Environment Policy Committee update

editorial image

The Ulster Farmers’ Union Environment Policy Committee continues to tackle many major issues affecting farming communities in Northern Ireland.

The Environment Committee is one of the central policy committees within the Union. More recently topics have included items such as the Nitrates Action Programme and Environmental Consultations.

There are however a broad range of other topics which are often discussed and these could include waste regulations, Integrated Pollution Prevention Control, Climate change, Agri-environment schemes and the Floods Directive.

Climate Change Policy: The UFU submitted their response to the Department of Environment’s Climate Change Bill- Discussion Document. The Environment Committee remained opposed to the introduction of NI Climate Change Legislation.

The proposed legislation would be in addition to the UK Climate Change Act and the UFU were extremely concerned that further legislation could threaten the 100,000 jobs that the agri-food sector currently provides and could drive future industry overseas. The UFU argued that a Climate Change Bill would have a severe negative impact on NI agriculture which is currently Northern Ireland’s strongest industry and that a proactive partnership approach through the Greenhouse Gas Implementation Partnership was already delivering long term benefits for the environment.

The UFU continues to be represented on the various sub-groups of this Group and has been working with other Stakeholders to raise awareness of the need to reduce emissions.

Greenhouse Gas Implementation Partnership (GHIP): The UFU have continued to support the DARD/Industry Reduction Strategy and Action Plan ‘Efficient Farming Cuts Greenhouse Gases’ developed by the NI Agriculture and Forest Greenhouse Gas DARD/Industry Stakeholder Group. ‘Efficient Farming Cuts Greenhouse Gases’ strategy set out a range of cost-effective technical efficiency and good practice measures designed to reduce the carbon intensity of our food products, while maintaining or increasing agricultural output and profitable businesses.

Phase 1 focused on raising awareness, beginning implementation of on-farm efficiency measures and establishing a robust, local evidence base to support on-farm action.

Phase 2 is being finalised which sets out our ambitions for 2020, focusing on the key actions the Partnership will pursue to increase implementation of GHG mitigation activities, primarily via the measures contained in the Northern Ireland Rural Development Programme 2014-2020, as well as measuring and monitoring the uptake and impact of on-farm efficiency measures. The UFU are largely supportive of the measures which generally would result in production efficiencies and have the potential to reduce costs on farm.

NI Environmental Governance: The UFU submitted their response to the discussion document on an Independent Environment Agency in Northern Ireland.

The UFU said it has always recognised the need for protection of the environment as a healthy environment is essential to profitable farming. However the UFU has made clear in its response to a DoE consultation that it would oppose the creation of a new environmental protection agency. This is based mainly on the grounds that the focus should be on the key objectives of protecting and improving the environment rather than the creation of a new governance structure.

The UFU also believes there is no evidence to suggest that an arm’s length from government environmental protection agency would provide any greater protection for the environment than existing structures. This could only happen if it were to provide advice, without prejudice, to farmers on better practice. Just because Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK which doesn’t have an independent environment agency is not a valid reason for introducing such an organisational change.

For over two years now the UFU has been working closely with DoE to try to correct some of the failings of the current system. The UFU along with NIEA have worked hard to develop a document that will deliver better environmental outcomes in ways that reduce conflict and support farm profitability and believe that a UFU/NIEA Memorandum of Understanding would be a much better and more practical option than the ‘radical review’ of the present governance models being proposed by the minister.