidence — at the present time, this climate change Private Member’s Bill does none of these things,” UFU president Victor Chestnutt said.
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