The Climate Bill for Northern Ireland represents a truly ground breaking effort on the part of a local coalition of climate activists, academics and legal professionals. The Bill attracted cross party support from a range of Assembly parties, a significant achievement given the often-polarised nature of politics within Northern Ireland.
‘The bill envisages Northern Ireland being carbon neutral by 2045 by cutting emissions across energy, transport, business, waste management and agriculture. As well as targets for greenhouse gases, it sets out plans for measures to tackle issues around water, soil quality and biodiversity loss. It also establishes a climate commissioner, who is independent of government, to oversee the work.’
The political commitments to the aims of the Climate Bill provide an obligation to address the inaction on climate breakdown on the part of successive Northern Ireland Executives and policy makers. Northern Ireland is the only region across the UK that doesn’t have specific climate legislation and a raft of indicators show that our natural world is suffering serious decline, causing harm to human health.
Yet, our carbon emission reduction efforts are falling short when set against the gains made by other devolved regions. Scotland has achieved a 45% reduction in carbon emissions since 1990 while Wales managed a 31% reduction. Northern Ireland’s reduction is a mere 20% and of great concern is the fact that our rate of reduction has stagnated since 2014.
The canary is singing when it comes to other environmental indicators across Northern Ireland. Ammonia pollution blights our countryside with 98% of Special Areas of Conservations impacted by toxic ammonia levels. Air quality is poor in various urban areas across the region with year-on-year breaches of air quality legal standards.
There is serious decline in inland water quality standards. Analysis under the Water Framework Directive shows that there has been a deterioration in the water quality of Northern Ireland’s lakes and rivers since previous surveys in 2015 and 2018 with 95% of our lakes are in decline.
Wildlife and our natural world are in decline with our Government failing to deliver in 83% of government commitments in their own Biodiversity Strategy.
Time is not on our side in the face of this crisis. That’s why the Climate Coalition came together to draft this bill and I’m delighted to be lead sponsor along with co-sponsors from Sinn Fein, SDLP, UUP, Alliance and Independent MLAs.
The bill has been submitted to the Speakers Office and we are in dialogue on technical aspects of the draft legislation at present. We are looking forward to making political progress in the New Year to shape the next nine years as the climate decade.