By Jonathan McCambridge, PA
MLAs have been told it is “crazy” that there are currently two climate change Bills proceeding through the Assembly.
Representatives from the agri-food sector appeared at the Stormont Agriculture Committee where they warned that one of the Bills could decimate the farming industry in Northern Ireland.
Northern Ireland is currently the only part of the UK and Ireland that does not have its own Climate Change Act.
Two separate Bills are currently proceeding through legislative stages in the Assembly – a private members’ Bill from Green Party NI leader Clare Bailey and one tabled by DUP Environment Minister Edwin Poots.
Ms Bailey’s Bill, which is supported by a majority of other Stormont parties, sets a 2045 target for reaching net-zero carbon emissions.
Mr Poots’s Bill sets the less ambitious goal of reducing emissions by 82% by 2050.
The committee heard evidence on Thursday about Mr Poots’s Bill, referred to as the Climate Change No 2 Bill.
MLAs were told farming and agri-food would be some of the sectors most affected by new climate change legislation, and industry representatives said they need clarity about what is expected of them.
Mike Johnston from the Dairy Council for Northern Ireland said: “We need the leadership that only legislation can provide.
“In this regard it is not helpful that Northern Ireland has two climate change Bills progressing through the Assembly and I would urge you to provide the leadership we need and let us have a single Bill, fashioned on this Number 2 Bill, that we can work through to have legislation that we can deliver.
“In our view the Climate Change Bill No 2 has the potential to provide the sort of legislative framework that will address what we need for our journey over the next 30 years, it provides targets that are very challenging but achievable and evidence-based.”
Aileen Lawson from the Ulster Farmers’ Union added: “If we want to get this through in this mandate, it is important that we find a compromise that works for everybody.
“We have made it very clear that the private members’ Bill, the No 1 Bill, would decimate the agri-food sector. The main reason for that is the targets.
“If we could work with the targets in the No 2 Bill, there are other issues within both Bills which could be merged.
“We really would urge the MLAs to get round the table and find where those compromises would be and the sooner the better so we can get on with delivering for climate change.”
Mr Johnston added: “I think it is crazy that we have got two Bills trying to do the same thing going through the Assembly and this committee at the same time.
“The sooner that we can get a single Bill that we can start to work around the better because we are being pulled in all directions by customers, our competitors are gathering momentum.
“We want to get on, we want to start making things happen in a new and different way.”