Concerns about talks around 'amalgamation' of Stormont's two climate change bills
EDWIN Poots and Green leader Clare Bailey have held talks around what the agriculture and environment minister describes as a "progression or amalgamation" of Stormont's two climate change bills.
Ms Bailey's private members bill, which was launched in October year with the support of all of Stormont's main parties bar the DUP, is regarded as the stronger of the two pieces of proposed legislation
Mr Poots brought forward his bill, which includes less ambitious net zero targets, in June.
There are concerns that this unprecedented situation, in which there are two parallel pieces of legislation dealing with the same issue, will put pressure on the assembly's resources ahead of the mandate expiring next year and that neither bill will gain royal assent.
The north is the only part of Britain or Ireland without bespoke legislation for tackling climate change.
In a letter last month to Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Council seen by The Irish News, Mr Poots voices concern about the "legally binding target" in Ms Bailey's bill for achieving net zero by 2045.
The minister says he has concerns that the target "is not based on the impartial and expert advice of the UK Climate Change Committee (CCC)".
He adds that the CCC "advised there is no credible pathway" for the Northern Ireland to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2045.
Mr Poots says the target in Ms Bailey's bill "would have a detrimental impact on our agriculture sector", which is responsible for the highest proportion of the north's greenhouse gas emissions.
The letter reveals that the minister and his officials have met Ms Bailey and other Green Party members "to determine if an approach can be agreed in relation to the progression or amalgamation of the two climate change bills".
Some climate change campaigners have welcomed the engagement, however, others are concerned that it will lead to a "watering down" of Ms Bailey's bill.
Sinn Féin MLA Philip McGuigan, who co-sponsored the private member's bill alongside Alliance's John Blair, said his party still supported the private members bill.
"We support ambitious targets because as the recent IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) highlighted, climate change poses a very real threat – even this summer we've seen a hot spell followed by heavy rain and flooding," he said.
The North Antrim MLA said he recognised concern from the agrifood sector but added "none of this is beyond our means".
Ulster Unionist leader Doug Beattie said his party would not be supporting the net zero target in Ms Bailey's bill and that it "made sense to blend" the two pieces of legislation.
Former Green Party councillor and Queen's academic Dr John Barry said he was concerned that the aims of the private member's bill would be diluted.
"It'll not be the Poots bill going up in terms of its ambition but Clare Bailey's going down," he said.
Friends of the Earth director James Orr said the priority was to put climate change legislation in place before the end of the mandate.
"I think it's important that we investigate all the options but it'll be deeply disappointing if we emerge with a weak bill," he said.
Last month, Ms Bailey told The Irish News that both bills needed to be "treated fairly" as they move through the assembly and that she would endeavour to "strengthen department (of agriculture and environment) bill as soon as is possible".