Environment Minister Andrew Muir MLA: Towards ‘a strong, green economy’

Agriculture, environment, and rural affairs Minister Andrew Muir MLA outlines four key environmental commitments for his department, including the urgent delivery of an environmental improvement plan (EIP).

Muir, who took up his first Executive post in February 2024 following the almost two-year long collapse of the Executive, recognises the impact that delayed policy delivery has had on Northern Ireland’s environment.

“We need to get our environment policy priorities right and we need to do it now,” he states, adding: “None of us can ignore the challenges that are ahead in terms of climate mitigation and adaptation, reversing biodiversity loss, improving air and water quality, and managing waste.”

The Environment Act 2021 mandated Northern Ireland to publish an environmental improvement plan (EIP) in 2023, a deadline that was missed due to the absence of an Executive. In April 2024, Muir indicated that submitting a draft EIP for Executive approval at the earliest opportunity was “my top priority”.

“I believe that the EIP forms the basis for the changes we urgently need to make, and it is essential that it delivers against ambitious objectives that work alongside other policies and strategies such as the Green Growth Strategy, the circular economy strategy, and the future agriculture policy framework,” he explains.

The Minister identifies tackling climate change as another top priority. Stressing the importance of “collective action” to address climate change, Muir says that a significant amount of work has taken place across the Executive, led by his department, to develop Northern Ireland’s first climate action plan, particularly on the identification of policies and proposals to reduce emissions across sectors.

“Achieving this is hugely challenging and requires significant transformation in the public services we deliver; how we do business and how we go about our daily lives. It requires a cross departmental approach on a level not seen before in Northern Ireland [Executive] government; working with delivery partners in public, private, and third sector to effect the changes required; building our understanding, knowledge, and expertise to devise creative and innovative solutions to the problems we face.

“I am determined that a credible draft climate action plan is published for consultation as soon as possible.”


Emphasising the interdependence of climate change and biodiversity, Muir welcomes the importance of natural environment improvement targets to 2030 agreed in December 2022 at COP15 and says that he is keen to ensure that Northern Ireland is as involved as possible.

To this end, he highlights DAERA’s work to develop the Nature Recovery Strategy, a new biodiversity strategy, which he explains is closely aligned with other departmental initiatives, such as agri-environment policy and climate change.

“There is much to do over the lifespan of the strategy to put Northern Ireland’s natural environment in a better place than it is today,” he says, adding: “The Nature Recovery Strategy, like all major cross cutting departmental initiatives, requires agreement across the Executive, following an exhaustive public consultation exercise.

“To be successful, its actions will require commitment, possibly a change of approach going forward. For example, it will be important that nature-based solutions are an integral part of policy and decision-making going forward and my department is already leading the way on this through the strategic objectives in the draft peatland strategy.”

“I am determined that a credible draft climate action plan is published for consultation as soon as possible.”

Importantly, the Minister outlines a need to assess the funds and sources of funding that are currently available to secure the greatest benefits for nature. “Without a doubt, the success of these key strategies will require adequate finance and funding to deliver for nature restoration,” he states.


Firstly, as Minister, Muir has the responsibility of ensuring coherence between agriculture and environmental policy. Northern Ireland has a unique challenge in that almost 30 per cent of total greenhouse gas emissions are emitted by the agriculture sector, compared to 10 per cent in Britain. It is also has much more heavily livestock-based agriculture system.

“Given that 73 per cent of land in Northern Ireland is in agricultural use, I recognise the important role farmers have to play in managing the land for the environment,” he says, pointing to programmes already being delivered such as out the Farm Support and Development Programme, the Soil Nutrient Health Scheme, and the Beef Carbon Reduction Scheme.

Muir indicates that the proposed delivery of a farming with nature package (FwN) is a means to ensure that farmers receive appropriate levels of payment for the environmental benefits they deliver.

Setting out his intention to launch ‘test and learn’ pilots later in 2024 to help shape the overall design of the package, he says that farmers must also consider how agricultural activity affects air quality and the health of nature, given that the sector produces 97 per cent of ammonia emissions in the region.

“There is an urgent need to address ammonia emissions and the impact that these have on our sensitive habitats and biodiversity. My department is taking action on ammonia to deliver the measures required to support our local farm businesses and rural communities to thrive and be sustainable, while at the same time protecting our environment and meeting our legislative requirements.

“Therefore, I hope that, later this year [2024], I will be able to publish a reworked ammonia strategy and finalise a new operational protocol to assess the impacts of air pollution on the natural environment.”

Air quality

Secondly, turning to his department’s development of a clean air strategy, Muir says: “It is my intention to closely consider current evidence, in conjunction with the findings of the 2021 Public Discussion Document consultation, to ensure that all policies and actions that should be taken forwards, are being included in the strategy and that these actions go far enough to secure a high level of protection for public health in Northern Ireland.

“I am aware of the challenges that lie ahead and that a number of these challenges are for other departments to take forward and I very much look forward to working with my ministerial colleagues, wider civil service, and public sector implementation bodies, to bring forward lasting improvement in the quality of the air that we breathe.”

Water quality

Thirdly, addressing the crisis and improving water quality in Lough Neagh is, the Minister affirms, one of the first-year priorities for the Executive. Stating the importance of correcting the contamination, he says that the need for collective actions expands beyond across government to also include the private and public sectors, as well as the wider community.

Setting out an intention to bring a report containing evidenced-based recommendations for action to the Executive “in the near future”, he explains that the report will support the actions relevant to improving water quality across Northern Ireland in the draft Environmental Improvement Plan.

Circular economy

The fourth and final commitment outlined by Muir centres on the delivery of a circular economy, with officials within his department continuing to work with colleagues in the Department for the Economy to deliver a circular economy strategy.

In addition to this, he says: “My department is currently taking forward a wide range of interventions, including financial support, policy, and legislation which will help to drive forward the circular economy.

“Proposals aimed at increasing the quality and quantity of our recycling which are currently being consulted upon, the introduction of extended producer responsibility and a deposit return scheme, and continued support for waste prevention programmes will all play a crucial role in developing the circular economy here.

“My department will also continue to support local councils through the £23 million Household Waste Collaborative Change Programme.”

Concluding, Muir says: “My vision for Northern Ireland is a strong, green economy which values its resources and actively closes the loop by putting as many of those resources back into the system as possible.

“It is imperative for us to work collectively, to lead Northern Ireland towards a healthy and thriving society with environmental protection, climate preservation, and nature restoration at its heart.

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