Paul Murnaghan, President, Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry
As preparations for COP26 ramp up, businesses are more focused than ever on the role they have to play in tackling climate change and at NI Chamber, right now we’re immersed in helping companies across Northern Ireland to play their part and identify the opportunities which change brings.
On Friday of this week, we’re partnering with our colleagues in Chambers Ireland to bring a major climate action conference to Belfast. The all-island event will bring the First and deputy First Ministers together with An Taoiseach to look seriously at how we all can contribute to the creation of a more sustainable region, island and global community.
In Northern Ireland, we have a window of opportunity to establish ourselves as leaders in the global fight against climate change. But it will require a competitive, sustainable, reliable and future focussed energy infrastructure and we need to make rapid progress.
The UK government passed legislation in 2019 requiring greenhouse gas emissions to return to 1990 levels in 2050, making the UK a ‘net zero’ emitter. Competitor nations are pressing ahead with legislation and projects that move towards net zero and Northern Ireland cannot afford to be left behind.
From government, we need to see a prioritisation of projects that support decarbonisation. Infrastructure strategy, planning, the rating system, enhanced capital allowances and enterprise supports are key. At NI Chamber, we believe that Enterprise support should be enhanced, focusing on fuel switching, on-site generation, energy use and storage. Waste management is part of the solution in terms of fuel for energy generation and circularity of investment. Electric vehicles and the charging infrastructure will be critical to change how we travel and move goods.
We also feel that the rating system should support those enterprises that are investing in our environmental future, providing discounts for carbon zero or neutral buildings. Those that have the largest negative environmental impacts should be rated more heavily and vice-versa, in order to incentivise better environmental outcomes.
After too many years of political inaction on climate change, we do now have two bills at different stages within the Assembly. We welcome the progress and the fact that it is happening in the context of a new energy policy for Northern Ireland is encouraging.
However, climate change is a race and as businesspeople, we cannot afford to wait on policy makers to do all of the heavy lifting. It has serious implications for enterprise and as employers and citizens, we each have a responsibility to take action now. That means grasping the opportunities which exist to flourish in a new, low carbon economy. It means holding ourselves and our supply-chains to account and monitoring carbon emissions as we do our finances.
While our politicians must do the politics of climate change, we in the business community will get on with the business of it. Climate action is full of opportunity and there should be no limit to our ambitions or the speed of change.