Yesterday, the Northern Ireland Assembly discussed a critical motion on a Climate Change Act for Northern Ireland. Even though the Assembly declared a climate emergency in January 2020, Northern Ireland still remains the only region in the UK and Ireland without any specific legislation to tackle the global crisis.

Clare Baliley, MLA
Clare Bailey, MLA commenting at the Climate Change Act motion

RSPB NI welcomed the news that a majority of MLAs backed the proposal, and while this is not legally binding on the Executive, it demonstrates the ambition to see Climate Change legislation in Northern Ireland.

We believe the Executive now has a duty to take action and pass a Climate Change Act before the end of the current Assembly’s term. Otherwise it risks failing on its New Decade New Approach commitments.

A Northern Ireland Climate Change Act would introduce the vital legislation that is needed to ensure Northern Ireland keeps pace with the rest of the UK and Ireland by setting legally binding targets to reduce carbon emissions.

Our recent opinion poll demonstrated that a Climate Change Act is also the will of the public. Almost three out of four people (74%) surveyed support the introduction of a Northern Ireland Climate Change Act and over two thirds of respondents (68%) agreed there should be a target to reach net zero emissions by 2045.

The impact of having no climate change legislation is already evident through the considerable disparity in emission reduction progress between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

Greenhouse gas emission reductions between 1990 and 2018

Figures published by the Department for Agriculture Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) on 16 June revealed that Northern Ireland is hindering the UK’s Net Zero progress. The report shows that Northern Ireland only reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 20% below the base year of 1990. By comparison, the UK reduced emissions by 43%, with England reducing emissions by 46%, Scotland by 45% and Wales by 31%. 
This gap will only increase if further delays to legislate ensue and presents a greater risk to the environment, public health and the economy.

Through the introduction of a Northern Ireland Climate Change Act, the Executive has the opportunity to show leadership and act on its global responsibility by legislating for an ambitious net zero target and driving more radical sectoral action plans in areas of the highest greenhouse gas emissions: agriculture, transport, and energy.

RSPB NI has presented clear evidence on the critical role nature can play in addressing the crisis, such as the restoration and protection of carbon sinks like peatlands. At present, in their current degraded conditions, these areas are actually releasing carbon back into the atmosphere.

Dungonnell Peat Dams by Henry McLaughlin Northern Ireland Water
Dungonnell Peat Dams by Henry McLaughlin Northern Ireland Water

But time is running out for the government to act with the urgency that the global emergency needs. The State of Nature Report 2019 showed that the world is facing a dual climate and nature emergency, with one in five species in Northern Ireland at risk of extinction, and last week, the World Meteorological Organisation published further troubling news. The world could hit 1.5-degree warming threshold by 2024, six years earlier than predicted.

We believe the Executive must act on the scientific evidence, calls from the Assembly and public, and to honour its commitments within the New Decade New Approach by introducing a Northern Ireland Climate Change Act without further delay.

Sunset by Hazel Watson
Sunset by Hazel Watson (rspb-images)

If you agree and want the Executive to embrace the challenge, please contact your local MLA and ask them to keep advocating for a Climate Change Act: their actions will impact the lives of generations to come. 

For any support in writing to a member of the Assembly, don’t hesitate to get in touch via: campaigns.ni@rspb.org.uk
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