Northern Ireland's climate bill risks wiping out thousands of farmers, MPs warned

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Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK and Ireland without a climate change act. Photo: Nathan Frandino/Reuters

Northern Ireland’s plans to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2045 could wipe out 14,800 beef and sheep farms, the Ulster Farmers Union (UFU) has told MPs.

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UFU president Victor Chestnutt told the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee that farmers agreed that climate change legislation was necessary to tackle emissions, but added that a fair transition must be ensured.

“Beef and sheep farms operating in less productive land could see a decrease in farm numbers of 98%, that’s 14,800 farms ceasing to operate. Beef and sheep farms operating in the Lowlands could face a fall in numbers of 79%, with 4,100 farms ceasing to operate. The dairy sector could see a decrease of 86%, with 2,250 less farms,” Chestnutt said.

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The figures stem from a KPMG report commissioned by stakeholders in the agri-food industry.

“Given a context of 24,000 farms in Northern Ireland, taking over 19,000 out of production? That is why we are so concerned,” he added.

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Read more: Higher bills and savings: how to budget for price rises

Officials at the devolved Stormont institutions say that the climate strategy for Northern Ireland lags behind the commitments made by Great Britain and Ireland. Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK and Ireland without a climate change act.

Two separate climate bills are currently proceeding through legislative stages in the Assembly — a private member’s bill from Green party NI leader Clare Bailey and one tabled by agriculture and environment minister Edwin Poots.

Bailey’s bill, which is supported by a majority of other Stormont parties, sets a 2045 target for reaching net-zero carbon emissions. Poots’ bill wants to cut emissions by 82% by 2050.

The report added that 13,000 farming jobs in Northern Ireland were at risk under the bill.

The figures were presented to MPs as the Northern Ireland Affairs committee examined the impact of the UK’s new free trade deals with Australia and New Zealand on Northern Ireland’s economy.

Farmers raised concerns that they will be “out of business” if meat from New Zealand and Australia floods the UK market.

“They were asking for wide open doors and they got that. It might be good for the consumer in the short term because of price but it will be bad in the long term given that we lose food security,” Chestnutt said.

Read more: Fresnillo shares plunge as COVID absences hit production

Farmers expect the red meat and dairy sector to be the most affected by the trade agreements with Australia and New Zealand.

Prime minister Boris Johnson said the free trade deal agreed with New Zealand in October last year benefits consumers and businesses

The UK trade agreement with Australia was signed in December amid criticism that British farmers would be undercut and undermined by cheap Australian meat imports.

Watch: UK-Australia trade deal: First 'from scratch' post-Brexit trade agreement completed

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