First Environment Strategy comes forward

As part of the Executive’s wider multi-decade Green Growth Strategy, Northern Ireland is to have its first ever Environment Strategy.

The Green Growth Strategy sets out the Executive’s long-term vision for tackling the climate crisis, incorporating wide ranging measures that span the environment and the economy. Central to the strategy is the setting out of Northern Ireland’s environmental priorities over the next decade.

Environment Minister Edwin Poots MLA used the COP26 conference in Glasgow to launch the opening of a consultation on Northern Ireland’s first Environment Strategy.

If approved by the Northern Ireland Assembly, Northern Ireland’s first ‘Environmental Improvement Plan’ will be a statutory requirement under the UK Environment Act, putting in place a requirement to monitor environmental progress against the strategy on an annual basis.

In January 2020, the New Decade, New Approach agreement included a commitment to establish an independent environmental protection agency (IEPA). While the draft Environment Strategy does not fully commit to an IEPA, it does indicate that consideration will be given to appropriate options for Northern Ireland and that an IEPA could be included in a future Programme for Government.

In the absence of an IEPA, Northern Ireland Executive departments will have to give regard to the environmental principles of a new Office of Environmental Protection (OEP), set to be established under the forthcoming UK Environment Act. The OEP’s Environmental Improvement Plan will require DAERA to set out the steps Executive departments intend to take to improve the environment.

The first EIP is expected within 12 months of the requirements becoming law and will require DAERA to publish annual progress reports, which will be reviewed and reported on by the OEP within six months.

The Strategy sets out six Strategic Environmental Outcomes (SEOs), encompassing the main environmental challenges set to be faced in the coming decades and is set to be supported by a series of action plans and targets. Below is a summary of some of the key ambitions within each of the outcomes:

Excellent air, water, land and neighbourhood quality

  • First Clean Air Strategy is to be published in 2022 alongside new SMART targets and actions
  • An ammonia strategy
  • A final River Basin Management Plan by 2022
  • 70 per cent of waterbodies at good status by 2027 • Implementation of UK Marine Strategy
  • Implementation of Flood Risk Management Plan 2021–27
  • Northern Ireland’s first Litter Strategy by 2024
  • Deposit return scheme for drinks containers in 2024
  • Introduction of a Dilapidation Bill to the Assembly by 2023

Sustainable production & consumption on land and at sea

  • Action Plan to identify actions to deliver a forthcoming Energy Strategy by end of 2021
  • Marine Plan for Northern Ireland in 2022
  • Joint Fisheries Statement by 2022
  • Increase recycling of packaging from 60 per cent to 78 per cent by 2030
  • Increase recycling of drinks containers from 70 per cent to 90 per cent by 2028
  • Increase carrier bag levy to £0.25 per day
  • Chemicals Strategy by 2022
  • Consultation on policy proposals for a new environmental permitting regime during 2022

Thriving, resilient & connected nature and wildlife

  • 30 per cent of land and water protected for nature by 2030
  • Increase woodland cover to 8.8 per cent by 2030
  • Peatland Strategy and Implementation Plan by 2022
  • Northern Ireland Natural Capital Asset Register by 2022

Healthy and accessible environment and landscapes everyone can connect with and enjoy

  • Publish and update management and action plans for Areas of Outstanding Beauty and World Heritage sites
  • A new 10-year sport and physical activity strategy
  • 160,000 pupils and students actively engaged in eco-schools by 2025
  • Security of the long-term future of the Housing Executive’s social housing stock 
  • A culture, arts and heritage strategy

Zero waste and highly developed circular economy

  • Circularity Gap Report by 2021 and Circular Economy Strategic Framework by 2022
  • New Waste Management Strategy by 2023
  • 10 per cent of waste to landfill by 2035

Fair Contribution to UK net zero greenhouse gas emissions and improved climate resilience and adaptability

  • Northern Ireland Climate Change Bill
  • Enforce legislative amendments to UK ETS by 2024
  • Delivery of carbon budgets
  • Consultation on UK ETS cap review in late 2021
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