Michelle Weir (Local Democracy Reporter)
Eleventh hour approval for Climate Action Plan by Mid & East Antrim Borough Council
Mid and East Antrim Borough Council’s Climate Action Plan has been given eleventh hour approval just weeks ahead of the local government election but it will not be launched until June.
Climate Emergency UK says that just a minority of UK councils don’t yet have an action plan for how they will tackle the climate and ecological emergency.
The environmental organisation says the local election is “a perfect opportunity for concerned citizens to put pressure on councillors to take their climate responsibilities seriously” after just four councils in Northern Ireland – Ards and North Down Borough Council, Fermanagh and Omagh District Council, Derry City and Strabane District Council and Belfast City Council – were able to be assessed by Climate Emergency UK on their Climate Action Plans.
The organisation’s Climate Plan Scorecard is an early assessment of climate action plans produced by local authorities in the UK.
Climate Emergency UK is a not-for-profit co-operative which has been working with councils and residents since 2019 to share best practice about what local authorities can do to tackle the climate and ecological emergency.
Annie Pickering, co-director of Climate Emergency UK, said:
“We know that residents can make a difference to their council. We found that over two thirds of councils in the UK that have a Climate Action Plan have a local climate action group who would have pushed for the council to publish and implement their climate plans.”
She reported that more than 80 per cent of local councils in the UK have a climate action plan in place.
Climate Action Plans set out what a local authority plansto do to reduce climate emissions and reverse biodiversity loss in line with its climate emergency declaration.
Ballymena SDLP Councillor Eugene Reid highlighted the issue recently through a question tabled to Mid and East Antrim Borough Council.
Cllr Reid said that the council had made a commitment to develop a Climate Action Plan in the MEA 22-23 Environmental Objectives and Targets.
“Such plans are the recognised next step for councils that have declared a Climate Emergency and over 80 per cent of UK councils and five Northern Ireland councils have published a Climate Action Plan,” he stated.
He asked what progress has been made and when Mid and East Antrim Council will publish its Climate Action Plan.
In response, the local authority, said: “Council’s Climate and Sustainability Policy was approved by council in February 2022.
“Council’s Climate and Sustainability Action Plan 2023-2027 has been developed with assistance from Sustainable NI and outlines what council will do over the next five years to deliver on its policy commitments and meet public body requirements within the Climate Change Action (NI) 2022.”
The reply went on to say that on the advice of Sustainable NI, a five-year plan (2023-2027) has been developed that “mirrors the timeline of the NI Climate Action Plan 2023-27”.
It was presented to the council’s Direct Services Committee in March for approval.
The council’s Climate and Sustainability Action Plan aims to reduce carbon emissions in its operations by 30 per cent by 2030 and to net zero by 2040. It aims to “support the borough to net zero by 2050”.
Goals will be set to achieve this, it is stated, through “good governance”, protection of the environment to “enhance biodiversity” and drive “sustainable economic growth by providing opportunities for the development of clean green technologies in the local area”.
The council also intends to reduce emissions across its vehicle fleet and support the development of “sustainable and active travel” within the organisation and across the borough.
It will also set goals to use resources “sustainably and efficiently” within the organisation and across the borough. The plan says it will also seek to improve energy efficiency and use of renewable energy across the council estate.
In 2020, the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in Mid and East Antrim was agriculture, 26 per cent; followed by industry, 25 per cent; domestic, 18 per cent and transport, 15 per cent, the plan states.
The new Sullatober Household Recycling Centre in Carrickfergus has reduced carbon emissions by 800 tonnes per annum. The council says it will also strive to meet the 55 per cent increase in recycling target for municipal waste 2020-2035.
It also states that 47 per cent of the authority’s fuel emissions are from gas heating and 23 per from oil and 23 per cent from fleet fuel. Its carbon footprint was reduced by 12 per cent in 2021/22 with electricity generated from more renewable sources.
Noting the impact of climate change locally, the document notes wildfires have become “more common” and gorse fires have occurred in Carrickfergus and Greenisland in 2018 and 2019.
“Higher levels of rainfall have put MEA at increased risk of flooding and in cases where heavy prolonged rainfall occurs after a long dry period, there is a risk of flash flooding.
“Our area has experienced numerous episodes of flooding in recent years including 2012, 2015 and 2018 resulting in property damage, disruption to residents’ lives and damage to local parks and infrastructure.
“In 2020, the Department for Infrastructure (Rivers Agency) estimated that flooding would put 4,700 homes in the MEA area at risk as a result of climate change which will have both negative economic and social impacts on the borough.
“The region has also experienced extreme cold snaps in winter which can lead to issues with freezing water pipes and transport disruption.”
In 2016, the council’s emergency plan protocol had to be put in place when rural communities had to be supplied with provisions including bottled water and medical supplies.
The document also notes “more frequent and intense storm activity” in recent years. In 2016, there was “extensive damage” to Larne Promenade from the impact of the sea.
“Mid and East Antrim Climate and Sustainable Policy and Plan are both centred on delivering against the UN Sustainable Development Goals which define global sustainable development priorities and aspirations for 2030.”