Nature does not adhere to borders nor do threats like climate change, so if the UK Government is serious about leaving the environment in a better state for future generations there is a clear need for coherent action from governments across the UK.  Today, my colleagues John Martin and Jane Clarke offer their thoughts on the environmental implications of the welcome return of the Northern Ireland Assembly.


John Martin: Head of Policy and Advocacy, RSPB NI 

The Northern Ireland Assembly has agreed a deal which has restored devolved powers to the Northern Ireland Executive after a 1090 days hiatus. The draft Deal, entitled ‘New Decade New Approach’ was approved by the Parties on Friday 10th of January and approved by the Northern Ireland Assembly on its first sitting on Saturday the 11th of January.

The deal includes some long sought environmental commitments such as Climate Change Legislation, the creation of an Independent Environmental Protection Agency, action on plastics and a Green New Deal and Energy Strategy which will seek to drive down carbon emissions and set NI on a sustainable footing.

The ‘New Decade New Approach’ does not however mention the developing Environment Strategy, which is currently being consulted on, however it does leave the door open for the inclusion of ‘other strategies’ and we will be insisting the Environment Strategy is one. RSPB NI have issued a statement supporting the return of devolved powers to the NI Assembly and the aspirations of ‘New Decade New Approach’ which you can see here.  We have also been using this as an opportunity to continue to gather support for our e-action with key asks and would encourage everyone, around the UK, to complete. The environmental delivery in the UK is only as strong as its weakest part.


Jane Clarke: Nature Protection Policy Officer

As reported previously, the Westminster Environment Bill has upped the ante on the UK’s response to environmental issues and reveals the desire to maintain environmental standards and international obligations after EU exit day.

It is clear that a step change across all four home nations is required. Biodiversity does not adhere to borders, so if the UK is serious about leaving the environment in a better state for future generations there is a clear need for coherent action from devolved decision-makers. Hence, the success of the UK’s actions will ultimately be limited by the worst member(s).

Northern Ireland is named within the Environment Bill, and it will be up to the new Minister to decide if it will apply. Therefore, taking into account its uniquely transboundary characteristics, Northern Ireland represents a weak link in the UK’s chain of post-Brexit environmental legislation and governance.

As mentioned above, the New Decade New Approach deal does contain some excellent environmental commitments however neglects the inclusion of the developing Environment Strategy.  The Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) is currently seeking the views of the public on Northern Ireland’s first Environment Strategy. The strategy describes NIs environment as our most important asset and seeks to address the elements that are under threat now and how we can make things better for future generations. The strategy is asking for our big ideas to help address some of these threats. 

RSPB NI’s big Ideas include:

  1. Northern Ireland Climate Act: with binding, Specific, Measurable, Ambitious, Realistic and Time-bound targets to achieve net zero carbon by 2045;
  2. Nature Recovery Networks: the restoration of our best sites, connected through network of habitats outside protected sites;
  3. Independent Environmental Protection Agency: NI is currently the only part of UK without one evidenced by high levels of illegal dumping, persecution of threatened species, and the poor condition of protected sites; and,
  4. Public Money for Public Goods: incentives should encourage farmers to farm in a way that helps protect the environment.

RSPB NI has launched an e-action and we need you to take part- HERE. We believe that if the Strategy includes the measures we propose, then we will give nature a fighting chance to recover. We hope that as many people as possible will support us in ensuring the DAERA Minister includes these policies in the Strategy and the developing Programme for Government so that Northern Ireland can support the UK’s future environmental legislation and governance.

Photo credits: Dungonnell Peat Dams by Henry McLaughlin (NI Water); Guillemot and puffin on RSPB Rathlin Island reserve Andy Hay (