2021 was a memorable year in many ways.
As the Earth literally burned in countries after countries and houses were washed away elsewhere, our little corner got the kick it needed on the climate crisis.
It’s still up to us to fight for people and there is so much more we can do.
It was amazing to see all the good people running around the place talking about green stuff as if they meant it. Some of them, I believe, actually did.
Others, not so.
I saw many other things that gave me hope for all of our futures. Not least, the thousands of people who came out in rallies in Belfast and Derry to voice their concerns during COP26 about how we are doing to the planet.
But I have seen that doubts can be a hindrance to our ability to do the right thing. Blue hydrogen plans for NI are just one example.
The Westminsters Climate Change Committee is working hard to make something tangible, while the Republic of Ireland has literally wiped out our eyes with a variety of plans, including banning solid fuels and recycling all plastics. This will make their air a little cleaner and less toxic.
They are not near where they need be in the climate fight, but they are a lot farther down the road than us.
Without going back to old ground about how we’ve been let down time after time, I thought I’d look forward with a list 22 very hopeful New Years resolutions that I would love to see the Northern Ireland Executive begin working on for everyone in NI by 2022.
The environment is obviously the most important thing, but so is our relationship with the natural world and all its creatures. What we do as humans has an impact on each of us.
To be honest, if they ticked off half, I’d be a very happy environment reporter next year. Can we please stop blaming Troubles for everything that is still failing here and get on to what we need.
These are the resolutions, so without further delay:
1. A net-zero Climate Change Bill. We need it, and we deserve it.
2. A Climate Department, which sits alongside the First & Deputy First Ministers Offices to ensure that all public bodies, politicians, and services comply with the Climate Bill.
3. An independent environment agency that will hold Stormont, local councils, and public bodies responsible for failing to deliver on issues such as the toxic air we are still breathing, untreated wastewater we swim in, and slurry polluting rivers and lakes and killing biodiversity.
4. Planning system reform is needed. It is long overdue.
5. Review all existing mineral licenses in NI and place the requirement for environmental impact assessment on any new work at those sites.
6. Town and Country Planning Reform to ensure that all new roads and developments have safe, segregated bicycle paths and a focus on pedestrians and not cars.
7. New building standards are being developed that require all new homes have the best insulation and no fossil fuel-based heat system. Homes must also be as low as possible in emissions.
8. Grants to insulate homes or buildings to the highest standards to reduce energy consumption. It’s simple.
9. Grants for homes or buildings to switch to electric heating systems. No more gas, solid fuels, hydrogen (blue), or gas-based fuels, even oil. It will be cheaper for those who feel the pinch at home, as fossil fuel prices continue to rise. It will reduce the toxins in our lungs and help the planet.
10. You can build eco-villages from land that isn’t owned by the government to reduce housing need, save the planet, and improve community well-being.
11. Recognition of the Rights of Nature is essential in all that we do. It’s no longer about making money. It is not healthy, and it doesn’t make anyone happy.
12. All petroleum licenses should be revoked and any infrastructure that supports fossil fuel growth should be stopped. All fossil fuels should be kept in the ground. We must stop allowing them to grow and not allowing them to control fuel-poor households.
13. A ban on fracking in its entirety across NI.
14. End to extractive industries, and a shift toward construction built on sustainable materials with large recycling improvements.
15. Pay farmers to give land to nature in order to encourage biodiversity. They will be able to avoid pesticides and be the natural custodians of nature.
16. Investigate the impacts of silage and slurry cutting on soil quality, biodiversity, waterway pollution, and more.
17. Encourage more farmers in the production of fruit and vegetables. This will help NI become more self-sufficient and reduce imports.
18. Help farmers make their operations as emission-free as possible by granting them grants to install heat pumps, solar panels, or towards hydrogen machinery.
19. Factory farming must be stopped. It is not ethical. No one wants to believe that the chicken or pork they are eating was raised in a barn with 20,000 others.
20. We need to update our animal rights laws to prohibit hunting wild animals with packs or dogs, to end the cruel exportation of unweaned calves that can go up to 30hrs without food while being shipped overseas to countries such as Spain, to stop the export of live animals, and to ensure that anyone convicted for animal cruelty or allowing animals to suffer is never allowed to keep them again. Let’s get the animal cruelty register in order while we are at it.
21. A move towards a circular economic model, where producers are required to make goods that last. This includes parts that can be recycled, reused, or repaired. It would also be a good idea to ban single-use plastics and encourage producers to reduce packaging and use recyclable or washable materials.
22. Last but not least, we need to change our laws so that wildlife and environmental crimes are truly punished, regardless of their form and no matter who is responsible. Fines for pollution are laughable, as are sentences that are handed out to farmers who have mistreated their livestock.
You might think there isn’t enough money to do it all, but there is always a way. Start with government spending reviews on frivolous items like Stormont meals, gas and electricity bills that weren’t necessary and the millions we hear are returned to Westminster.
RHI and other bungled schemes show the money is there. We just have to use it more wisely and invest in renewable energy that will make an impact for all of us.
All the best for the new year. It must be, for our sake.