Introducing climate change legislation and reducing carbon emissions in Northern Ireland could result in major economic benefits, particularly in the agri-food sector, a new report has claimed.
The UK Committee on Climate Change (CCC) said that Northern Ireland has relatively high per capita emissions in agriculture, transport and the residential sector.
The report was published in response to Environment Minister Alex Attwood, who asked for advice on whether Northern Ireland can enact its own climate change legislation.
Agriculture accounts for 27% of emissions in Northern Ireland compared to 9% in the UK as a whole.
The report also acknowledges that agriculture is a key sector of the Northern Irish economy, "underpinning a food and drink export industry which currently accounts for 20% of export earnings for the Northern Ireland economy".
Transport emissions per capita are slightly higher in Northern Ireland than in the UK as a whole, reflecting a relatively dispersed population and reliance on private rather than public transport.
Non-residential buildings and industry sectors account for around 10% of total Northern Ireland emissions.
The CCC said it has identified "significant opportunities" for emissions reductions across key sectors in Northern Ireland, which "would result in economic benefits in an increasingly carbon and resource constrained world".
"The alternative, to continue on a business as usual path, would result in increasing costs in line with rising carbon prices, and reliance on imported fossil fuels around which there are security of supply concerns," said the report.
"Agriculture is an area where it could be beneficial for the Executive to focus and encourage research and development resources," the climate change report suggests.
An Agriculture Greenhouse Gas Reduction Framework for Northern Ireland is currently being developed by a stakeholders group which includes the Executive's Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, the Ulster Farmers' Union, and the wider agri-food industry.
The proposals are aimed at improving the environmental efficiency of the sector through voluntary measures, with an anticipated implementation date of late 2012.
The CCC report also reveals that, although emissions from the public sector estate currently account for a low share of the total, emissions from publicly-owned industries account for a much larger share of the total.