12 questions about the NI climate change law

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Northern Ireland is in the process of consulting both on a new energy strategy (especially on renewables) and on new climate change legislation.

In this post, we take a look at 12 questions and answers to explain the current position.

1. Don’t the UK’s net zero climate change targets already apply to NI?

No. This is a devolved matter and Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK and Ireland that does not have legally binding climate change targets. The NI Assembly declared a climate emergency in February 2020 and pledged to implement the climate change law, but MPs were divided on how high to set the bar.

2. Hasn’t a climate change bill been released this year?

Yes, in fact, there are two competing bills. The first is a private member’s bill sponsored by Claire Bailey of the Green Party and the second is a bill by Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots of the DUP. At this point, the Green Party’s bill is still moving forward, but neither looks likely to pass this year.

The Green Party bill appears to have garnered good support among the Sinn Fein, UUP, SDLP, Alliance and People Before Profit parties, but the DUP bill is sponsored by a minister. It is also more closely following existing UK law. Both bills have been submitted for public consultation fairly recently and the responses are still being examined by the Assembly’s Committee on Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (AERA).

3. Don’t they just cover the same thing?

No. The Green Party bill calls on NI to achieve “net zero” by 2045, which represents a 100% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from the 1990 baseline. To achieve this, the bill asks the executive to produce a climate action plan and revise it every five years. A progress report should then be presented to the Assembly each year, with an independent “climate commissioner” appointed to review progress. Finally, the bill contains a “non-regression” clause which says that the objectives can only be revised upwards.

The DUP bill sets a lower target and asks NI to achieve a reduction of “at least” 82% of its “emissions account” from the baseline scenario by 2050. This bill contains much more detail, in particular a reference to the baseline scenario. and the emissions account, which breaks down the different greenhouse gases with different base years. The bill also provides a mechanism for DEARA to subsequently modify any of the targets. Separately, there is a concept of a “carbon budget” every five years and an obligation that the “emissions account” not exceed it.

In contrast, the UK Climate Change Act 2008 (amended 2019) requires the UK to reach ‘net zero’ by 2050, with the UK’s net carbon account to be at least 100% lower. the 1990 baseline. In the Sixth Carbon Budget, the UK set the world’s most ambitious target of reducing emissions by 78% by 2035 from 1990 levels.

4. They still sound pretty similar, what’s the problem?

The devil is in the detail. The DUP bill sets lower targets than the Green Party bill (and also UK law). If the DUP bill were successful, NI would be legally committed to reducing greenhouse gases less than the UK in general, meaning other parts of the UK would have to cut their emissions by more than 100% to make up the difference.

Supporters of the DUP bill have defended this approach on the grounds that the UK Climate Change Committee has declared that ‘an 82% reduction in all greenhouse gases in Northern Ireland represents an equivalent effort and a contribution fair to the UK’s net zero target ”. This is largely on the basis that NI is a net food producer for the rest of the UK and therefore has higher emissions from agriculture relative to its size (Wales had a recommendation of 92 % for the same reason).

Opponents pointed out that the UK Committee on Climate Change also recommended an “stretchable” target for the NI of 94% greenhouse gas reductions by 2050.

They also pointed out that the DUP bill does not have an end date for NI to reach net zero, which in theory would put NI behind China which has publicly committed to 2060.

5. Does 18% really make a big difference?

Apparently yes it is. Lord Deben of the Climate Change Committee said that even a 50% drop in meat and dairy production in the NI by 2050, combined with significantly higher levels of tree planting on freed land of agriculture, would not be sufficient to reach “net zero” by 2050. This would clearly have a significant impact on agriculture.

6. When will it be the law?

The consultation on the DUP bill was not closed until September 30, 2021, so it will take some time to consider the responses. Nevertheless, the UK is expected to host the COP26 conference in November this year. It seems inconceivable that NI did not make an announcement on a climate change law before that date. Since there are two competing bills, a more realistic timeline for passing a new law might be before the May 2022 election.

7. What does this mean for NI companies?

It is potentially good and bad. This will bring huge opportunities in what is called the “green recovery”, but it may also bring new risks and regulations that businesses must manage.

The NI Assembly will be legally bound to take steps to decarbonize the province. It means encouraging things like renewables, energy efficiency and better waste management.

It also creates the possibility that activists can challenge projects on the grounds that they are incompatible with climate change law. This has already happened with the challenge of Heathrow’s third runway, which was deemed illegal because it violated the Paris climate agreement aimed at reducing emissions. A similar appeal was recently filed in Ireland against the planning for a new Amazon data center.

8. Doesn’t NI already support renewable energies?

Not really. NI is the only part of the UK and Ireland (and possibly Europe) that does not have financial support for new renewables. Hopefully that will change soon as the NI Assembly agrees on a new energy strategy.

9. When will we know the result?

The consultation was not closed until July 2, 2021. It was over 150 pages long and had 79 questions, so it will take some time for the Ministry of the Economy to analyze the responses. As with the climate change bill (s), it seems highly unlikely that some sort of response will not be released before COP26 (although this may require further consultation).

10. What are the trends that emerge from the consultation?

Difficult to say at this stage as the answers are not yet public. Based on responses to industry consultations in which we participated, it appears that the following areas will be the main areas of public policy interest:

  • No more grid: spending on new electricity grid infrastructure. SONI and NIE are both consulting on this, but it will take a lot of money to get the grid where it needs to be to connect new wind farms and electric cars.
  • No more wind farms: New large-scale renewable energy development (probably onshore wind and solar first). This can include new projects, the redevelopment of old existing projects and a move towards offshore wind.
  • Renewable Support: Probably a contract for a difference scheme similar to GB, rather than a new grant.
  • Renovations: Energy efficiency incentives for homes and businesses. This will encourage energy efficiency in new buildings, as well as the renovation of old buildings which could be a real area of ​​growth.
  • Electric vehicles: Decarbonization of transport, including cars and public transport. We foresee a rapid evolution towards electric and hydrogen / biomethane vehicles in the coming years.
  • Green gas: Development of a green gas strategy, in particular biomethane and hydrogen. Probably a longer term goal, but Boris Johnson has already pledged to generate 5 GW of low carbon hydrogen by 2030 and the UK recently released an ambitious hydrogen strategy.
  • Planning policy: Changes made to the planning policy to encourage new renewable energy projects.

11. Great, so we could have a new CfD on renewable energies by November?

Unfortunately no. NI has a checkered history in designing renewable energy support programs, so it seems unlikely that a new program of this size will be rushed. Even assuming that NI copies the GB CfD schema, or is admitted into a special part of the GB schematic, it may take another year or more to work out the details. The Irish government recently introduced a similar program which took over a year to design and implement.

12. So what happens next?

COP26 will undoubtedly lead governments to make more ambitious commitments on climate change and the UK is clearly committed to being a leader. We would therefore expect to see strong political incentives for the development of renewable energies and the reduction of greenhouse gases. The recent energy crisis will also lead to more calls for the development of renewable energies to reduce dependence on imported fossil fuels. Likewise, companies are under commercial pressure to be more sustainable and we see this as a real area of ​​short-term growth.


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