Local meat and dairy production would need to drop by well over 50% for NI to reach net-zero carbon emissions, a group of climate change experts has confirmed.
In a letter to Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots, the chair of the Climate Change Committee (CCC), Lord Deben, maintained that a 100% reduction in emissions by 2050 “cannot credibly be set” for NI.
“A 50% fall in meat and dairy production in NI by 2050, and significantly greater levels of tree planting on the land released, is not enough to get NI to net-zero emissions in 2050,” Lord Deden said.
Instead, the CCC, which advises the UK government on climate policy, has recommended that NI aims to cut emissions by at least 82% by 2050. Minister Poots is proposing to make this a legally binding target by including this in his new climate change bill.
Without a corresponding reduction in consumption of such produce, this would simply shift emissions overseas
However, proposals from the Green Party, which are supported by Sinn Féin, SDLP, Alliance and the Ulster Unionist Party, go much further and aim to make it a legal requirement to reach net zero by 2045.
In his letter to Minister Poots, Lord Deben strongly advises that targets should not be too ambitious as it would “undermine their credibility”.
He also points out that reducing output from NI farming, without the same reduction in consumer demand, would lead to more food being imported from abroad.
“Without a corresponding reduction in consumption of such produce, this would simply shift emissions overseas,” Lord Deben said.
The update from the CCC created considerable debate at Stormont on Tuesday, with Minister Poots suggesting that local politicians were trying to “grab a headline” by setting unrealistic emissions targets.
“I want to listen to climate change experts, but I suspect that there are a lot of climate change experts in the [NI Assembly] chamber to whom I would be slightly less inclined to listen,” he said.
In particular, the DUP politician took aim at Ulster Unionist leader Steve Aiken who wants NI to reach net zero by 2035.
“I am not sure where his expertise comes from, but the climate change experts say that a larger reduction in output from the NI livestock sector would be required, compared with the rest of the UK,” Minister Poots said.
In a statement issued afterwards, the Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) was fiercely critical of the local politicians who support the Green Party’s proposed targets.
The agri-food industry will do everything it can to reduce emissions and work towards net zero while producing high-quality food
“It is completely unacceptable. Why are they refusing to listen to the advice of the CCC and why have they become so intent on destroying one of our most successful industries?” said UFU president Victor Chestnutt.
The union has invited the five main political parties to meet local farmers next week to discuss climate change targets for NI.
“The agri-food industry will do everything it can to reduce emissions and work towards net zero while producing high-quality food but we cannot accept bad legislation that could wipe out half of our livestock farmers just to meet a legislative target that does not seem to have any scientific basis,” Chestnutt said.