The term “Green New Deal” has gained a good bit of currency lately and the Northern Ireland (NI) Group has issued a report detailing how a Green New Deal could be implemented in NI. See “Green New Deal” in the iePEDIA section of www.irishenvironment.com for a brief description of this term and its origins. The UK Sustainable Development Commission is the independent adviser on sustainable development, reporting to the Prime Minister, the First Ministers of Scotland and Wales, and the First and Deputy First Minister in Northern Ireland. While the UK-wide SDC, formerly led by Jonathan Proffitt, actively promotes sustainable development in the UK, the NI devolved government has only recently started the process of searching for a Commissioner for the SDC NI. See “Sustainable Development” entry in iePEDIA section of www.irishenvironment.com for further background on this term. See “Towards a Green New Deal for Ireland” (October 2009), Comhar Sustainable Development Council, also digested in the “Reports” section of this issue of www.irishenvironment.com
The Group begins with the acknowledgement that while much of the macro economics affecting NI remain under the control of the UK government, there are critical areas that remain under the control of the NI devolved government, including policies toward industrial and energy development, education, and environmental practices.
This Green New Deal concentrates on reducing dependence on fossil fuels. The Group points out that 99% of NI energy comes from imported fossil fuel and that energy costs about 10% of NI’s gross value added (GVA). See note below. With close to 50% of that imported energy in the form of oil, and with the impending reduction of global oil supplies, and steep increasing costs, the costs of continuing this reliance on fossil fuels is not sustainable. Certainly those on fixed incomes will suffer the most from increased fuel costs. To reduce this reliance, the Group focuses specifically on two reforms: energy efficiency in NI’s building stock and increasing supply of renewable energy.
Domestic heating, for space and water, accounts for 40% of energy consumed in NI. The Group proposes that the entire housing stock be retrofitted through a series of actions including basic insulation, double glazed windows, solid wall insulation, solar 80% at a cost of £230 million per year for 10 years. Such an investment would generate between 10,000 and 5,000 direct and indirect jobs. For public sector buildings, that consume 5% of the energy, similar actions would save 20% of the energy use, at an upfront cost of £120-180 million, which would be paid back from energy savings over 4-6 years, and would generate £30 million each year in cost savings after the pay back period.
Renewable Energy Supply
Only 6% of NI’s electricity supply, and 1% of its total energy, comes from indigenous renewable energy sources. Like in most places, there is a lot of room for growth in renewables. The Group acknowledges that major investments in renewables are called for in the middle of tight credit markets, and low costs of carbon and it does not expand on how that growth will develop. The Group does make it clear that little will happen unless the devolved government takes an active role in setting targets for energy usage that must come from renewable sources and provides economic support for reaching these targets with local industries.
The other voracious consumer of energy. particularly imported oil, is the transport sector that uses 28% of total energy at a cost of 4% of the GVA. This sector continues to grow and the Group suggests that only increased fuel costs may bring some control over the energy use and greenhouse gas emissions from the sector.
Funding the Deal
Given the current economic conditions, the Group proposes that the upfront costs will have to be funded by refocusing existing programs, e.g., Investment Strategy for Northern Ireland, on energy efficiency and renewable energy, coup-led with various private investment mechanisms, including bonds. The Group also suggests that there is a need to reward investment in low carbon technologies and energy efficiency, while penalising those properties that continue to waste energy. But nothing is possible without the commitment from the devolved government: “offering strong leadership; providing funding which can leverage substantial investment; developing the necessary policy framework; and working in partnership with a range of stakeholders.” That commitment remains to be seen.
The NI Green New Deal Group is comprised of Bryson Charitable Group, Chamber of Commerce, CBI, Energy Savings Trust, Friends of the Earth, Institute of Directors, ICTU, NICVA, NI Environment Link, NI Federation of Housing Associations, NI Manufacturing, Sustainable Development Commission, Translink, and Ulster Farmers Union.
Gross Value Added or GVA is a measure in economics of the value of goods and services produced in an area or sector of an economy. Wikipedia.