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COP28 is taking place in Dubai until 12 December, as international leaders and agencies come together to discuss climate change.

Just over two years ago, RenewableNI’s Smart Energy Conference was a COP26 Presidency Programme regional roadshow event.

Back then I told the audience that Northern Ireland spent over £2bn on imported fossil fuels, money literally up in smoke.  Last year wind power in NI saved £500m on gas costs but fossil fuel still accounts for half our electricity generation.  For COP28 we have seen only 86MW of new connection stagnating the reduction of carbon emissions.

Despite the Assembly declaring a climate emergency in 2020, the required urgency from policy makers is not apparent, despite our recent record-breaking weather bringing the consequences home.  As a politician I used to read reports on the excess winter deaths due to the cold, now I am reading about summer deaths caused by record high temperatures.

At Smart Energy 21 we had an Economy Minister committing to change, at the end of the year the Northern Ireland Energy Strategy was published.  A few months later, in June 22, RenewableNI celebrated as the Climate Act became law, setting the obligation of 80 per cent renewable electricity by 2030.  This had been RenewableNI’s main advocacy campaign.

It seemed that Northern Ireland could be  back on track as a world leader in renewables.  Unfortunately, we’re not there … yet.  At the end of 2023 we are again without an Executive, the planning system remains unfit for purpose, while grid build out is insufficient and market support is not yet in place.

The recent KPMG report Accelerating Renewables revealed 82% of investors don’t currently see NI as an attractive place to invest because of the continuing policy vacuum.

I asked one of our members why they continue to invest in NI despite the delays.

They said the weather!  Northern Ireland has some of the best wind in the world, and despite the rain, we also have great potential for solar development.

KPMG have highlighted that 100% of the developers they surveyed would invest in NI if the policy issues were addressed.  The good news is, a support scheme is coming; increased grid investment is coming; and engagement on planning has increased with solutions to the excessive timelines being considered.

Last month we held our Smart Energy Conference and each year since the COP26 event we have nearly doubled the audience numbers.

This shows there is significant interest in Northern Ireland renewable energy right now.  Everyone knows the decisions made over the next year will determine success or failure of the 2030 target.

The conference could have been a negative event, but like the Accelerating Renewables report it highlighted the optimism of the industry.  Policy makers, investors and developers showed the passion and commitment to making the vital changes we need to meet our obligation.

For me it is not just a legal obligation, but a moral one and a pressing one for me as a parent.  I have a long history of campaigning for climate change.  I know transitioning to clean energy is better, not just for the environment but also our local economy and the health of our citizens.  It is vital we leave Northern Ireland a better place for our children.

At RenewableNI we will ensure the renewable electricity industry is heard through independent reports, political engagement and stimulating debate at our events.  We are working with our members and stakeholders to find ways to resolve the blockages to implementing new renewable electricity generation.

Together we will have a net zero electricity system by 2035.

Read more RenewableNI posts on the themes contained in this article.  If you want to learn more about community benefit, follow the Power Of Renewables tag.