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Green Growth Index – How NI can become leaders of the green revolution


Lloyds Banking Group hosted a roundtable discussion with MLAs and Northern Ireland economic leaders, laying bare findings from its UK Green Growth Index, produced by Oxford Economics.

The discussion, chaired by Belfast Telegraph Business Editor Margaret Canning, illustrated opportunities and challenges on the road to a greener future. It coincided with the Executive’s consultation on its draft Green Growth Strategy, which closes on December 21.


The Green Growth Index found that Northern Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions were higher than other UK regions. This is despite emissions falling by 18pc here since 1990.

Certain sectors, such as home, energy and waste, have improved in that time. Household greenhouse gas emissions have dropped by 21pc, energy emissions have reduced by 48pc and waste management by almost 60pc. However, emissions from transport have increased by 21pc, and agriculture by 7pc.

Oxford Economics’ Richard Holt highlighted that despite there being two climate change bills before the Assembly, climate change legislation specific to Northern Ireland had yet to be introduced.

Although a range of policies and discussions were about to come to fruition, there were sectors that Northern Ireland needed to address to make progress.

Jim McCooe, from Lloyds Banking Group, noted that emissions from Northern Ireland’s agriculture sector make up a quarter of the total greenhouse gases here, the result of a heavy livestock farming sector compared with the UK average.

Meanwhile, Mr Holt added that Northern Ireland’s high dependency on oil heating – used by more than 70pc of homes – means a lot of work needs to be done in domestic heating as well.

Transport, which represents a fifth of Northern Ireland’s total emissions, also requires greater investment in electric vehicle (EV) charging points to encourage greater take-up.

Mr Holt also pointed out that Northern Ireland has numerous strengths, including the increasing use of public transport and our “virtuous” renewable energy, which accounts for 45pc of the UK’s renewable energy sector.

He said, “There are opportunities, including strong employment prospects and the National Grid thinks we will create 13,000 jobs. The low emission vehicles and buses being produced in Northern Ireland – and a very strong renewables sector – are bases upon which to build.”

Net zero by 2050

Ulster Unionist MLA Steve Aiken said one climate change bill, instead of the current two, was needed, while standardised reporting would also be crucial.

“We need an independent method of checking progress,” he said. “We can’t be seen to be marking our own homework.

“We all buy into the fact there is a climate emergency. We can, and need to, do something about it.”

One area to address would be Northern Ireland’s “monopolistic” electric grid system, he said, adding, “NIE and Soni will only upgrade the grid reactively — that’s where energy strategy needs to be moving.”

A just transition

The energy sector also had a role to play in ensuring the transition to net zero was fair, Sinn Fein MLA Caoimhe Archibald said.

She talked of a “minimum tariff obligation” for big providers to buy a proportion of energy from small-scale generators and highlighted her party’s drive to make going green more affordable.

“We can’t leave people behind,” she said. “One of the big themes is affordability. There is a recognition for incentives and people will need some level of support.”

Ms Archibald also called for retrofitting of lesser energy efficient housing and development of green economy apprenticeships and courses.

A collaborative and balanced approach

However, the challenge was bigger than one sector – and everyone would need to work together if Northern Ireland – and indeed the UK – was to succeed.

Alliance Party MLA Stewart Dickson said, “When it comes to agriculture, we must work alongside the farming community in Northern Ireland to develop a joined-up, holistic approach.

“Elsewhere, a mass insulation programme for both domestic and commercial properties will tackle a key issue at step one.”

Meanwhile Richard Johnston, of Ulster University, added, “We have to look at a hybrid working model policy. That’s one of the ways we can reduce commuting.”

Northern Ireland’s role would not, he said, “be to build or manufacture, but it will be about installing, operating and maintaining”.

Part of this collaborative, balanced approach would be about ensuring all sectors were considered.

DAERA’s Arron Wright said, “We can’t focus in on one specific thing and ignore potential impacts on other areas we want to take forward.

“The agriculture sector has particular challenges, but it also has great opportunities including biomethane production and how that could be part of the gas and energy mix as a potential solution.”

Agriculture Minister and DUP MLA Edwin Poots agreed, adding that the agri-food industry’s large output of emissions should be balanced with its contribution to the economy, including supporting more than 100,000 jobs.

“It’s true that agriculture finds the transition a challenge,” he said, “but there is considerable effort going into that.

“We believe – just as Northern Ireland was at the forefront of the industrial revolution – we can be at the forefront of this green revolution.”

Mr Poots said Northern Ireland’s position as an island – “with lots of wind and water around us” – presented opportunities, while hydrogen and biomethane production would also help Northern Ireland transition to the use of renewables.

He also said the country should focus more heavily on 2030 and what can be delivered quickly, with reaching 80pc net zero targets being a more achievable goal. Any more, he added, could be “devastating for the economy”.

He said, “Meeting 100pc net zero emissions by 2050 in the UK is something we can help achieve. Some are insisting we do this at home, but without the science, which isn’t available yet, it’s aspirational. You’d only be misleading people when you don’t have the know-how to deliver that target.”

In it together

The Telegraph’s Margaret Canning and Jim McCooe closed the discussion.

Ms Canning said, “It is clear politicians on all sides are committed to doing what they can to help the green growth agenda. It is also clear that our agriculture sector will see a lot of change. It is going to be a costly process but we have seen some visionaries succeed. Let’s hope for more of the same.”

Mr McCooe added, “There is no way this is going to happen with just one party. It needs to be all of us together and that’s what I’ve heard here today.”

Full list of attendees

  • Steve Aiken, MLA Ulster Unionist Party, South Antrim, Committee Chair – Committee for Finance
  • Caoimhe Archibald, MLA Sinn Fein Party, East Londonderry, Committee Chair – Committee for the Economy
  • Margaret Canning, (Chair), Business Editor, Belfast Telegraph
  • Stewart Dickson, MLA Alliance Party
  • Richard Johnston, Associate Director, Ulster University Economic Policy Centre
  • Tim Lyne, Lead Economist, Oxford Economics
  • Jim McCooe (Host), Lloyds Banking Group Ambassador for Northern Ireland and Head of Customer Contact, Belfast.
  • Edwin Poots, MLA Democratic Unionist Party, Lagan Valley, Minister – Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs
  • Richard Holt, Head of Global Cities Research, Oxford Economics
  • Arron Wright, Director of Green Growth, DAERA

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