Belfast Telegraph

Reducing Northern Ireland's rate of emissions is an uphill struggle

Reducing emissions from fossil fuels is an easy early target, but is only a first step of a major rethink
Reducing emissions from fossil fuels is an easy early target, but is only a first step of a major rethink
John Simpson

By John Simpson

Greenhouse gas emissions in Northern Ireland wware too high. In 2017, emissions here were equivalent to 20 million tonnes of carbon dioxide. That was 18% less than in 1990, the base year being used for comparisons.

Northern Ireland's record on reducing emissions was slightly worse than Wales, which recorded a 25% reduction, and much less satisfactory than the reductions of 45% and 48% for England and Scotland.

This difference with Great Britain is partly a consequence of the reduced level of coal mining and usage (which has undoubtedly helped) but Northern Ireland still accounts for 4% of the UK total which is above a simple population proportion.

If Northern Ireland is to make a sensible contribution to the international effort to reduce the effect of gaseous emissions on the atmosphere and help to avoid climate disaster, then the momentum for change cannot wait while academic arguments act as a substitute for effective decisions. This converts into a question of what needs to be done to significantly reduce emissions in each of six sectors of the economy.

In 2017, the 20 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions in Northern Ireland were estimated to be from:

Agriculture27%

Transport23%

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Energy supply17%

Residential13%

Business12%

Other sectors 8%

Getting emissions down to a net zero level by 2050, or any earlier date, calls for a major rethink on how Northern Ireland might function successfully with a big emissions reduction. Undoubtedly, reduced emissions will call for a complex mixture of targeted regulations and/or taxing and pricing to deter unwelcome outcomes.

The existing pattern of continuing emissions confirms, first, that the scope of policy changes must be much wider than the mistaken assumption that if the emissions of vehicles and power stations were curtailed, that would be enough. Perhaps surprisingly, to those unfamiliar with this topic, farming, residential housing and businesses must play a key part.

Each of these sectors must be carefully scrutinised, and tailored emissions reduction mechanisms added to the regulatory or financing systems.

Pleas for exceptions and special treatment will carry little weight if the climate change dimension is taken seriously.

The agenda for Northern Ireland will be influenced by the precedents set by Westminster, Edinburgh and Cardiff but, within the devolved arrangements for Stormont, clear thinking about the most effective local mechanisms is awaited. Stormont departments might be tempted to wait until Westminster has set a framework. That 'follow me' approach is too complacent and disguises the merits of preparing tailored local answers.

As an initial step, local policy-makers should be more active in ensuring that the energy supply sector uses pricing and regulation to reduce emissions. Northern Ireland still uses, and needs, emissions-intensive energy supply sources. Coal usage has fallen, although capacity to burn coal remains. Three strands in local energy policies await clarity.

First, the energy capacity contracts awarded through the regulatory process take little or no account of the emissions consequences of contract awards.

This emerges through the new all-island single electricity market. Older, 'dirtier' generation survives.

Second, in the laudable search for larger energy contributions from renewable (largely wind) sources, an adverse side effect is the cost of maximising renewable inputs alongside systems to take (too) variable amounts from conventional power stations. Extra costs for imperfections in the system suggest that coping with variable levels of energy from renewables is now excessive.

Alternatively, immediately available extra energy storage mechanisms should be added.

Third, a better balance of the use of energy sources could be achieved if the operational interconnection of the electricity grid, north and south, were enhanced by a long overdue high voltage grid interconnector. Also, an operational review of the east-west interconnection, through Moyle, can be added. Reducing emissions from fossil fuels is an easy early target. It is an urgent operational target for the regulator, SONI and the Department for the Economy. Is a net zero target reachable?

Company report: Concentrix Europe

Concentrix Europe’s main Northern Ireland operations are based in modern office buildings close to Belfast city centre.

The company is a subsidiary of a Dutch parent, Concentrix Services (Netherlands), which itself is a subsidiary of the US-based SYNNEX Corporation. 

The principal activity continues to be the provision of complex outsourced business services to blue-chip companies. The Northern Ireland company is also the owner of a subsidiary business registered in Hungary.

In recent years, annual turnover has been maintained at more than £24m each year. Turnover peaked in 2017 at nearly £31m but fell by 6% in the most recently reported year. Gross profits declined by £2.6m last year while operating profits tumbled by £1.8m. Pre-tax profits also fell by £1.9m. The fall in turnover last year was explained by “the maturity of certain client contracts”.

As a service provider relying on information technology expertise, the company is in a competitive market to serve a number of major businesses and some public sector services.

Trading margins in 2018 decreased. The company report refers to achieving overall savings in operating expenditure partly due to consolidation of the use of premises.

The business enjoyed a large capital investment commitment of more than £14m in 2016-2017.

Much of this investment appears to have been financed from retained post-tax profits. No dividends have been paid to the shareholders in recent years.

Employment by the company fell by 85 last year to 1,095 people. Four years ago, the company employed 1,651 people. That number has fallen each year since.

The firm, is one of Northern Ireland’s largest employers attracting business in the information technology sector.

The report draws attention to the emergence of competition from lower-cost economies such as India, Philippines and Eastern Europe. In a note of reassurance, the report refers to becoming better placed to offer a range of blended customer support solutions, “providing more complex and multilingual services”.

The balance sheet value of shareholders’ funds late in 2018 was £17.4m.

Belfast Telegraph

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