Farmers are being urged to contact their local MLAs and voice opposition to a climate change bill which is currently making its way through Stormont.
The bill, which was tabled by Green Party MLA Clare Bailey and is supported by Sinn Féin, SDLP, Alliance and the Ulster Unionist Party, will make it a legal requirement for NI to reach net zero carbon by 2045.
“If this becomes legally binding, nobody can predict what policies DAERA will have to put in place to meet the target,” said Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) deputy president David Brown.
The Climate Change Committee (CCC), which advises the UK government on climate policy, has said meat and dairy production in NI would have to fall by over 50% to reach net zero.
Their recommendation is to aim for at least an 82% reduction in NI emissions by 2050, as part of an overall UK target to be net-zero by that date.
Our MLAs need to be made aware of the impact that this will have on farmers and rural society
This would still require 46% of farmland in NI to come out of production, plus a 20% cut in dairy and 35% drop in meat consumption.
“The Green Party’s private members bill will go further and faster than the CCC. Our MLAs need to be made aware of the impact that this will have on farmers and rural society,” Brown said.
A vote on the private members bill is scheduled for next week and with all the main parties, aside from the DUP, currently supporting it, the proposals look set to go through.
That potentially leaves a separate Climate Change bill, drafted by DAERA officials with targets based on CCC advice, effectively redundant. The bill is being brought forward by Minister Poots, but needs Stormont Executive approval before it can proceed to the next stage.
The Clare Bailey bill was developed by an umbrella group of environmental campaigners known as Climate Coalition NI. It is understood that no scientists with expertise in agriculture were involved in setting the 2045 net-zero target and there was no assessment of the bill’s impact on the farming industry or rural economy.
The Climate Coalition NI was approached by the Irish Farmers Journal for comment, but no response was received.
Policies will be put in place to make it uneconomical for a farmer to keep livestock
According to the UFU’s David Brown, many local farmers do not realise the impact that the 2045 net-zero target will have on their businesses.
“Some UFU members have questioned how the government will stop farmers from keeping livestock, but if this target is put in legislation, it will shape all future policy in the long term. Policies will be put in place to make it uneconomical for a farmer to keep livestock,” he maintained.
A key point raised by the UFU is that overly ambitious climate targets will lead to reduced output from NI farms and increased food imports from abroad. In effect, emissions associated with food production in NI will be moved overseas, with no benefit in stopping global warming.
“People still need to be fed and the UK is only around 60% self-sufficient in food. If we are unable to produce enough food locally, we will have to import more food from other parts of the world,” Brown said.
Farmers are not climate change deniers
He points to data from the CCC which shows the carbon footprint of local beef is 2.5 times below the global average, and the carbon intensity of NI milk production has reduced by 34% since 1990.
“Farmers are not climate change deniers; we are at the forefront of weather everyday and our businesses depend on it. Even the CCC said a net-zero target ‘cannot be credibly set for NI’ but our MLAs are choosing to ignore this expert advice,” Brown said.