Introduction to the Northern Ireland Climate Change Act


In June 2022 the Climate Change Act (Northern Ireland) received royal assent. The Act creates a target for net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, with bridging targets including at least a 48% reduction in net emissions by 2030. Here we have highlighted some of the key points in the Climate Change Act: 



Carbon Budgets 

A carbon budget is the maximum total amount of emissions permitted for a budgetary period (5 years). The first three carbon budgets are 2023-27, 2028-32 and 2033-37. The first three carbon budgets for Northern Ireland need to be set by the end of December 2023. Each carbon budget must be set at a level that is consistent with meeting emissions targets, such as the 48% reduction in net emissions by 2030.  

If a carbon budget is not met, the Act requires DAERA (with the assistance of other departments) to publish a report on the policies and proposals needed to compensate for the excess emissions in subsequent budgetary periods.   


Climate Action Plans  

The Act requires the development and publication of 5-year Climate Action Plans. Climate Action Plans are the key delivery vehicle for meeting carbon budgets. The first 5-year plans will be published by the end of 2023. Climate Action Plans require 16-weeks of consultation and have to include: 

  • Policies and proposals from all NI departments,
  • Annual greenhouse gas and air quality targets,
  • Soil quality and biodiversity targets. 

In order to meet the overall goal of net-zero by 2050, the departments in Northern Ireland are tasked with publishing plans for different sectors of the economy. These plans, known as sectoral plans must also support a just transition.  


Sectoral Plans 

Sectoral plans set out how specific sectors will contribute to the targets in the Act. There will be sectoral plans for: 

  • Energy 
  • Industrial processes 
  • Transport 
  • Infrastructure 
  • Waste management 
  • Agriculture  
  • Fisheries  


Just Transition Commission 

The Act places a duty on DAERA to establish a Just Transition Commission for Northern Ireland. The Just Transition Commission will oversee implementation of the just transition elements of the Act and provide advice to Northern Ireland departments on how to ensure that all proposals, policies, strategies and plans required under the Act comply with the just transition principle.  

Just transition, in the context of the Climate Change Act includes: 

  • tackling inequality,
  • supporting the creation of secure green jobs,
  • supporting people employed in high carbon industries with the transition,
  • supporting a transition to a green economy with net-zero carbon investment and infrastructure.  

Northern Ireland Climate Commissioner 

The Act created a new independent office, “Northern Ireland Climate Commissioner”. The role of the Commissioner is to oversee and report on the operations of the Act. 

Public Body Reporting on Climate Change

The Act required government to make new regulations which will require climate change reporting by a specified list of public bodies. The new legislation must be made and come into operation before 6 December 2023.