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During the recent debate on the Act on CO2 advertising campaign, the Member for South Antrim Mr Ford rightly stated:
“If we are going to deal seriously with climate change, it must be looked at by the entire Executive.” — [Official Report, Vol 39, No 5, p214, col 2].
The Member will know that the Programme for Government already provides an expression of the Executive’s intention in that regard. In that document, we stated clearly and unequivocally that we are aware of global and local threats to our natural and built environment, and that it is clear that climate change is a serious problem facing the world. That position has not changed. Our Programme for Government has put in place commitments, actions and targets, which all Departments support, to tackle the problem of climate change.
When Ministers give their responses, I am flattered when they quote the Members who asked them questions. I had hoped that the First Minister’s response would have had slightly more on policy and less on aspirations. Nevertheless, given that he has told Mr Beggs that any responsible Executive would take whatever measures they could on climate change, and given the range of responsibilities across different Departments, will he explain how he can deal with the fact that the DOE Minister has a policy of doing the absolute minimum that is required by law?
DETI recently provided funding to extend the work of the Department of Energy and Climate Change on low-carbon solutions for households and communities to Northern Ireland. Work is due to start this year on a renewable heat strategy, and a submission on the subject will issue shortly to the Minister.
Energy used for heat accounts for around 50% of carbon emissions in the UK. It is vital to tackle that in order to help to constrain climate change. Invest Northern Ireland funds the Carbon Trust’s activities in Northern Ireland, and the sum for those activities will be £13·4 million for 2008-2011.
Invest Northern Ireland is developing a renewables strategy, and a position paper is scheduled for June 2009. Four substantial energy-from-waste projects were approved in 2008, with support totalling approximately £13 million. DETI continues to provide funding for Action Renewables to provide free technical advice to households and communities on renewable-energy technologies, and it offers a signposting service to the low-carbon building programme.
From July 2006 to March 2008, DETI provided £10·8 million in funding for the Reconnect programme to allow householders to install micro-renewable technologies. That resulted in the displacement of 54·4 MW of fossil-fuel-generated electricity and heat, which resulted in a CO2 saving of 21,074 tons per annum. A reduced VAT rate of 5% is available for small-scale renewable technologies and for technologies that generate electricity. I could go on, because I have a list of about six pages, but Members might lose patience with me somewhere along the line.
I will now address the remarks made about the Department of the Environment. It is progressing work on adapting to the unavoidable effects of climate change. The Department has set up the Northern Ireland climate change impacts partnership (NICCIP) with businesses, non-governmental organisations, the voluntary sector and Government representatives to improve understanding. The DOE continues to work with Whitehall and other devolved Administrations in the UK to inform public policy in Northern Ireland. It would be very hard to assess why there would be a detriment to one advert’s having been stopped by a Minister who did not want to run a national UK advert here because he felt that such matters should be decided by the devolved Administration.
It would not have been included in the Programme for Government had it not been consistent with the position that my Executive colleagues and I hold. Indeed, the position as outlined in the Programme for Government flows directly from the DUP’s election manifesto of 2007, to which all Members of the party are obliged to keep and uphold.
The DUP has supported climate-change legislation at Westminster and has called for year-on-year targets to reduce carbon emissions. It has been suggested that there is no consensus on the scientific evidence; I do not care too much whether there is consensus or not. However, I do believe that it is appropriate for the Executive to take action and prepare for any eventuality.