Northern Ireland is at risk of becoming the “dirty corner of Europe” if more ambitious targets are not set by the Executive, campaigners have said.
The stark warning comes as the Assembly seeks to approve its first dedicated climate change legislation without properly tackling important issues around the environment.
Stormont’s agriculture and environment committee heard earlier this month that the targets outlined in a draft climate strategy were “significantly less ambitious” than those set in England, Scotland and Wales.
James Orr, director of Friends of the Earth Northern Ireland, told The Guardian newspaper the strategy was “weak, flawed and fails to address the legacy of a country with declining water quality and no clean air strategy”.
It is understood the plan does not include an aim to recycle 70% of all waste by 2030, as recommended by the Climate Change Committee, nor does it set targets for food waste and overall waste, as Scotland and Wales have done.
It also falls short of Scotland’s target for 81% of its water bodies to reach ‘good’ status by 2027, with the local strategy only aiming for 70%.
Northern Ireland has the lowest tree cover in Europe, and pledges to increase new woodland plantation, by about 1,400 hectares annually to 8.8% coverage by 2030, also fall significantly behind targets set by other devolved nations.
Yesterday was the deadline for a public consultation on the draft strategy, and campaigners are calling on the Executive to act now.
Mr Orr said: “With only two months to go in this Executive to pass progressive climate legislation, all eyes are watching to see if Northern Ireland can grasp the last chance in this mandate to build a society that works with nature or be ridiculed as the dirty corner of Europe.”
Two competing climate Bills are making their way through the Assembly.
The first is a Private Member’s Bill introduced in October 2020 that would set a legally binding net-zero target for 2045. Another, tabled in July last year, aims for carbon emissions to be reduced by 82% by 2050.