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Key ingredients to fostering success in the low carbon economy

Speaking recently at the Smart Energy Northern Ireland 2019 conference, Associate Director, Sara Tinsley considered the practical challenges to decarbonisation of the energy sector, what this will mean for aspects of sustainability in local planning, collaborations and how this engages with the strategic policy framework.

Policy making is embedded in the local development plan process and decision making arena, with strategic requirements setting out the promotion of sustainable development. The drive to the low carbon economy and decarbonisation of the energy sector must therefore be reflected in these ‘on the ground’ policies.

As council’s across Northern Ireland gain momentum in the production of their Local Development Plans, we look to the ambitions within plan strategies to adopt and contribute to the foundations of the low carbon region. From this local perspective, we see the 11 councils taking on their role in delivering the first round of locally prepared Development Plans since the transfer of planning powers in 2015. Within the Draft Plan Strategy documents published to date, (3 out of the 11 councils are at draft plan strategy stage) there are local responses to pressures and opportunities, with aspirations shaped for the needs of particular council areas. 

The local development plan is the spatial representation of the community plan and this will have buy-in from the local community. As the low carbon economy will be a consumer driven transition which requires improved community engagement in policy making and planning, it is about public awareness and the drive to change.

And the context is not just about renewable generations. Environmentally resilient cities and regions will require efficient housing and buildings, and sustainable movement interactions with land zonings. A low carbon future will involve radically changing our behaviour as citizens, industry and government, becoming more energy efficient, generating renewable energy, moving to lower emissions fuels and adopting new technologies. 

Should there be aspiration for more?

Whilst many are supportive of the need for strong directional policy and promotion of the renewable agenda, the challenge will be the shift in local policies to ensure the scale of ambitions are met. This would also consider the ability to deal with innovation in the market place, and policy flexibility to avoid technological ‘lock-in’.

In England, Bristol City Council recently released the latest iteration of the Bristol Local Plan review which includes significant enhancement of sustainability policies (for more information on this, please read our briefing note).

In a week where Amazon has announced its commitment to wind energy in Donegal, as part of its long term goal to power its global infrastructure completely with renewable energy, we see the catalyst of corporate prioritisation and commitment to change. 

This is one of the key contributing factors in the drive to the low carbon economy. How this interacts and is embedded in local policy will be partnered with the strength of political leadership, strong community engagement, clear evidence base, strong policy with deliverable targets, innovation around viability, and effective monitoring and review.

Targets and aspirations towards 2050

The individual and collective decisions that affect energy use in Northern Ireland in the next target milestones of the 2040s and onwards will be made, or influenced, by a majority of citizens whose views are not yet known.

A review of the projections for population in Northern Ireland in 2050 showed that:

  • 36% of the population of Northern Ireland in 2050 have not yet been born
  • 19% of the population of Northern Ireland in 2050 were born since 2000
  • 45% of the population of Northern Ireland in 2050 were born before 2000

Policy provisions must build social support now as the energy system will act as a catalyst for change in how all citizens lead their lives at home, school, work, and in their communities. It is at local level where this collaborative foundation is built.

For more information please contact Sara Tinsley.

12 April 2019

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