A new financial package should be set up to help NI farmers reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Stormont’s agriculture committee has recommended.
The proposal for a “Just Transition Fund for Agriculture” is outlined in the committee’s report into the climate change bill which was brought forward by Green Party MLA Clare Bailey.
The report states that the fund should allow new schemes to be rolled out which let farmers “adopt new technologies and ways of working”.
Further details about how much money should be set aside for the proposed package, or where the funding should come from within government, are not included in the report.
The funding came from the Scottish government and a further £40m was added to it for the 2021/22 financial year
However, MLAs point to a similar package which was set up in Scotland last year with an initial budget of £40m. The funding came from the Scottish government and a further £40m was added to it for the 2021/22 financial year.
The publication of the committee’s report means that the Green Party’s bill will now go back to the NI Assembly for further debate and votes on amendments.
Following months of discussion and hearing evidence, MLAs on the committee failed to reach an agreed position on the headline target for cutting greenhouse gas emissions.
The report describes the net zero by 2045 target as “the most contentious element of the bill” and states that across everyone who gave evidence to the committee, there was an “almost even split” between those who were in favour and those who opposed it.
The main issue is that the target goes against all advice from experts on the UK government’s Climate Change Committee (CCC). Instead, the CCC recommend that NI aims to cut emission by at least 82% by 2050.
The CCC target is included in a separate climate bill which has been brought forward by the NI Executive, although it is not as far advanced in the legislative process at Stormont.
Aside from the headline target, other important issues for NI farmers in the climate debate are mentioned in the new report by Stormont’s agriculture committee, but there are few firm recommendations.
For example, the MLAs acknowledge there is a risk that emissions targets could lead to reduced food production on local farms and more food imports from overseas, in a process known as carbon leakage.
An amendment to the bill has therefore been tabled which requires the NI Executive to “take into account the risk of substantial and unreasonable carbon leakage” when setting policies.
The committee concluded that this issue should be addressed by engaging with DAERA, and not by making amendments to Clare Bailey’s bill
Also, under the current greenhouse gas accounting system, carbon which is captured by soils, trees and hedgerows on farms is not used to offset emissions from the agriculture sector but is instead accredited to the land use sector.
The committee concluded that this issue should be addressed by engaging with DAERA, and not by making amendments to Clare Bailey’s bill.
Despite accepting that methane from ruminant livestock has a much shorter atmospheric lifespan than other greenhouse gases, MLAs on the committee decided not to recommend a separate target for biogenic methane.
They concluded that biogenic methane should stay within the overall net zero target as splitting targets “could be perceived negatively as a means of not grappling with the effects of climate change”.