The Department of Agriculture, Environment & Rural Affairs (DAERA) sought views on policy options for a Climate Change Bill for Northern Ireland and RSUA responded to the discussion document.
RSUA supported Option One: “Northern Ireland Climate Change Bill setting interim emission reduction targets and a long term target of net zero emissions in Northern Ireland by 2050” indicating that whilst this was a more ambitious target than Option Two (which merely required Northern Ireland to make a contribution to the overall UK-wide target) it was incumbent on us to aim high in meeting the challenge of the Climate Emergency. RSUA notes that there is no purely technical reason why Northern Ireland cannot achieve net zero but acknowledges that the costs of doing so will need careful consideration.
The RSUA response indicated a number of criteria which should be taken into account when setting/updating long term emission reduction targets. Primarily, measurable targets which are consistently reported will be central to determining progress. RSUA also recognises that the delivery of major infrastructure projects generate greenhouse gases (GHG) and these will need to be spaced out to avoid a sudden burst of GHG. For industries – such as the automotive sector – where activities originate outside Northern Ireland but the final product ends up being used locally, RSUA expressed the view that though will need to be given to how those emissions are accounted for.
RSUA wishes to see sufficient flexibility in any new legislation to allow for emerging scientific and climatic developments to be considered in altering emission reduction targets. RSUA also believes that a duty to create 5-yearly carbon budgets which cap GHG emissions in Northern Ireland – subject to review and alteration – will help us keep on course to net zero carbon emissions.
RSUA supports a provision for reporting on adaptation and mitigation measures by ‘major player’ public bodies be included in a Northern Ireland Climate Change Bill, noting that public bodies which are responsible for approving activities which generate carbon emissions should be involved. For example, Building Control is key in determining the energy performance of buildings.
An independent Northern Ireland advisory body on climate change was also supported, provided that it could be demonstrated to be effective and economically viable in the context of the expertise provided by the UK Climate Change Committee.
Overall, RSUA welcomed the plan for 5 yearly targets and recognises the significant societal challenge in keeping up with changing legislation. An annual report on progress with detailed remedial plans would help ensure Northern Ireland stays on schedule. Communicating the monitoring of progress clearly is crucial to engaging and motivating wider society to participate in this ambitious project. A long-term road map for change – recognising that progress won’t necessarily be linear – could be usefully broken down into long and short term goals.