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Edwin Poots wants to ‘limit harm’ to farmers in Northern Ireland from net zero emissions target

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Farmers from across Northern Ireland protesting to urge politicians to reject attempts to toughen up proposed climate change laws. Photo by Jonathan Porter // Press Eye

Farmers from across Northern Ireland protesting to urge politicians to reject attempts to toughen up proposed climate change laws. Photo by Jonathan Porter // Press Eye

Edwin Poots. Credit: Brian Lawless

Edwin Poots. Credit: Brian Lawless

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Farmers from across Northern Ireland protesting to urge politicians to reject attempts to toughen up proposed climate change laws. Photo by Jonathan Porter // Press Eye

Agriculture minister Edwin Poots has said he wants to "limit the harm and damage" that will be done to the farming community after proposals for a target of net zero emissions in Northern Ireland by 2050 were backed at Stormont.

After a lengthy debate, the vote, which passed by 50 to 38, came during the latest stage of a bill to tackle climate change.

It was supported by the Greens, Sinn Fein, SDLP and Alliance but Mr Poots argued instead for a target of reducing emissions by 82% by 2050.

Speaking to the BBC's Good Morning Ulster programme, Mr Poots said small farm families are in danger "as a consequence of Assembly members defying the scientific evidence and proceeding with something which has been warned very clearly that will end up with 13,000 farm families that will actually lose their ability to farm".

He accused other parties of "ganging up on rural communities" after the vote passed, with the DUP and UUP opposing the plan.

But Mr Poots said on Wednesday morning: "[Green Party leader] Clare Bailey may convince some people in the Assembly of the case, she hasn't convinced the farm public."

Ms Bailey's recommendations are not in line with the recommendations of the UK's Climate Change Committee or the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, he said.

As a result, Mr Poots said he is going to attempt to make further amendments to the bill which will mitigate the impact on the agricultural sector - and potentially leave them out of the net zero target altogether.

The 100% figure is being passed as a "headline" but may not be fulfilled, Mr Poots added. "The consequences are hugely damaging," he said. "I have to find a means of undoing the damage."

On the same programme, Ms Bailey said she's "not celebrating yet" but was appreciative of the support of the 50 MLAs who voted in favour of net zero.

"It's not just about the headline target, it's about independent oversight, having just transition, it's about tackling what the agriculture sector need. My focus right now is getting more amendments passed today," she said.

It's clear agriculture minister Mr Poots "has a different trajectory", said Ms Bailey, who added she will consider any amendments and her response to them when they are brought forward.

But the agriculture sector should not be left out of any net zero targets, she said.

"The agriculture sector is our highest emitter. We know that farmers want to do better. In Northern Ireland, despite being a small region and a small population we actually emit double our per capita in terms of emissions - more than China."

She also addressed how she had been expected to move an amendment to the Edwin Poots bill by bringing forward the target date to 2045. However, the Green MLA was not in the chamber at the time and was unable to propose an amendment, later apologising for not being there at the right time.

Ms Bailey said on Wednesday. "The business of the assembly moved really fast yesterday, it was two and a half hours earlier than it was scheduled. It caught quite a few of us on the hop. I'm not too upset about it. There's a while to go with this bill just yet."


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