Open letter to First Minister and deputy First Minister calls out ‘unambitious’ Environment Strategy

Tuesday 18 January 2022

An open letter signed by 34 organisations and individuals including the RSPB Northern Ireland has been sent to the First Minister and deputy First Minister highlighting concerns around the Executive’s draft Environment Strategy and how it does not adequately address the nature and climate emergency.

The draft Environment Strategy, which has been published by the Department of Agriculture, Environment & Rural Affairs (DAERA) on behalf of the Northern Ireland Executive, has been out for a period of consultation and closes today.

Key experts and organisations, including RSPB NI, are sending a clear message that the ambition in the draft Strategy must be raised, with stronger targets needed. 

The signatories agree that the Executive must act with urgency and ambition to create a climate-safe, nature-rich, healthy world and that the strategy should recognise that the nature and climate emergency is one of the defining issues of our time and Northern Ireland is no exception.

Joanne Sherwood, RSPB NI Director said,

“We welcome this Environment Strategy consultation but are concerned that it will not adequately address the nature and climate emergency we are facing locally.  Northern Ireland has been ranked the 12th worst out of 240 countries for biodiversity loss. Therefore, it is essential that our politicians and government act now, matching the severity of the issue with action.

“The majority of commitments outlined in the strategy are not time-bound or binding, with some of the targets falling short of actions currently required by law.

“This is simply not good enough.

“This decade is crucial for action, and the decisions made by the Northern Ireland Executive now will have lasting impacts for generations to come. We urge our MLAs and the Executive to step up and act with ambition and urgency to effect real change, including with this Environment Strategy.”

The open letter was coordinated by RSPB NI. The leading conservation charity is an important voice for the environment in Northern Ireland, where it has been operating in Northern Ireland for over 50 years to inspire a world richer in nature. For more information,


The First Minister and deputy First Minister
Northern Ireland Assembly
Parliament Buildings

18th January 2022

Dear First Minister and deputy First Minister,

Re: Raising ambition in the Environment Strategy

We are facing a nature and public health crisis. Northern Ireland is 12th worst in the world for

biodiversity loss, and dangerous levels of pollution are harming public health. The

Environment Strategy provides an opportunity to coordinate decision-making, policy setting

and funding across the Executive and government departments to improve the natural

environment and subsequently create socio-economic benefits. However, the draft Strategy is

unambitious, lacking specificity and as such we do not believe it will adequately address the

nature and climate emergency. We, the undersigned, call on the Executive to:

Support commencement of the Environment Act 2021: the Environment Act 2021 creates an

important framework for environmental governance in Northern Ireland including the Office for

Environmental Protection. The Executive should support commencement and full

implementation of the Act.

Legislate for nature’s restoration: non-statutory targets have so far failed to protect and restore

nature. To reverse nature’s decline the Executive must bring forward legally-binding interim

and long-term targets for nature’s restoration. The Executive must also rapidly scale up the

implementation, monitoring, and enforcement of environmental protections by delivering on

the commitment to establish an independent Environmental Protection Agency.

Increase ambition and specificity of the Environment Strategy: of the 225 actions and targets

within the strategy, 76% (172) have no timeframe, and 78% (177) are either partly or completely

unmeasurable. To be effective the Strategy must have clear long-term vision; specific actions

to deliver this vision; credible and measurable milestones; and robust governance to oversee

implementation. The acid test for the Strategy is whether these building blocks are put in place

and fit for purpose. Whilst there are welcome commitments, we do not believe the Strategy

will effectively tackle the nature crisis. The Executive must bolster the ambition and specificity

of the Strategy.

Adequately resource ongoing implementation and monitoring of the Strategy: to be effective

the Environment Strategy must have dedicated and long-term resourcing. An expert team

should be established within DAERA to drive ambition and action across the Executive, and

develop and carry out robust and transparent monitoring, review, and any necessary revisions.

Incentivise nature’s restoration: The Strategy must be supported by adequate investment. The

Executive should recognise the positive socio-economic and public health potential of nature’s

recovery including the restoration of habitats, creation of jobs, quality of outdoor space, and

mitigation and adaptation to climate change. The Strategy must be associated with incentives

to support sustainable approaches to planning, energy, transport, farming (Nature Friendly

Farming), and commercial fishing.

The Environment Strategy provides the Executive with the opportunity to create a new normal:

a climate-safe, nature-rich, healthy world for all. We call on the Executive to respond to our

asks above and would welcome the opportunity to meet with you to discuss nature’s recovery


Yours sincerely,



RSPB Northern Ireland: Joanne Sherwood, Director for Northern Ireland

Action Renewables: Caroline Winder, Senior Project Manager

Asthma UK & British Lung Foundation: Joseph Carter, Head of Devolved Nations

Belfast Food Network: Kerry Melville, Coordinator

Business in the Community: Kieran Harding, Managing Director

Brexit & Environment: Dr Viviane Gravey, Network co-chair

British Heart Foundation: Ferghal McKinney, Head of Northern Ireland

Christian Aid Ireland: Rosamond Bennett, Chief Executive

Environmental Justice Network Ireland: Dr. Ciara Brennan, Director & Academic Lead

Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful: Ian Humphreys, Chief Executive

Friends of the Earth Northern Ireland: James Orr, Director for Northern Ireland

Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment: Sarah Mukherjee MBE, Chief Executive

National Trust: Heather McLachlan, Director for Northern Ireland

Nature Friendly Farming Network: Michael Meharg, Chair for Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland Environment Link: Craig McGuicken, Chief Executive

Northern Ireland Marine Task Force: Donal Griffin, Task Force Officer

Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action: Seamus McAleavey, Chief Executive

Northern Ireland Youth Forum: Chris Quinn, Director

Outdoor Recreation Northern Ireland: Caro-Lynne Ferris, Executive Director

Surfers Against Sewage: Hugo Tagholm, Chief Executive

Sustainable NI: Nichola Hughes, Director for Northern Ireland

Sustrans: Caroline Bloomfield, Director for Northern Ireland

Ulster Wildlife: Jennifer Fulton, Chief Executive

Woodland Trust: Ian McCurley, Director for Northern Ireland



Dakota Reid, Youth Campaigner

Dara McAnulty, Youth Campaigner, Author

Judith Annett, Environment Specialist

Prof. Geraint Ellis, Queen’s University Belfast

Prof. John Barry, Queen’s University Belfast

Prof. Mark Emmerson, Queen’s University Belfast

Dr. Amanda Slevin, Co-Director of the Centre for Sustainability, Equality and Climate Action, Queen’s University Belfast, and Chair of Climate Coalition Northern Ireland.

Dr. Karen Kerr, Queen’s University Belfast

Dr. Mary Dobbs, Maynooth University

Dr. Wesley Flannery, Queen’s University Belfast

Last Updated: Tuesday 18 January 2022

Tagged with: