• Sun. Jun 23rd, 2024

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Northern Ireland’s Climate Action Plan 2023

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Northern Ireland is one of the most nature depleted countries in the world. It’s the 12th worst performing country for biodiversity on the global list. It was also the last part of the UK and Ireland to pass its own climate change legislation. That’s why last year’s decision by the Northern Ireland Assembly to pass our first Climate Change Act was so significant. But changing the law was only the start. Now, the hard work begins to implement the changes that the Act demands.

In the next few months Northern Ireland’s first Climate Action Plan, covering 2023 to 2027, will be released for public consultation. Our new law states that the Climate Action Plans must set out policies and programmes to put Northern Ireland on course to reach net zero by 2050.

But with the Assembly not sitting, there’s a risk that the Climate Action Plan will suffer from a lack of ambition which would go entirely against the spirit of what is now the law. Now is the time for decision makers to step up, regardless of whether the Assembly is functioning or not. The nature and climate emergency is a threat to our communities, our economy, our environment and our future.

Black Guillemot, copyright Glyn Sellors, from the surfbirds galleries

RSPB NI has laid out 4 key tests that we believe the policies and programmes in the Climate Action Plan must meet:

1.      Ensure that Northern Ireland remains on course to meet net zero by 2050, and realise the economic opportunities of investing in nature and climate.

2.      Embed nature-based solutions at the heart of climate action (fulfilling clause 34 of the Climate Change Act (NI) 2022)

3.      Support a just transition to nature & climate friendly farming.

4.      Ensure renewables are delivered in a nature positive way on and offshore.

While the new Climate Action Plan will be a step in the right direction, RSPB NI wants a Climate Action Plan that doesn’t create the unintended consequence of encouraging developments that damage our fragile natural environment.

For example, it’s obvious that we need much more renewable energy to reach net zero. In 2022, over half the electricity used in Northern Ireland came from local renewable sources. But renewable energy infrastructure in the wrong places can do more harm than good to some of our most endangered species and habitats. Decarbonising energy is a vital part of efforts to reach net zero, so the Climate Action Plan must ensure that the deployment of renewable technology both on-shore and off-shore, takes place in the most suitable locations. That is why RSPB NI is calling for the deployment of renewable energy in harmony with nature. Northern Ireland must champion a plan-led approach that avoids sensitive sites for nature on land and at sea. Proposals must be accompanied by robust environmental assessment based on accurate data.

In Northern Ireland, we have a thriving agriculture sector and it can become a driver in fighting climate change. By farming sustainably for food and to deliver ‘public goods’, farmers can benefit their bottom lines while also improving soil health, sequestering carbon and supporting nature. Farming less intensively will help cut agriculture’s current contribution of 28% of Northern Ireland’s annual carbon emissions and help reverse its contribution to widespread habitat and species loss. RSPB NI is calling for a Just Transition to support the agricultural sector to ensure that farmers, across the board, benefit from the transition to sustainable agriculture.

That’s why our first Climate Action Plan must provide a pathway for farmers to farm sustainably. But to do this, leadership is required. A ‘business as usual’ approach will leave Northern Ireland further behind the rest of the UK and Ireland when it comes to our climate change responsibilities.

Of course, we want to see the restoration of our Assembly and Executive, so our politicians can provide the leadership we so desperately need to address the nature and climate emergencies. But we can’t afford to wait. We are already into the first period of the Climate Action Plan (2023-27) so we must move forward at pace. Whether it’s a restored Executive, civil servants or the Secretary of State, there is no excuse for government not taking effective action. RSPB NI will base our response to the draft Climate Action Plan around our ‘four key tests’ which if met, will ensure that the proposed policies and programmes match the ambition of our landmark Climate Change Act.