Northern Ireland publishes consultation response on circular economy

The Northern Irish Department for the Economy (DfE) has published its findings from a public consultation exercise on its draft Circular Economy Strategy. 

Northern Ireland Circular Economy StrategyThe public consultation was held over ten weeks from 9 January to 20 March 2023. During this period, individuals and organisations across Northern Ireland had the opportunity to consider and give their views on the draft strategy.

At the core of the strategy is the goal for Northern Ireland to have ‘an innovative, inclusive and competitive economy where business, people and planet flourish, with responsible production and consumption at its core’ by 2050. This includes a target to halve Northern Ireland’s material footprint by the same year.

The report – published last week (16 August) – confirms that 75 per cent of respondents agreed this was the right overall vision and 66 per cent were in agreement with halving the nation’s material footprint.

Overall, the draft strategy was well received and the consultation responses largely supported the commitment to transition to a circular economy. Respondents were broadly in support of the need for a comprehensive approach to regulation, funding instruments, skills development and the role of government in a dedicated delivery body.

The evidence gathered through the consultation process will inform the preparation of the final Circular Economy Strategy for Northern Ireland, which the DfE says will be published ‘in due course’.

Emerging circular economy high-level themes

The overall analysis of the responses to the consultation on the draft strategy exposed several high-level themes. These included a desire for clarity on the actions the Northern Irish government will take and the need for interim targets, action plans and greater ambition.

The draft strategy recognises the need to change individual behaviours and mindsets but DfE says it does not underestimate the difficulties of doing so. Respondents considered regulatory and financial incentives to be the most important efforts government should use to promote behavioural change, followed by the provision of physical infrastructure, information and transparency.

Overall, respondents agreed that there was a need to use existing clusters and networks in order to facilitate and support the industry to research, design, test and deliver transformative solutions for increased circularity. The respondents provided an extensive range of existing clusters and networks, which the report includes in an Annex.

Respondents also agreed that clusters and networks would be required in the future to maximise resources in key sectors such as agriculture, manufacturing, construction, energy, waste-related, health and social care and materials such as textiles and packaging.
Respondents also suggested the need for clusters and networks in other thematic areas including, research and innovation, repair and reuse.

There was strong support for the government to play a role in the future delivery of the Circular Economy, with 79 per cent of respondents agreeing that government should be involved. There was an even split in support between those believing government should lead the delivery and those who believed it should be jointly delivered by the government alongside other delivery partners.

Other high-level themes emerging from the overall analysis of responses include:

  • A firmer commitment to collaboration and the mechanisms to create a collaborative approach;
  • The requirement for a system-wide approach;
  • Alignment with other agendas is necessary, namely the Climate Change Act;
  • The need to move away from focusing solely on economic growth to include greater emphasis on prosperity for all, equality and social justice;
  • Affordability and accessibility to be at the forefront of future actions;
  • And the need for evidence to be visible in order to underpin the strategy and provide context to targets and future interventions. 

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