A climate change bill that is currently making its way through Stormont will “wipe-out” farming in Northern Ireland (NI), local politicians were told on Thursday.

Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) president Victor Chestnutt described the target for NI to reach net zero by 2045 as “completely ludricous”.

“Make no mistake, this would wipe-out the industry. It would wipe it out completely. You will have to look for another £5.2bn for the economy and the guts of 113,000 jobs,” he told members of Stormont’s agriculture committee.

He pointed to findings from an interim report by accountancy firm KPMG, which suggests that livestock numbers will need to fall by up to 85% for NI to reach the proposed emissions target.

“This is not scaremongering by the UFU, this is KPMG, a reputable company who were asked to look at it and this is the figures they came back with,” Chesnutt said.

“It shocked us and I hope it will shock you to realise that we need to take this in a more sustainable way forward, otherwise we will wipe-out our industry,” he added.

Two bills

The private members bill is sponsored by Green Party MLA Clare Bailey and currently has the support of Sinn Fein, the SDLP, Alliance and Ulster Unionist parties.

A separate climate change bill has been put forward by DAERA, which aims to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 82% by 2050. This target is based on recommendations from the climate change committee, an expert group of scientists who advise the UK government on climate policy.

Chestnutt urged MLAs to change tack and support the DAERA bill instead of the Green Party’s private members bill.

The anger from the UFU representatives was palpable at times, and Chesnutt indicated that his farmer members could engage in public protests if MLAs continue to support climate legislation that goes against all expert advice.

“The IFA are on the streets – our farmers will not be found wanting in getting the public attention. We will not be scapegoats. Net zero by 2045 is complete nonsense,” he warned.

Additional reporting by David Wright.