Editorial: ​Stormont cannot just ignore the cost of its over ambitious Net Zero target

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News Letter editorial on Saturday February 17 2024:

Two years ago the Climate Change Committee chair wrote to Stormont’s then agriculture minister Edwin Poots.

Lord Deben, who was once a UK-wide agriculture minister, was responding to Stormont’s new goal of achieving Net Zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. The CCC was set up to advise British leaders on climate change.

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Lord Deben said the committee welcomed the ambition of the new bill. “However,” he said, “Northern Ireland is already playing catch-up with the rest of the UK in many areas.” The targets could “quickly lose credibility”. Lord Deben was being sceptical about this sudden Stormont target when NI was already lagging Great Britain on environmental goals.

When MLAs set their goal the political and media reaction suggested that it was obviously good thing. But there is something contemptible about loudly proclaiming your commitment to a worthy political and economic goal that is so far into the distance that few politicians of today will still be in office to face its consequences.

The net zero goal will require so much infrastructural and innovative change that the costs are immediate. Tom Elliott, an experienced politician representing a rural area, says the bill will be perhaps £700 million a year over the next three years.

Mr Poots warned about costs whenever the 2050 timescale was first mooted. The Ulster Farmers Union backed Mr Poots in a failed bid to pass a second climate change bill with a more realistic target.

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Such concerns were cast aside. Stormont still acts as if everything is easy and cost is inconsequential. Such poor governance is no advertisement for the devolution that we are told is so vital.

NI needs a rigorous environmental and climate change and emissions policy. But it needs a realistic one too and not just a virtue signalling approach that is heedless of economic fundamentals.