The dominant image that recurs throughout the Report on the Committee’s Inquiry is that of a missing road map. The Committee is searching for a map to show:
?How to find the facts about the specific effects from climate change on different geographical areas and economic sectors in NI, and
?How to find a road through the bureaucracies of different NI departments — many of which have some role and responsibility over climate change policies — to a place where climate change policies and regulations can be coordinated across the various departments.
Producing the first road map will require an assessment of existing data and research, including relevant studies from the UK and RoI, and intensive directed research on NI conditions to fill any data gaps. There are considerable gaps in the data, as pointed out by the Northern Ireland Environment Agency in its Northern Ireland Environmental Statistics Report (January 2009) (Note: see digest in “Report” section of first issue on irish environment. Unfortunately, there does not seem to be any existing, dedicated source of funds to make this all happen. The RoI EPA does have such a dedicated fund and it has been instrumental in developing a body of important research on local effects of climate change (Note: see “Podcast” of interview with Mary Kelly, Director General of the EPA in irish environment). Unfortunately for NI, a contracting economy, and a current Finance Minister unsympathetic to climate change issues, will make life difficult for anyone trying to solicit such funds.
The second road map presents its own challenges. The lack of coordination for climate change policies may be symptomatic of the need for institutional, structural modifications in the devolved government, to the extent there is one. The Programme for the NI Government commits the Executive to review the overall number of Government departments by 2011 and an Efficiency Review Panel is examining the number and organisation of departments. This ongoing review of public administration is especially important for coordinated climate change policies as these policies are now formulated and implemented by a host of department s, including the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) (general responsibility for environmental protection), the Climate Change Unit in the Dept. of the Environment (DOE), and the Office of First Minister and Deputy First Minister (OFMdFM) which has responsibility for the Sustainable Development Strategy . It is anticipated that some reorganization of the responsibilities for climate change will be implemented to resolve this problem, but what particular shape any reorganization takes remains to be seen. The Committee noted the usefulness of the RoI Joint Oireachta Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security. A number of parties offering submissions or testifying called for a new department of energy and climate change along the lines of the same DECC structure at Whitehall.
While the Committee makes fifty-two Recommendations — some rather general aspirations, some very specific action items— several issues drew particular attention from the Committee besides the need for the road maps sketched above.
Perhaps surprisingly, and hopefully, the Committee paid attention to the Green New Deal recently proposed by a consortium of environmental, business and even farming organizations. The Committee expressed support for such an approach to merging economic and environmental goals, in aid of a general recovery for the economy of NI, and called for more specific analysis and concrete plans from the Green New Deal organizations. (Note: see summaries of the NI and RoI Green New Deal proposals in the “Report” section and an entry on “Green New Deal” in the “iePEDIA” section of irish environment). It is understood that the Committee’s response derives, in part, from the fact that the business community supports the Green New Deal; it also may be noted that the Ulster Farmers Union signed on to the Green New Deal. It is hoped that the organizations behind the New Deal can come up with the resources and leadership to take hold of this opportunity to provide the Assembly Committee what it needs to further the goals of the New Deal.
The Committee also embraced the NI government’s commitment to achieve a carbon neutral estate by 2015. Unfortunately, there is little in the Committee report, or the government’s commitment , that shows how such a goal can or will be reached. An important side effect of achieving a carbon neutral government estate is the development of Green (public) procurement policies and actions (Note: see the entry for “Green Public Procurement” in the “iePEDIA” section of irish environment). If the government leads the way in assessing the carbon footprint of materials, buildings, and regulatory action, and demands that procurement policies be based on achieving energy and carbon efficiency, then the private business sector will produce. That partnership in turn will provide cost-effective supplies, materials and processes that can generate jobs in creating a private party carbon neutral estate that relies on Green (private) procurement. The Committee notes that such procurement processes allow the government to establish and demonstrate best practices.
In light of commitments by the UK in the Climate Change Act, the Committee found there was inadequate climate change legislation in NI to enable the NI government to meet any obligation to help reduce UK-wide GHG emissions. NI per capita emissions are 12.83 tonnes/yr compared to the UK average of 10.5 tonnes/yr, and the global average of 4 tonnes/yr. NI contributes 3.5 % of the UK total emissions. So while the portion of the UK total is small, the per capita rate for NI is high. In determining what a fair share for NI would be, one would assume these figures would be relevant.
Much of climate change policy is set in London, and Brussels, but the Committee focuses on what a devolved government can do. The Committee calls for NI to develop its own climate change implementation strategy for both mitigation and adaptation. It acknowledges that commitments to reduce emissions will not come easy. But setting targets for the contribution for each economic sector to any reduction is put off on the grounds that more data is needed before allocating fairly any such targets. Transport is noted as a problem area, contributing 30% of NI CO2, which needs to be addressed, but there is no indication as to how to address the problem. The other difficult sector is farming and the Committee treads softly when discussing this sector. While it was posited that everybody had to do their share to fight climate change, the Committee concludes that farming is so important to the NI economy that other sectors might have to pull a heavier load to lessen the burden on the farming sector. There is no analysis within the Report for this position.
While the Report is an exercise in exploring, in some sense for the first time, the ins and outs of climate change and how it affects NI, one very positive note can be sounded. The Committee members have been engaged and it is hoped that they have bought into the seriousness of climate change and its impacts on the environment and economy of NI. There seemed to be little dissent in the process and it was encouraging that the Committee did not feel obliged to provide a forum to the lone climate denier who, by all accounts, was unpersuasive.
The Inquiry was a productive and useful start for the devolved administration to seriously meet the challenges of climate change. We all look forward to the Committee following up on its Recommendations.
The various parts of the Report can be found at: www.niassembly.gov.uk/environment/2007mandate/envir_report07.htm