Linen Quarter BID recently hosted a ‘Climate Provocations Debate’ at which five panellists from various industries spoke about the current state of our environment and the changes we must make at an individual, business and government level to ensure we are doing our bit for the environment and to make Belfast a much greener city. This has been gaining momentum for a number of years and improvements including additional cycle and pedestrian zones throughout the city and the Translink Glider service have vastly decreased the number of cars on the roads around Belfast city centre.
The summer of 2019 was the hottest on record in the Northern Hemisphere and whilst blue skies and sunshine are hard to beat, the implications of this give major cause for concern. “There are over 40,000 people dying prematurely every year due to poor air quality. This is a horrific statistic.” – Chris McCracken of Linen Quarter BID. Rising oceans, melting ice caps, wild fires and plastic pollution are daily news and we must act now in order to help save our planet. The debate covered various topics including the measures that have been introduced by UK and Irish Government such as the carbon tax, the increase in Eco cars on the road and what more needs to be done.
David Surplus- B9 Energy
B9 built ten ultra-wind farms and became the UK and Ireland’s largest independent operator of wind farms. David is the past chair of the matrix sustainable energy advisor panel in Northern Ireland and spoke about the future of sustainable energy in Northern Ireland. “The best way to begin de-carbonising is called cap and adjust, so that oil gas and coal are shut off at the point of extraction so we stop it coming in at the ports. Every year you would shut the carbons off by 10% and there would be less fossil fuels available, so we would have to become more efficient in our energy usage and use more renewable energy.” As a result, the oil and gas platforms currently in the North Sea could be redundant in ten or fifteen years through the adoption of clean, carbon friendly fuel substitutes.
Gregor Fulton, Woodland Trust
The UK's leading woodland conservation charity, the Woodland Trust’s aim is to build a greener future for Belfast and the wider UK and are focused on strategies that can help fulfil national targets.
“To achieve the Northern Ireland targets within the next 12 years, we would need to be planting 32,000 hectares annually, at the minute we are only averaging 300 hectares.” This may be difficult to achieve and as a result may not happen, however society has a responsibility to build on this initiative and the original target set by government in 2008 to double woodland cover in 50 years may need to be revisited to incorporate additional methods to protect and restore our woodlands.
Some suggestions Gregor outlined were reduced grass cutting by the Housing Executive in areas that aren’t frequented by the public and instead create accessible local community woodlands that could improve both health and wellbeing as well as mitigating carbon emissions. The right tree in the right place can reduce temperatures through shading and increasing woodland cover is one of the most effective, simple and cheap ways to tackle climate change at a local level.
Anne Madden, Sustran is a charity that promotes walking and cycling
Top line statistics outlined by Anne included the fact that 70% of journeys in Northern Ireland are made by car, and most of these are single occupant, 5% are by public transport and only 1% of all journeys in NI are by bicycle.
“As much as 80% of roadside NO2 pollution comes from road transport and a quarter of our carbon emissions come from transport.”
Those who travel by car breathe in more toxicants than those who are outside and a shift in behaviours is required to encourage people to change their routines and adopt more eco-friendly methods of transport. Given that Belfast is a compact city, excluding those who live in suburban areas, most of our journeys into the city centre are less than two miles long, which would take around 15 minutes by bicycle. “People living in deprived areas are being affected most by on road traffic and they themselves are the most unlikely to drive, 2% of households in NI don’t have access to a car.” The glider is the most recent and largest transport investment in Northern Ireland in decades and the figures after one year have increased public transport passenger numbers by 30% according to Translink. “Perhaps actions such as increasing parking chargers, reducing on street car parking and investing in cycling infrastructure may decrease the number of cars on the road, but we as individuals must consider our travelling habits.”
Kerry Melville, Belfast Food Network
“Food is a current issue, 60% of our biodiversity loss is bound to our agriculture system, the impact of our current food system is poor, which is to do with the poor processing of food.” Kerry spoke about transitioning to a more sustainable food system, nature friendly farming and agroecology. Veganism isn’t necessarily the answer to these issues, “We need to try and move to a plant-based diet and not cut meat out completely but consider having a flexitarian diet and think about where our food is actually coming from.”
Clients and consumers are increasingly conscious of the impact they’re having on the world around them and are keen to engage with businesses who place sustainability at the top of their agenda. At ICC Belfast, we’re stepping up to the challenge and are proud to share our green initiatives, which you can find out more about here.