Northern Ireland

Climate change targets: 'NI is playing catch-up'

Belfast and the River Lagan from the sky Image copyright Darren Brown
Image caption Much of the centre of Belfast is built on reclaimed land and is liable to flooding in the event of tidal surges

Northern Ireland will have to play "catch-up" when it comes to introducing policies to tackle climate change, according to a government advisory body.

Less has been done than in other parts of the UK and plans need to be put in place to cut carbon emissions, it said.

The comments were made by Chris Stark, chief executive of the Committee on Climate Change (CCC).

It is an independent body that advises government on climate action.

In May, it recommended a target of net-zero emissions for the UK economy by 2050, which has since been adopted by the UK government.

Image caption Chris Stark said Northern Ireland must do more to help achieve the government target of net-zero emissions by 2050

Mr Stark said the target would not be achievable "unless Northern Ireland does more" alongside other devolved administrations.

His comments came as the Department for Infrastructure prepared to spend £18m defending Belfast against tidal surges and the risk posed by rising seas levels due to climate change.

The department will use the money to build permanent and temporary defences along the River Lagan between the docks and Stranmillis.

It is estimated about 1,000 homes and business in the city centre are at risk and the number could triple in coming decades due to climate change.

Image caption In 2014, the embankment along the River Lagan was reinforced with sandbags due to fears that the river would overflow its banks

Officials said a city centre flood could cover up to 2 sq km (0.7 sq miles) and cost tens of millions of pounds, with the risk increasing in the years ahead.

The city centre is up to 2m below the level of the Lagan in the event of an extreme tide.

There was a near miss in January 2014 and the five highest tides recorded have all been since 1994.

Image copyright Dept for Infrastructure
Image caption Spot the difference! A Department for Infrastructure example shows the Lagan embankment before the erection of flood defences
Image copyright Dept for Infrastructure
Image caption This photo shows a mock-up the work to be done. The wall on the left is designed to prevent inundation in the event of a storm surge

Northern Ireland is the only devolved administration without its own climate change legislation and targets for emissions cuts, though it does contribute to a wider UK target.

Any targets are likely to cover agriculture, transport, energy supply and domestic heating, which all made a substantial contribution to Northern Ireland's 2016 greenhouse gas emissions of 20 million tonnes of carbon equivalent.

Mr Stark said the CCC was "constrained" in how it could advise politicians on measures here because of the absence of legislation.

And while he said it was not for the CCC to recommend its adoption, it would help provide a statutory framework to drive the policies that could address climate change.

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