Green Party NI leader Clare Bailey, who tabled the climate change laws, said time was “no longer on our side”.
Her Private Member’s Bill, which proposes that Northern Ireland commits to achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2045, passed its second Assembly stage on Monday evening, meaning it will now go before a Stormont committee for further scrutiny.
“The legislation is long overdue,” Ms Bailey told the Assembly.
“Northern Ireland remains the only part of the UK and Ireland with no legally binding greenhouse gas reduction targets.
“We know that Northern Ireland has an unfortunate track record of poor performance on climate. Our emissions are not falling at anywhere the same rate as those in the rest of the UK.”
She added: “Time is no longer on our side. We need to move far, and we need to move fast. Climate mitigation will impact on all aspects of people’s lives.”
The Bill, which also envisages to the establishment of a Northern Ireland Climate Office, has been supported by Sinn Fein, the SDLP, UUP, Alliance Party, People Before Profit and a number of independent MLAs.
The DUP is opposed to the Private Member’s Bill, with the party’s Environment Minister Edwin Poots developing his own climate change legislation.
‘WE HAVE BEEN THROWN UNDER THE BUS’
The UFU voiced disappointment tonight after news of the vote came in.
Its president Victor Chestnutt said: “We have constantly re-iterated that the UFU supports climate change legislation and the need to tackle emissions from agriculture, but proposals must be fair and credible and backed by evidence – at the present time, this climate change Private Member’s Bill does none of these things.
“We’re extremely disheartened that despite our substantial endeavours to highlight why our MLAs support for this bill could be a step towards destroying one of our most successful industries, it has fallen on deaf ears.
“Many of our members reached out to their local MLAs asking them to listen to the advice provided by the experts on the Climate Change Committee [the independent statutory body that advises on global warming matters] and to support local farmers in their efforts to reduce emissions without diminishing our ability to produce food to world leading standards.
“Our farmers are the climate change solution, not the problem.
“They’re committed to playing their part to combat this global issue and while we’ve been thrown under the bus for the popular vote, this has not changed.
“Our goal now is to ensure amendments are made to create a fairer framework that is backed up with expert advice and allows our local farmers to reduce emissions on farm without drastic livestock reductions while continuing to feed the nation.
“Many of our MLAs stated that they do not want to damage our agri-food sector and we’re going to ensure they stay true to their word.
“The future of faming and local food production depends on it.”
MINISTER POOTS HAS ‘DEEP CONCERNS’:
Proposals put out by Mr Poots’ department for public consultation at the end of last year contained less ambitious carbon reduction targets.
Mr Poots’ proposed legislation would deliver a carbon emissions reduction of at least 82% by 2050.
During Monday’s Assembly debate, Mr Poots said he could not support Ms Bailey’s bill because he had “deep concerns” about it and believes it would be “seriously damaging”.
“I have developed policy proposals for a balanced and evidence-based climate change bill but I’ve not been able to discuss these at the Executive, despite the fact that I’ve been seeking to get them on the agenda since the 24th of March,” he said.
“Once these can be tabled at the Executive and agreement is secured to proceed, I can quickly move to introduce the right climate change legislation for Northern Ireland which delivers on the New Decade, New Approach commitments.”
He said the targets set in Ms Bailey’s bill were “far removed” from independent expert advice and evidence.
“A net zero by 2045 target would be extremely detrimental to our economy without actually reducing global greenhouse gas emissions but rather shift our emissions elsewhere,” he said.
He asked those supporting the bill why they wanted to “devastate” Northern Ireland’s rural landscape and rural fabric.
Farmers’ representatives have warned that the targets set in Ms Bailey’s Bill would have a negative impact on their industry.
Her Bill was developed by the Climate Coalition NI, which is made up of a range of scientists, academics, lawyers and environmental organisations.
During Monday’s Assembly debate, the DUP’s William Irwin, who is also a farmer, raised concern.
“I must state that the threat to farming, food production and the economic stability of Northern Ireland could not be starker when the ramifications of the Bill are considered,” he said.
“Ms Bailey has managed to unite the agri-food sector, ordinary farmers and representative farming organisations against her Bill not because they have some fear or unwillingness to protect and enhance the environment — they already try to do that — but because such a Bill, if implemented, would do unimaginable harm to Northern Ireland’s food production.”
The bill completed its second stage by 58 votes to 29.
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