Watching lengthy deliberations by MLAs on the Stormont agriculture committee last Thursday as they argued over greenhouse gas emissions targets for NI, it was clear, at least, that they grasp the importance of the decisions they soon face.
In the coming weeks this all boils down to two simple options. Either a 2045 target for net zero emissions as set out in the private member’s bill brought by Green party leader Clare Bailey, or a target to cut emissions by at least 82% by 2050 contained in the Executive bill led by DAERA minister Edwin Poots.
The Executive bill is based on the best scientific advice and seen as NI’s fair share of an overall UK target to be net zero by 2050. The target in the Clare Bailey bill seems to be based on the fact that because many countries have a 2050 target for net zero, NI should show ambition, and achieve it five years earlier.
Scant evidence of support
Ms Bailey and her climate change allies in Sinn Féin claim that many farmers support the 2045 target, yet the evidence for that is scant. The only farm organisation to offer its support is Farmers For Action (FFA) in NI, and at the time, that support was predicated on MLAs delivering parallel legislation on farmgate pricing in NI. The prospect of that legislation happening in the near future is nil.
In 2020, NI farmers had total incomes of £456m, realised from a gross output of £2.23bn, of which £1.2bn was generated by cattle and sheep farmers
The other argument that Bailey and others make is that farmers will be supported in a move to net zero emissions by a ‘Just Transition’ fund. What this basically means is that farmers will be given money by government to wind down their livestock enterprises and essentially turn NI into a large national park.
In 2020, NI farmers had total incomes of £456m, realised from a gross output of £2.23bn, of which £1.2bn was generated by cattle and sheep farmers. Are taxpayers really going to give NI farmers hundreds of millions each year to put their feet up, especially when the strong advice from UK government scientific advisers is not to adopt a net zero target? The promise of money from Bailey and Co is akin to the £350m per week for the NHS on the Brexit bus.