Climate Change Bill: ‘It’s time to stop playing games with people’s livelihoods’

It’s time for politicians at Stormont to ‘stop playing games with people’s livelihoods’ with respect to climate change legislation.

The Ulster Farmers’ Union has launched a broadside against those who “dismiss the facts and play party politics”, describing their failure to engage or listen to concerned constituents as an “outright attack on rural families”.

The right legislation is needed to help farmers address this issue – ‘not to force them off the land’, the UFU has urged.

Now, it is calling on its members to contact their local politicians and make their voices heard, “before it’s too late”.

The on-farm constituency meetings organised by the UFU and Northern Ireland Agricultural Producers’ Association (NIAPA) to lobby local MLAs on climate change legislation, have now concluded.

However, the UFU is continuing to ramp up lobbying efforts on climate change as both bills progress through the NI Assembly, stressing the impact on rural communities and the wider economy, as well as farm businesses.

UFU president, Victor Chestnutt, stated: “With the help of NIAPA and our members who accommodated MLAs on their farm, we were able to showcase some of the good work farmers are already doing to tackle climate change and have in-depth discussions about the proposed climate change legislation.

“We made it very clear that our MLAs need to follow the expert led advice on targets from the world-renowned Climate Change Committee, and reject the unacceptable targets within Clare Bailey’s Private Member’s Bill.

“We were pleased to see so many local political figures taking the time to engage with our farmers about climate change, taking on board the important role of farmers and KPMG’s economic assessment report on the detrimental impact the PMB would have on NI’s farming industry and rural communities, which was presented to them on-farm.

“It’s positive to see that support is there for our agri-food sector from the majority of our politicians.”

Mr Chestnutt continued: “Having said that, there were a number who did not engage at all.

“Considering how important family farms are to the fabric of rural communities and the wider NI economy, it’s appalling that they made no effort to listen to the other side of the debate.

“The KPMG report states that 98 per cent of beef and sheep farms in less favoured areas alone will be disproportionately wiped out if the PMB becomes legislation.

“Some politicians are content to dismiss the facts and play party politics with people’s livelihoods, when they deliberately fail to listen to their own constituents who have attended on-farm discussions to tell them directly how concerned they are about this bill.

“It’s an outright attack on rural families.

“Those MLAs who support the PMB fail to recognise that their moves won’t help tackle climate change as they’ll drive food production overseas where emissions are higher and standards are lower, while at the same time, decimating our local rural economy.

“It’s vital to highlight this will have a ripple effect impacting the 113,000 jobs in the agri food sector, many of these are based in urban areas.

“If the PMB becomes legislation, processors and suppliers will be hit too.

“Every job that is linked to farming in some way whether it be milk lorry drivers or quality assurance managers will become vulnerable overnight.

“Many other sectors including veterinary and construction will also be impacted.”

At the recent Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (AERA) Committee meeting at Stormont, William Irwin (DUP), Harry Harvey (DUP), Thomas Buchanan (DUP), Rosemary Barton (UUP), Patsy McGLone (SDLP) and John Blair (Alliance) supported the targets within the Executive’s Climate Change Bill (No.2), setting out an 82 per cent reduction in emissions by 2050.

However, Declan McAleer (SF), Philip McGuigan (SF) and Clare Bailey (GP) voted against this target and have previously supported the targets in the PMB, which would “destroy our countryside”.

Mr Chestnutt added: “Another major concern was that some tried to stall the Executive’s Bill to stop it from progressing further.

“It’s time our politicians stop playing games at Stormont with people’s livelihoods.

“The PMB is not good legislation and we’re ramping up our efforts to reiterate the message about the devastation the PMB will do to NI and the need to back the Executive’s Bill.

“We farmers understand that legislation is needed to tackle climate change and we’re eager to do more environmental work on farm, but the right legislation is needed to help us to address this issue not to force us off the land.”

The UFU president added: “We remain hopeful that common sense will prevail, it has to.

“It’s the only way to prevent the ruination of our rural communities that are heavily reliant on our farming industry as well as saving the livelihoods of farm families and young farmers’ futures,” Mr Chestnutt concluded.