Even with Stormont in crisis, we can still fight climate change
Northern Ireland’s climate activists have suffered a lost decade.
After the passing of the UK Climate Change Act in 2008, the other devolved nations passed complementary legislation to fill in the gaps where Westminster had no authority. The reason they had to do this was because devolution meant that although the UK Government has responsibility for reducing the carbon emissions of the whole country, it doesn’t have the power to deliver these cuts in policy and legislation areas devolved to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Of the three Northern Ireland has the most devolved control over delivering CO2e reductions, because it is the only nation with almost total autonomy over energy policy. The problem has been that it is also the only nation of the UK where a minority political party has the power to veto legislation it doesn’t like.
Since 2008 the DUP have been using their automatic veto (set up under the Good Friday Agreement) to block meaningful environmental reform, especially legislation that would set annual and overall targets for cutting carbon emissions.
Without the underpinning of robust and enforceable targets, other policy asks have been undermined by the lack of the urgency that a Climate Change Act can bring, the result has being that politicians from all parties have supported policies, programmes and projects that are essentially climate crimes. From new urban and rural road-building spending, to issuing oil and gas exploration licences, to attempts to expand factory farming across Northern Ireland, we have faced one decision after another that is incompatible with keeping increases in global temperatures below 1.5 degrees.
Now that we are over a year into having absolutely no government at all – with local politicians refusing to form an Executive, and Westminster refusing to attempt to reintroduce direct rule via the Northern Ireland Office – one would think that this would be a time for total despair for a movement already despondent. However, the absence of MLAs and party leaders from the local political stage is counter-intuitively an ideal opportunity to take the most meaningful action on climate change that Northern Ireland citizens have had in years.
Fossil Free Northern Ireland is a new movement that launched at the start of March with the aim of taking all non-sustainable energy usage out of our economy, society and environment. Its first campaign is focused on persuading the Local Government Pension Scheme to take £348 million pounds out of investments in fossil fuel assets, and invest it elsewhere, preferably into renewable energy schemes. This is part of a nationwide fossil free movement, and it gives Northern Ireland climate campaigners a focus on a goal that can be delivered in the absence of a devolved or direct rule government.
The pension pot that is the target of this campaign is run by the Northern Ireland Local Government Officers Superannuation Committee (NILGOSC) which is independent of government, and can make the decision to divest without ministerial or Executive direction. That all 11 councils, whose employees make up the bulk of members of the scheme, are still up and running, in spite of the deadlock at Stormont, means that we citizens can engage elected representatives in a meaningful conversation about the urgency of climate change, and the moral imperative to invest our money ethically and sustainably.
With their superiors at the Stormont level rendered obsolete by the impasse, the councillors are the most important politicians in Northern Ireland, and can enjoy more autonomy from party hierarchies.
Globally trillions of dollars have been earmarked for divestment, and it’s time for Northern Ireland to join this trend of money fleeing from the business plan of death that drives the fossil fuel industry.
If you live in Northern Ireland, please take our e-action now at https://bit.ly/actffni, and if you’re elsewhere in the country go to https://act.friendsoftheearth.uk/act/fuelling-fire-email-your-councillor, or https://act.friendsoftheearth.uk/act/fuelling-fire-email-your-london-councillor if you live in London.
Divestment robs fossil fuel companies of their social licence to drive the destruction of life on earth as we know it. It also empowers Northern Ireland citizens to deliver a real impact on reducing carbon emissions, even in the current power vacuum.