Northern Ireland news

MLAs back more ambitious green energy target as climate laws debate continues

Climate activists at Stormont's Parliament Buildings as a debate took place in the Assembly on Minister for Agriculture Edwin Poots' Climate Change Bill. Picture by Liam McBurney/PA Wire 
Rebecca Black and David Young, PA

Assembly members have voted for a more ambitious 10-year renewable energy target for Northern Ireland.

The amendment to draft climate change legislation for the north sets a target of 80% of electricity consumption sourced from renewable sources by 2030.

The Alliance Party amendment, which was passed by 34 votes to 27, came on the second day of Assembly debate on Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots’ draft Bill.

The Department for the Economy target in its recently published energy strategy is 70% electricity consumption from renewable sources by 2030.

Another amendment, requiring the Department for the Economy to publish sector specific energy consumption plans, also passed, by 34 votes to 28.

Ahead of today’s resumed consideration stage, when a series of amendments were debated, Mr Poots suggested he will push for the agriculture sector to be exempt from a new net-zero carbon target.

Mr Poots hit out at “stupidity” after a majority of MLAs voted for an amendment to his Bill last night that set a target of net-zero emissions by 2050.

An amendment by the Green Party Northern Ireland was passed by 50 votes to 38 yesterday, increasing Mr Poots’ proposed 2050 reduction target from 82% to 100%.

Party leader Clare Bailey said the move means Northern Ireland will “no longer be the only region in these islands without a net-zero emissions target”.

The Bill must also pass through two further Assembly stages before it goes for Royal Assent.

Ms Bailey has also proposed an alternative climate change Bill, which is also progressing through Stormont in the final weeks before the Assembly is dissolved for fresh elections.

Northern Ireland is currently the only part of the UK which does not have its own climate legislation; however UK-wide targets do apply to the north.

Mr Poots’ Bill, backed by the agrifood industry, has been criticised by environmentalists as not going far enough.

Meanwhile, Ms Bailey’s Bill goes further, proposing a 2045 target for reaching net-zero carbon emissions

Mr Poots said he will be looking over the coming days at what further amendments he can table to “limit the harm and damage that will be done to many small farm families in particular across Northern Ireland as a consequence of Assembly Members defying the scientific evidence”.

He claimed MLAs have been warned that voting for the net zero 2050 target will result in 13,000 families losing their ability to farm and “huge” consequences for 100,000 people employed in the sector.

“This is going to have a devastating impact on the rural community and this is very much the city folks and Sinn Fein and SDLP ganging up on rural communities, and it is an appalling situation where our Assembly took a decision which is not evidence-based, which is not science-based and is not in line with either the UK’s Climate Change Committee’s recommendations or indeed the IPCC,” he told the BBC.

Mr Poots said he intends to press for an exemption for the agriculture sector from the target in the Bill as well as a number of other amendments during the final stages.

Ms Bailey said she is delighted that the net zero by 2050 target was passed by MLAs but said there are a lot of other issues to look at as well.

She said her focus at this time is on securing amendments to Mr Poots’ Bill, rather than her own Bill, which is yet to have its consideration stage.

“It’s not just about the headline targets, but it’s about independent oversight, it’s about having just transition, it’s about tackling what the agriculture sector need in terms of a just transition specifically for them as well, so let’s get a look at what we can do to shape up and make the Executive and Minister’s Bill a lot stronger and see where we are with the Private Member’s Bill after that,” she said.

“My focus right now is getting more amendments passed today.”

Ms Bailey said she will have a look at any further amendments Mr Poots produces.

“We’re at consideration stage at the minute, we have another day, possibly more looking at that stage.

“There is another stage after that in final consideration stage where other amendments can be put forward, so we’ll have to wait until that stage to see what is produced and we will take it stage by stage,” she said.

Farmers and environmentalists held separate demonstrations outside Parliament Buildings yesterday ahead of the start of the lengthy debate.

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