The Northern Ireland Environment Minister has launched a public consultation on the first ever NI Climate Change Bill, which would facilitate specific legislation regarding climate action in Northern Ireland.The draft legislation would declare a climate emergency, and envisages cutting emissions across energy, transport, business, waste management and agriculture, in order for Northern Ireland to become carbon neutral by 2045.
The Climate Change Act was passed in the UK in November 2008, however to date, Northern Ireland is currently the only part of the UK without its own distinct climate legislation.
“Climate change is a challenge that Northern Ireland must meet head on. It is not something facing us in the future, it is happening here and now,” said Environment Minister Edwin Poots in a statement announcing the launch of the consultation, which will run until 1 February 2021.
The Northern Ireland Climate Bill has received cross-party support, no mean feat in the NI Assembly, and was drafted by a coalition of legal experts, scientists, academics, and environmentalists.
Due to a political deadlock, the Northern Ireland assembly was suspended from January 2017 to January 2020. The executive returned to power under a deal agreed on by politicians from NI, the Republic of Ireland, and Great Britain, titled New Decade, New Approach. One aspect of the deal was the agreement to deliver climate change legislation and an independent Environmental Protection Agency.
The Climate Bill has received public as well as parliamentary support, with the threat of Brexit and its impact of environmental protections spurring on the work of environmental activists north and south of the Irish border. Northern Ireland’s unique position as part of both the UK and the EU single market creates both challenges and opportunities for cross-border cooperation.
The border “does not detract from the fact that shared landscapes, river basins and ecosystems amount to a single… bio-geographic unit, which requires a cooperative response,” Dr Ciara Brennan, Director of the Environmental Justice Network Ireland (ENJI) told The Lens.
The ENJI, founded in 2019, aims to connect academics and legal experts with community, grassroots activists from all over Ireland, the first such cross-border initiative.
“Nobody even knows where the border is any more. Is it on land, or is it in the Irish Sea?” said Colin Buick, chairperson of the NoArc21 campaign group of the challenges which Brexit poses to environmental campaigners in Northern Ireland.
“It’s really heartening,” said Buick on the increase in all-Ireland cooperation in organisations such as the ENJI.
“Campaigning, especially in rural areas, can often be isolating, and it gives us a source of strength that we never really had before.”