The government’s chief adviser on climate change has called on politicians to unite in their support of key infrastructure projects as part of the UK’s efforts to reduce carbon emissions.

Chris Stark, CEO of the Committee on Climate Change was addressing a webinar of business leaders organised by the Institute of Directors and SONI, the Electricity System Operator for Northern Ireland.

He said that infrastructure projects including the north-south interconnector project, in planning for a decade but awaiting final approval from the Infrastructure Minister, could help Northern Ireland play a “critical role” in the achievement of the UK’s target of net zero greenhouse gases by 2050.

The event, which attracted more than 100 leading figures from sectors across Northern Ireland, focused on building a green economy to aid the region’s recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

Chris said:

“As businesses enter recovery mode following the COVID-19 peak, there are major economic opportunities from the transition to zero carbon.

“We need a unifying vision and strong leadership from the politicians – and the support of the business community and consumers in Northern Ireland.

“Northern Ireland is playing catch up on climate, so proactive leadership is needed, including investment in the critical infrastructure to support a low carbon transition for power generation, heat supply and transport.”

In addition to improving security of supply and reducing energy costs for consumer, the North South Interconnector will enable the connection of 900MW of renewable generation, enough to power around 600,000 homes.

IoD NI Chairman Gordon Milligan commented:

“We were pleased to facilitate Chris for his first major address to a Northern Ireland audience in what was an extremely timely event as we all deal with the aftermath of the COVID-19 lockdown.

“We are seeing the climate change emergency rising to the top of board agendas, particularly as we transition to a post-coronavirus recovery.

“It is clear that now is the time to rebuild and move towards a green economy that will boost that recovery over the coming months and years.”

Jo Aston SONI Managing Director added:

“It was a pleasure to facilitate this important discussion on the increasingly urgent climate crisis.

“There is a clear opportunity for Northern Ireland’s post pandemic recovery, but we need to start taking real and meaningful action.

“We already have a world-leading electricity system which can now handle 65% electricity from renewables at any one time but there is still much to do.

“The support from Chis Stark is hugely welcome and illustrates that a positive planning decision on the North South Interconnector remains imperative if Northern Ireland is to play its part and realise the economic opportunities from addressing climate change.”

The Committee on Climate Change provides advice and oversight to central government and the devolved administrations on tackling and preparing for climate change.