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Stormont 'not consulted' ahead of Sunak's shift on net zero policy

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak delivering a speech on the plans for net-zero commitments in 10 Downing Street on Wednesday. Picture by Justin Tallis/PA Wire.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak delivering a speech on the plans for net-zero commitments in 10 Downing Street on Wednesday. Picture by Justin Tallis/PA Wire. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak delivering a speech on the plans for net-zero commitments in 10 Downing Street on Wednesday. Picture by Justin Tallis/PA Wire.

STORMONT’S Department for the Economy said it was not consulted ahead of a major speech by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announcing a shift in UK Government policy on its net zero strategy.

The north has its own energy strategy in place, including the legal requirement to generate 80 per cent of electricity from renewable sources by 2030.

But there are some concerns that the move to push back significant targets could have major funding implications for the devolved administrations.

“The statement made by the Prime Minister will be considered in the context of the ongoing delivery of the energy strategy,” a Department for the Economy spokesperson said on Thursday.

The Prime Minister said pushing the ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars back to 2035 means the UK will align with other European countries.

Some analysts have suggested that have could solve a future headache for the UK Government, with the Windsor Framework potentially creating a loophole for the sale of new petrol and diesel engine motors into the UK after 2030.

But funding pressure and the absence of a functioning executive remain the major issues for achieving net zero targets in the north, says Steven Agnew, director of industry body RenewableNI.

“There are a lot of things we are working on that can be taken by civil servants to a point, but at some point you need legislation and for that you need a functioning parliament.”

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Stormont published its new energy strategy in December 2021, setting a target of sourcing 70 per cent of all electricity supply from renewable sources by 2030.

The new Climate Change (Northern Ireland) Act 2022, which received royal assent in June 2022, raised the bar to 80 per cent and made it a legal requirement, rather than an arbitrary target.

Mr Agnew said research recently commissioned by RenewableNI suggests Northern Ireland is set to miss its 80 per cent electricity target.

“It shows if we don’t speed up our timelines on the transition to renewables, we’re not just going to miss 2030, but we’re going to miss it by a mile.

The funding challenges were further exposed on Thursday by the Department for Communities announcing the closure Stormont’s long-running boiler replacement scheme due to budget constraints.

Launched in 2012, the scheme has provided 48,926 grants to help homeowners replace older inefficient boilers to heat their properties.

Mr Agnew, who is the former leader of the Green Party in Northern Ireland, said the delay in implementing net zero policies whether through design or funding pressure will mean more difficult and expense cuts in future.

“We’ll have to make much more steep cuts in future years, which will be more disruptive and cost people more money.

“We’ve known this for decades. Governments have been kicking the can and we’re paying the cost for that now.

“By kicking the can further down the line the cost will be even higher financially and in terms of climate impact.”