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Adapting to climate change – Progress in Northern Ireland

1. Outline

This report sets out our independent assessment of progress in adapting to climate change in Northern Ireland. We provide this assessment during the second Northern Ireland Climate Change Adaptation Programme (NICCAP2) and ahead of the next NICCAP which is expected in 2024.

2. Key messages

  • NICCAP2 has some of the elements required for a vision of a well-adapted Northern Ireland. The current NICCAP objectives envisage a Northern Ireland that is adapted to climate change across seven areas. Most of the seven areas have one or more key performance indicators.
  • Planning for climate change in Northern Ireland remains at an early stage. Across key areas of adaptation most of the critical policy and planning milestones that we identify as important for delivering adaptation are not in place. Preparation for climate change in areas falling outside of the scope of NICCAP2 is noticeably poorer than for areas within the programme.
  • Despite the critical importance of adapting to climate change, there is only limited evidence of delivery, and data gaps in key areas are unacceptably large. The absence of relevant data is a key barrier to assessing all aspects relevant to delivery and implementation of adaptation policy. For two-thirds of the adaptation outcomes we look at in this report, the lack of relevant indicator data prevents us making a judgement on progress in delivery and implementation. This needs to be addressed with urgency.
  • The next NICCAP must go much further than its predecessor. It must increase its scope to include the full range of sectors and policy areas which require adaptation, and critical data gaps need to be closed.

3. Recommendations

Table 1
Recommendations - Adapting to climate change – Progress in Northern Ireland
First publicationRecommendationTimingSectorResponsibility (Primary)
NIAPR23Consider bringing forward legislation on managing coastal change and designate responsibility to a NICS department to oversee coastal risk management from climate change.2026NatureNorthern Ireland Executive
NIAPR23Publish outstanding environmental plans, strategies, and policies.Ongoing progress needed
NatureNorthern Ireland Executive
NIAPR23Undertake coastal vulnerability assessments to build on the comprehensive evidence base on coastal erosion. 2024NatureDepartment for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA)
NIAPR23Include changes in average climate conditions and climate extremes expected over the coming decades in any nature recovery conservation strategies. Ongoing progress needed
NatureDepartment for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA)
NIAPR23Bring into effect the new Marine Plan and sustain adequately funded monitoring mechanisms to assess progress. 2023-24NatureDepartment for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA)
NIAPR23Set interim adaptation targets to drive early action to improve climate resilience of nature, enable progress assessments, and secure adequate resources (including for green jobs and skills) to facilitate delivery of the targets. 2024NatureDepartment for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA)
NIAPR23Focus attention on improving the ecological health of Northern Ireland’s habitats, including supporting their biodiversity and reflecting these indicators within outcomes of the next adaptation programme.2024NatureDepartment for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA)
NIAPR23JNCC should disaggregate biodiversity monitoring into devolved nations to understand country-level changes rather than the UK as a whole.Ongoing progress needed
NIAPR23The agricultural census questionnaire on Northern Ireland should include questions on livestock mortality and crop failure from climate impacts to develop a dataset on the extent to which climate could be impacting agriculture2024WLSDepartment for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA)
NIAPR23Significantly more investment is needed in data, monitoring, innovation, skills training, advisory services, and R&D in the agricultural, forestry and fisheries sectors to improve climate resilience.
– Increase investment for monitoring data on indicators that assess soil health and commercial fishery metrics across Northern Ireland.
– Monitoring data from the implementation of the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan should be tracked.
– Increase uptake of agri-environment schemes to incentivise sustainable farming practice in Northern Ireland.
Ongoing progress needed
WLSDepartment for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA), in coordination with Executive Office
NIAPR23Monitor impact of funding on WLS productivity, socio-economic, nature and climate goals, adjusting funding where necessary.2024WLSDepartment for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA), in coordination with farming unions

NIAPR23Undertake risk assessments of the agriculture, forestry, and fisheries sector-dependencies on internationally sourced inputs and how these could change under various climate scenarios and develop plans to mitigate supply chain risks.Ongoing progress needed
WLSDepartment for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA)
NIAPR23Research into maximising co-benefits and minimising trade-offs between the multiple uses of lands and seas, such as for renewable energy, climate resilience, nature recovery, food/feed/timber/fibre production and recreation.2025WLSDepartment for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA)
NIAPR23Improve policy coherence on areas related to the management of lands and seas to deliver synergies between policy goals. Ongoing progress needed
WLSDepartment for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA)
NIAPR23Stronger, urgent action to reduce sewage discharges into rivers and seas to protect the health of commercial fisheries through a legal obligation on water companies to reduce discharges by a significant percentage (e.g., 50%) by 2030, coupled with sufficient resources for monitoring and enforcing regulations.2025WLSDepartment for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA)
NIAPR23Publish the nationwide wildfire strategy, which will include managing wildfires on agricultural and forestry land. This strategy should consider likelihood of future impact from climate change and include adaptation measures to manage wildfire risk.
2024WLSDepartment for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA), NED
NIAPR23Develop climate resilience plans for agriculture and monitor the uptake and impact of these plans in forestry and fisheries.Ongoing progress needed
WLSDepartment for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA)
NIAPR23Invest in facilitating restoration of marine habitats (including seagrass and saltmarsh), bans on bottom trawling, enforcement of science-based fishing quotas and stronger protection of Marine Protected Areas to provide nursery areas to strengthen the resilience of threatened commercial wild fish stocks.Ongoing progress needed
WLSDepartment for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA)
NIAPR23Include a clear outcome and aligned indicators on water supply in the upcoming NICCAP3.2024WaterDepartment for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA)
NIAPR23Embed latest UK Climate Projections (UKCP18) into all long-term water strategies and project planning.Ongoing progress needed
WaterNI Water
NIAPR23Increase investment and research into identifying appropriate indicators for assessment on reduction of demand, system performance and increased supply.2024-29WaterDepartment for Infrastructure (DfI)
NIAPR23Designate legislative mandate for the Utility Regulator to have a climate resilience remit. 2024WaterDepartment for Infrastructure (DfI), NI Executive
NIAPR23Set standards for NI Water and monitor their progress in factoring latest UK Climate Projections (UKCP18) into business planning. 2024WaterUtility Regulator
NIAPR23Conduct a comprehensive risk assessment to identify climate change impacts on system assets, including on their continued efficiency.2024WaterNI Water
NIAPR23Produce an adaptation action plan that considers priority outcomes, such as reduction of demand, improved system performance and increased supply. Forecasted supply and demand should be considered for varying climate projections in UKCP18 going forward. 2024WaterNI Water
NIAPR23Include actions to embed climate resilience into planning for energy infrastructure in NICCAP3.2024EnergyDepartment for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA)
NIAPR23Collate national data on weather-related outages, including the frequency and duration of outage and the number of properties and businesses affected.Ongoing progress needed
EnergyDepartment for Economy (DfE)
NIAPR23Build upon the interdisciplinary approach undertaken in the development of the Civil Contingencies Branch Risk Register. Build on the interdependency risks mapping and develop strategic planning instruments to track how cascading failures may affect the energy system. 2024-29EnergyDepartment for Economy (DfE)
NIAPR23Set minimum resilience standards covering all key energy system operators and all relevant climate hazards from CCRA3.2024EnergyUtility Regulator
NIAPR23Mandatory reporting on climate risk and adaptation plans by public bodies that oversee implementation action from all generators, network operators and regulators under the Public Body Reporting Duty. The Public Body Reporting should include specific actions for managing climate change risks in their adaptation plans. Guidance from the Northern Ireland Executive is needed to support this.2026EnergyDepartment for Economy (DfE), in coordination with TEO
NIAPR23Identify a department which is responsible for climate resilience of telecoms and ICT.2025Telecoms & ICTNorthern Ireland Executive
NIAPR23Ensure that Northern Ireland’s next adaptation programme includes consideration of telecoms and ICT networks within its infrastructure objectives and target sectoral resilience building. 2024Telecoms & ICTDepartment for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA)
NIAPR23Fund research to identify telecoms and ICT infrastructure assets at risk from extreme weather and understand adaptation progress by private operators in Northern Ireland. 2025-26Telecoms & ICTDepartment for Economy (DfE)

NIAPR23Engage with UK Government to ensure that Ofcom is given a climate resilience remit across UK, including all devolved administrations.Ongoing progress needed
Telecoms & ICTNorthern Ireland Executive

NIAPR23Department for Economy, in coordination with DCMS, should advocate to set minimum resilience standards for operators in Northern Ireland to streamline the adaptation objectives in highly privatised sectors. 2025Telecoms & ICTDCMS, Department for Economy (DfE)
NIAPR23Northern Ireland Executive should liaise with UK Government and DEFRA to include coverage of telecoms and ICT network operators within the Adaptation Reporting Power. Ongoing progress needed
Telecoms & ICTNorthern Ireland Executive
NIAPR23Ensure clear designation of resilience responsibilities and mandates for each division of the transport sector. 2025TransportDepartment for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA), Department for Infrastructure (DfI)
NIAPR23Operators should conduct risk assessments that identify current and future climate change risks to services, based on UKCP18 projections, and create adaptation action plans that address the high-risk areas that are identified in the risk assessment. Ongoing progress needed
TransportDepartment for Infrastructure (DfI), Northern Ireland Executive
NIAPR23Oversee that operators conduct regular monitoring of existing infrastructure and improve maintenance practices. For new infrastructure, climate change adaptation and resilience should be embedded into planning standards and design to avoid costs of retrofitting in future.Ongoing progress needed
TransportDepartment for Infrastructure (DfI)
NIAPR23Require mandatory reporting of climate risks and adaptation progress by all key transport operators. Existing mechanisms, such as the upcoming public sector reporting or the Adaptation Reporting Power, should be utilised.2025TransportDepartment for Infrastructure (DfI), Northern Ireland Executive
NIAPR23Conduct a comprehensive risk assessment to identify the climate change hazards to major ports and airports. The Northern Ireland Executive should utilise the findings of this risk assessment to advocate for the need to strengthen climate resilience within policy for ports and airports.2026TransportDepartment for Infrastructure (DfI)
NIAPR23Airport and port operators should be required to report through either NI public sector adaptation reporting regulations, or the UK Adaptation Reporting Power. Ongoing progress needed
TransportNorthern Ireland Executive, Department for Infrastructure (DfI)
NIAPR23Language in the Strategic Planning Policy Statement (SPPS) and Regional Development Strategy 2035 should be strengthened. The requirement that LDPs ‘take account of’ climate change adaptation, flood risk and related matters, should become a mandatory requirement where planning authorities require flood risk assessments in areas at risk from all flood types (using floodplain definitions from the latest DfI guidance), as well as other climate-related risks such as erosion, overheating and wildfires, where relevant.2024Towns and CitiesDepartment for Infrastructure (DfI)
NIAPR23Councils should review and monitor local development plans to embed climate decisions and require designs to integrate the latest flood plain definitions from DfI guidance.2024Towns and CitiesLocal Councils
NIAPR23Government should review the 2019 guidance for flood risk allowances and consider how it can better link with planning decisions.2024Towns and CitiesDepartment for Infrastructure (DfI)
NIAPR23Provide information and training on adaptation to council committees and planning appeals committees on how the Local Development Plans need to deliver on climate adaptation.From 2023Towns and CitiesDepartment for Infrastructure (DfI)
NIAPR23Work with councils to develop a baseline on planning applications which are by exception on the flood plain, and how many such applications are received. From 2023Towns and CitiesDepartment for Infrastructure (DfI), Local Councils
NIAPR23Government should set long-term targets for the number of people and buildings at high to very low risk for all sources of flooding (sea, river, surface water and groundwater).2025Towns and CitiesDepartment for Infrastructure (DfI)
NIAPR23SuDS interventions must become mandatory. Government should move promptly to create a clear SuDS approval process and ensure that SuDS in new developments and retrofits are well-regulated, maintained and monitored. It should also set out mechanisms for funding installation and maintenance of SuDS and green infrastructure.2023Towns and CitiesDepartment for Infrastructure (DfI)
NIAPR23Introduce an urban greenspace target to ensure towns and cities are better adapted to more flooding and heatwaves.2025Towns and CitiesDepartment for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA), Department for Infrastructure (DfI), Department for Communities (DfC), Local Councils
NIAPR23Government should build on the good work of commissioning new coastal data and commit to long-term management for coastal areas, such as through statutory shoreline management plans.2024Towns and CitiesDepartment for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA), Department for Infrastructure (DfI)
NIAPR23Work with local authorities and other risk management agencies to set in place and fund guidance and tracking for the installation and maintenance of green infrastructure, nature-based solutions and flood risk adaptation measures. 2024Towns and CitiesDepartment for Infrastructure (DfI), Department for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA)
NIAPR23Develop a centralised overheating baseline in residential (homeowner, social and private rented sector) and other buildings (care homes, prisons and schools), making use of empirical studies of overheating and other innovative ways to monitor temperatures in buildings (e.g. smart data).2026BuildingsDepartment for Communities (DfC), Department of Finance (DoF), Department of Health (DoH), Department for Economy (DfE), Department of Justice (DoJ), Department for Education (DE)
NIAPR23In bringing forward any future Part O overheating regulations, ensure that they apply to new-build dwellings and residential buildings as well as refurbishment, alterations, extensions and conversion for existing dwellings and residential buildings. This should include a robust programme of post-occupancy evaluations.From 2023BuildingsDepartment of Finance (DoF)
NIAPR23Demonstrate considerations of future overheating and ventilation needs in energy efficiency schemes, for example the NI Sustainable Energy Programme (NISEP).From 2023BuildingsUtility Regulator, Northern Ireland Executive, Local Councils
NIAPR23Ensure adaptation is embedded in development of building-related policy and projects from 2023 onwards, including Climate Action Plans, the final Housing Supply Strategy and NIHE housing construction pilots.2023BuildingsDepartment for Communities (DfC)
NIAPR23Update the housing fitness standard to include actions on climate risks such as overheating and flood.2026BuildingsDepartment for Communities (DfC)
NIAPR23Create a framework for data collection and monitoring of property flood resilience installations.2024BuildingsDepartment for Infrastructure (DfI)
NIAPR23Make finance available to install proactive adaptation measures for overheating and flood resilience. This should be via grant schemes or green finance for private owners, with public funding targeted at low-income or vulnerable households, alongside energy efficiency retrofit. 2024BuildingsDepartment for Communities (DfC), Department for Infrastructure (DfI), Department for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA)
NIAPR23Consider property-level flood resilience as part of any future actions on an approvals process for sustainable drainage, flood warnings and risk modelling.From 2023BuildingsDepartment for Infrastructure (DfI)
NIAPR23Collate peer-reviewed and grey literature on climate risks to building fabric and develop a programme of work to support asset owners to better understand and deal with issues.2026BuildingsDepartment for Communities (DfC)
NIAPR23Develop an NI Health Adaptation Plan as a standalone or part of a wider health sustainability strategy, which establishes a baseline for priority climate adaptation indicators and risks for both population health and the Health and Social care. This should use a cross sectoral approach to include collaboration with wider structures e.g. community planning, emergency response, housing and health adaptation plans in ROI.2025HealthDepartment of Health (DoH)
NIAPR23DoH should provide clear strategic direction on coordination roles, ownership, training, resources and required deliverables for climate adaptation actions to arm’s length bodies and agencies including Public Health Agency and HSC Trusts.2025HealthDepartment of Health (DoH)
NIAPR23Consider the need for long-term, protected funding to adapt hospitals, care homes and other healthcare buildings to the impacts of climate change.From 2023HealthDepartment of Health (DoH), Department of Finance (DoF)
NIAPR23Undertake a regular health vulnerability and adaptation assessment across the department and with arm’s length bodies and agencies, including gathering information about impacts on health and social care which are caused by weather extremes.2025HealthDepartment of Health (DoH)
NIAPR23Work with other departments to collate research into the risk of overheating occurring in various building types which could allow adaptation actions to be planned for buildings most susceptible to overheating occurring in the future.2024HealthDepartment of Health (DoH)
NIAPR23Work with relevant health partners in Republic of Ireland to support transboundary collaboration and knowledge exchange between public health professionals and policymakers on the island of Ireland.2023HealthDepartment of Health (DoH)
NIAPR23Develop a Flood Forecasting and Warning Service for NI.2027Community Preparedness and ResponseDepartment for Infrastructure (DfI)
NIAPR23Conduct a regular survey of public perceptions of risk, resilience and preparedness to better understand requirements for support and identify what interventions should be prioritised, particularly with Regional Community Resilience Groups.2025Community Preparedness and ResponseRegional Community Resilience Group (RCRG), Department for Infrastructure (DfI), Local Councils
NIAPR23Impacts of local shocks due to weather extremes (including financial impacts) should be measured by local councils and reported as part of Public Body Reporting Duties. These reports should include details on preparedness and also subsequent adaptation initiatives undertaken at a community-level in response to the shocks.2023Community Preparedness and ResponseLocal Councils
NIAPR23Senior leaders to provide resource and support officers to meet the SOLACE ambition in NICCAP2 of every council having a published adaptation plan by 2024.2024Community Preparedness and ResponseLocal Councils
NIAPR23Include community engagement activities (such as citizens assemblies) under NICCAP3, to put fairness at the centre of efforts to implement a vision for a well-adapted UK. This engagement programme should focus on exploring issues of fairness in some of the most challenging aspects of adaptation (e.g. coastal retreat) and in the provision of public funding for adaptation2024Community Preparedness and ResponseDepartment for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA)
NIAPR23Met Office Civil Contingencies Team should publish annual NI-specific briefings on weather impacts and, where possible, response.2023Community Preparedness and ResponseMet Office, Department for Infrastructure (DfI)
NIAPR23Build on the good work of the DfI Flood Alleviation Storymap/Explorer to develop a publicly available database for local-scale flood risk, coastal erosion and (where possible) overheating risk. This should be easy to understand, so it can be used for community resilience and awareness initiatives.  2025Community Preparedness and ResponseDepartment for Infrastructure (DfI), Department for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA), Department of Health (DoH)
NIAPR23Co-develop a climate plan for with the wider cultural heritage sector in NI, which brings together a range of policies and principles and builds on existing good work. This plan should include adaptation actions for identifying and adapting to climate change impacts on the Government estate and beyond, the creation of a condition baseline for future monitoring of the rate of climate change impacts, and actions to promote and assess the use of adaptation guidance among wider cultural heritage owners.2027Community Preparedness and ResponseDepartment for Communities (DfC)
NIAPR23Cultural Heritage Owners and Arm’s Length Bodies to report on adaptation actions and risk assessment under forthcoming Public Body Reporting regulations.From 2023Community Preparedness and ResponseDepartment for Communities (DfC)
NIAPR23Integrate climate change adaptation into targets and objectives of the ‘10X Economy’ strategy.2023BusinessDepartment for Economy (DfE)
NIAPR23Develop more adaptation dedicated resources. Find good case studies and establish business champion programmes to provide clear examples and practical actions.2024BusinessDepartment for Economy (DfE), Invest NI
NIAPR23Consult with businesses on setting a maximum working temperature.2024BusinessHealth and Safety Executive for Northern Ireland
NIAPR23Align Climate Change Act (Northern Ireland) 2022 and the next (third) Northern Ireland Climate Change Adaptation Programme (NICCAP3) objectives to give businesses a clear roadmap and direction.2024BusinessDepartment for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA)
NIAPR23Provide financial support for smaller businesses to build back better after extreme weather events.2024BusinessInvest NI, Department for Economy (DfE)
NIAPR23Carry out stress testing exercises to understand the resilience of essential goods supply chains.2024BusinessDepartment for Economy (DfE)
NIAPR23Conduct targeted non-household water audits, as outlined in NI Water’s Water Resource and Supply Resilience Plan 2020.2024BusinessNI Water
NIAPR23Add adaptation criteria into social procurement policy.2024BusinessDepartment of Finance (DoF)
UKAPR23Engage with UK Government to strengthen adaptation reporting requirements across the UK Sustainability Disclosure Requirements.2023BusinessDepartment for Economy (DfE)
NIAPR23Include finance more centrally in the next (third) Northern Ireland Climate Change Adaptation Programme (NICCAP3 and engage with financial institutions in its development.2024FinanceDepartment for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA)
NIAPR23Embed climate adaptation into ‘10x Economy’ strategy and objectives.2024FinanceDepartment for Economy (DfE)
NIAPR23Build skills and capacity in the financial services market in Northern Ireland for delivery of adaptation analysis and products.2024FinanceInvest NI
UKAPR23Engage with UK public financial institutions (such as the UK Infrastructure Bank, British Business Bank, UK Export Finance, and British International Investment) to create adaptation finance strategies, setting out how they will independently and collectively ensure that no viable UK climate adaptation project fails for lack of finance or insurance.2023FinanceDepartment for Economy (DfE)
UKAPR23Engage with UK Government to strengthen adaptation reporting requirements across the Sustainability Disclosure Requirements.2023FinanceDepartment for Economy (DfE)
UKAPR23The Food Strategy Framework should be finalised and published. Consideration of climate risks to food security should be included in the priority on supply chains.2024Food securityDepartment for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA)
UKAPR23DAERA should aim to include the Food Strategy Framework in NICCAP3 as a key policy for food security to climate risks. 2024Food securityDepartment for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA)