The Climate Change Act (Northern Ireland) 2022 (Act) sets a target of an at least 100% reduction in net zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2050 (i.e., net zero emissions by 2050) for Northern Ireland compared to baseline, along with interim targets including an at least 48% reduction in net emissions by 2030. DAERA must also, by June 2024, review and potentially set updated 2030 and 2040 interim emissions reduction targets to ensure that they are in line with the 2050 net zero target.
The Act also sets other sectoral targets including 2030 targets at least 80% of electricity consumption from renewable sources (DfE) and 70% of waste is recycled (DAERA) as well as a target for a minimum spend of 10% of overall transport budgets on active travel (DfI).
There is a legal requirement on all Northern Ireland departments to exercise their functions, as far as is possible to do so, in a manner consistent with the achievement of the targets of the Act and carbon budgets set under it.
Section 23 of the Act requires DAERA to make regulations that set carbon budgets. A carbon budget is the maximum total amount of emissions permitted for a budgetary period. The first budgetary period is 2023-2027 and every five years thereafter. The first three carbon budgets for Northern Ireland (2023-2027, 2028-2032 and 2033-2037) must be set by the end of December 2023 and each subsequent budget must be set a minimum of 12 years in advance of the budgetary period commencing. Carbon budgets must be set at a level that is consistent with meeting the 2030, 2040 and 2050 emissions reduction targets.
When setting carbon budgets, the Act requires that a number of factors are taken into account and also sets out relevant requirements around consultation, including the need to carry out a 16-week public consultation on proposed carbon budgets.
In addition, the Act requires that the Department seeks the advice of the UK Climate Change Committee (CCC) on the level of carbon budgets and the setting of the 2030 and 2040 emissions reductions targets. On 2 March 2023, the CCC provided their advice to the Department on the level of the first three carbon budgets and the emissions reduction targets for Northern Ireland which can be found here Advice report: The path to a Net Zero Northern Ireland.
If a carbon budget is not met, the Act requires that DAERA (with the assistance of other departments) publishes a report setting out proposals and policies to compensate for the excess emissions in subsequent budgetary periods.
Sections 13-22 place requirements on Northern Ireland departments to produce and publish various sectoral plans setting out how specific sectors will contribute to meeting the 2030, 2040 and 2050 emissions reduction targets.
There are specific requirements on the Department for the Economy to develop and publish sectoral plans for the energy sector and industrial processes sector.
The Department for Infrastructure to develop and publish sectoral plans for the infrastructure sector and transport sector.
DAERA to develop and publish sectoral plans for the agriculture sector, fisheries sector and waste management sector.
Climate Action Plans
DAERA is required to produce 5-year climate action plans (CAP) to set out the policies and proposals that Northern Ireland departments will implement to meet the corresponding carbon budget as well as set out how the emissions reduction targets will be achieved.
DAERA must publish and lay each CAP before the Assembly before the end of the first year of a carbon budgetary period, with the first CAP needing to be laid before the end of 2023.
DAERA must commission a financial, social, economic and rural impact assessment on the effects of each CAP and carry out a 16-week public consultation on the draft CAP.
There are requirements in the Act on all Northern Ireland departments when deciding on the proposals and policies to be included in each CAP to have regard to:
- the desirability of coordinating with UK, ROI etc.
- the just transition principle.
- the special economic and social role of agriculture.
- the desirability of using nature-based projects.
- the risk of carbon leakage and the desirability of eliminating or minimising that risk.
The plan must also explain how DAERA intends to mitigate any negative effects uncovered in the relevant financial, social, economic and rural impact assessment and also explain how the policies and proposals set out take account of the just transition principle. CAPs must also include annual GHG emissions targets as well as air quality, soil quality and biodiversity targets.
The Act places a duty on DAERA to prepare and publish a series of interim and final reports setting out what progress has been made in implementing the proposals and policies set out in the CAPs and the progress made in achieving carbon budgets and emissions reduction targets.
There are also reporting requirements placed on the UK Climate Change Committee (CCC) to report on:
- the progress made in respect of the achievement or otherwise of carbon budgets and the emissions reduction targets; and
- progress made in implementing Northern Ireland Climate Change Adaptation Programmes.
DAERA is required to respond to each of the CCC reports.
Just Transition Commission
Section 37 of the Act places a duty on DAERA to establish a Just Transition Commission for Northern Ireland. The role of the Just Transition Commission will be to oversee the implementation of the just transition elements of the Act, and to provide advice to Northern Ireland departments on how to ensure that all proposals, policies, strategies and plans required under the Act comply with the just transition principle.
Section 30(3) of the Act sets out the objectives of the just transition principle which include supporting jobs that are climate resilient and environmentally sustainable, supporting low-carbon investment and supporting those who are most affected by climate change and may be the least equipped to adapt to its effects or may stand to lose out economically.
The Just Transition Commission has to include as a minimum representatives from the following sectors; agriculture, fisheries, academia, trade unions, civic society and environmental groups.
Just Transition Fund for Agriculture
Section 31 places a requirement on DAERA to establish a Just Transition Fund for Agriculture in order to provide advice and financial assistance to the agricultural sector to help deliver its contribution under policies and proposals within CAPs.
Public Body Reporting
Section 42 of the Act requires regulations to be made in regard to climate change reporting by public bodies. The type of information that public bodies may be reporting to DAERA is likely to include:
- an assessment of the current and predicted impact of climate change in relation to the public body’s functions;
- proposals and policies, with associated timescales, that the public body is bringing forward for adapting to, or mitigating the effects of climate change; and
- assessments on the progress that the public body has made to implementing their proposals and policies.
Northern Ireland Climate Commissioner
Section 50 of the Act requires The Executive Office (TEO) to establish an independent office to be known as the “Northern Ireland Climate Commissioner”. The functions of the Commissioner are to oversee and report on the operations of the Act.
The full Act can be viewed here;