Following a meeting with the Ulster Farmers Union (UFU) on Wednesday, Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) leader Doug Beattie has confirmed that his party will support climate change legislation which includes a target of reduction in carbon admissions by at least 82% by 2050.
That target is included in the DAERA climate change bill introduced by Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots to the Stormont Assembly just before the summer recess and is based on the recommendation from experts in the UK Climate Change Committee (CCC).
However, the DAERA bill is the second piece of climate legislation currently being considered by MLAs, having been preceded by a private member’s bill taken forward by Green Party leader Clare Bailey.
That bill includes a target for NI to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2045.
The advice from the CCC is that this net zero target “cannot credibly be set for NI”, with subsequent analysis by consultancy firm KPMG suggesting that it would lead to the decimation of livestock production in NI.
Despite the CCC's warning, all major political parties in NI, outside of the DUP, initially backed the Clare Bailey bill.
It was voted through to the next stage in May 2021 by 58 votes to 29. Out of the 10 UUP MLAs, two voted against it - Rosemary Barton and Roy Beggs Jnr.
Prior to the vote, in March 2021, then-UUP leader Steve Aiken even suggested that NI should set a target for net zero emissions by 2035.
However, significant lobbying behind the scenes, including from rural grassroots membership, has prompted the UUP to amend its position.
In a statement following the meeting with the UFU, Doug Beattie also made reference to ongoing work between Minister Poots, DAERA officials and Clare Bailey to try to find common ground between the two climate change bills.
“The best result is if agreement can be reached on one amalgamated bill. This is too important an issue for politicians to attempt to score political points,” said the UUP leader.