UN Climate Change Conference 2015

Committee Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 7:15 pm on 30th November 2015.

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Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP 7:15 pm, 30th November 2015

The Business Committee has agreed to allow up to one hour and 30 minutes for the debate. The proposer of the motion will have 10 minutes in which to propose and 10 minutes in which to make a winding-up speech. One amendment has been selected and is published on the Marshalled List. The proposer will have 10 minutes to propose the amendment and five minutes in which to make a winding-up speech. All other Members who are called to speak will have five minutes.

Photo of Anna Lo Anna Lo Alliance

I beg to move

That this Assembly notes that the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference is taking place in Paris from 30 November to 11 December; considers that this is an opportunity to agree an ambitious global plan to tackle the threat of climate change; welcomes the Minister of the Environment’s attendance at this conference to represent Northern Ireland; further notes that the projected reduction of greenhouse gas emissions of 33·3% by 2025, based on 1990 levels, falls just short of the Programme for Government target of 35%; and calls on the Minister of the Environment to work with his Executive colleagues to increase existing efforts and consider innovative approaches to help reduce emissions and move to a low carbon economy.

On behalf of the Committee of the Environment, I am delighted to move the motion. I welcome the opportunity to open the debate on this important issue.

Today marks the start of the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris, which will run until 11 December. The aim of the conference is to agree an ambitious global plan to tackle the threat of climate change. Over the next weeks, around 190 nations, represented by world leaders, environment Ministers and government officials, will be in attendance. Our Minister of the Environment plans to attend as part of the UK delegation.

Climate change is a complex problem. Many people are very passionate about tackling climate change. That was evident in the many rallies held around the world yesterday, including in Belfast. At the very heart of the response to climate change lies the need to reduce emissions. Governments agree that emissions need to be reduced so that global temperature increases are limited to below 2°C.

In Northern Ireland, the Programme for Government set a target of reducing gas emissions by 35%, based on 1990 levels. Some progress has been made, and, currently, Northern Ireland has reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 16%. The last published projections estimate that, by 2025, Northern Ireland will fall short of its target and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by only 33·3%. While that is not a huge shortfall, in itself, we still have a long way to go until 2025. Policies, which might impact on a reduction of emissions, can change. The next projection, based on the 2013 greenhouse gas inventory, will be available in December. It will be interesting to see the revised figures when they are published.

The Committee recognises the efforts that are being made to respond to the impacts of climate change here. The 'Northern Ireland Climate Change Adaptation Programme' is an important document in tackling climate change. It is required by the UK Climate Change Act 2008 and contains strategic objectives, proposals and policies by which each Department will meet those objectives up to 2019. It identifies flooding, water, the natural environment, agriculture and forestry as primary areas for action. However, another important aspect in the battle against climate change is mitigation — taking action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Statistics show that the largest sources of emissions in Northern Ireland are agriculture, transport, energy supply and residential sectors.

It is evident, therefore, that a joined-up government approach is required to further our efforts to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions and to move to a low-carbon society.

Throughout the mandate, the Committee has been briefed on the impact of climate change. In 2012, it was briefed by the Met Office. We were presented with its observations of changes to the atmosphere and oceans since 1856, and its views on what has contributed to those changes. The Met Office also outlined its projections for changes to Northern Ireland's climate over the twenty-first century, predicting hotter, drier summers and warmer, wetter winters.

Lord Deben, Chairman of the Committee on Climate Change, briefed the Committee in December 2013. That Committee was set up to advise the UK Government and the devolved Administrations on emissions targets. The main areas discussed were the measures being implemented by industry to combat change, the scientific evidence supporting climate change, and the work of the Committee on Climate Change.

The Committee also received updates on the work of the cross-departmental working group on climate change. The updates reflect on the work that has been achieved to date, including residential energy efficiency and fuel poverty schemes; ambitious household waste recycling targets; and the increasing use of low-carbon fuels, such as renewables and gas. However, more work is required. That is why the Committee is calling on the Minister, along with his Executive colleagues, to increase existing efforts and to consider innovative approaches to help to reduce emissions and move to a low-carbon economy.

As previously mentioned, the residential sector has been identified as one of the largest sources of emissions. Throughout the mandate, the Committee has explored alternative approaches to managing waste, which, it recognises, contributes to greenhouse-gas emissions. The Committee has been briefed on the environmental and economic benefits of a circular economy. Last year, the Committee also visited the VITO research facility in Belgium and the Metabolon project in Germany, where Members saw at first hand how waste was refined and reused rather than simply recycled. Those are examples of approaches that could be considered further to reduce waste that ends at landfill and, consequently, to reduce emissions.

Reducing emissions and adapting to the impacts of climate change provide the opportunity to drive innovation, support growth, develop effective and resilient infrastructure, and minimise the disruption caused by flooding, water scarcity and other climate-change risks. The Minister's attendance at the conference is a positive and important step, as it will ensure that the views of Northern Ireland on climate change are expressed at the conference. I hope that the views put forward in this evening's debate will help to inform the Minister's input to the conference. The Committee looks forward to receiving an update from the Minister's officials on the outcome of the conference and to hearing more from the Minister regarding his discussion paper on proposals for Northern Ireland climate change legislation later in the debate.

Due to the timing of the decision to select amendments, the Committee did not have an opportunity to discuss Mr Agnew's amendment; however, I am sure that Members will reflect on it in their contributions. That concludes my remarks as Chairperson of the Committee for the Environment. I would like to say a few words in my remaining time on behalf of the Alliance Party.

Climate change is here; there is no denying it. Overwhelming scientific evidence shows that global warming is man-made. In the past year, the Met Office has seen a 1°C increase in global temperature. Given that a 2°C increase is the maximum that we can tolerate without disastrous consequences, that is worrying.

Western industrial countries are the biggest polluters, yet it is the poorest countries that will face the greatest harm. It is not just humans who are at risk; this is upsetting the entire ecosystem of the planet. We see the effects in the form of extreme weather and the loss of biodiversity as species lose their habitats. I was at the very well-attended climate change rally in Belfast yesterday, where we heard many people expressing their concerns. Among them, a farmer spoke of soil erosion; because of climate change, he is gradually losing his land.

I want to see a Climate Change Act in line with the rest of the UK, with legally binding targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. I welcome the Minister's intention to bring forward a discussion paper on the introduction of a Northern Ireland climate change Bill. We must not allow our greed to stop us from keeping the planet healthy so that future generations may enjoy what we have taken for granted. We must act now.

Photo of Steven Agnew Steven Agnew Green 7:30 pm, 30th November 2015

I beg to move the following amendment:

Leave out all after "colleagues;" and insert "to introduce a Climate Bill for Northern Ireland that includes legally binding, long-term and interim targets on the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.".

I rise to compel the House to support the introduction of a climate change Bill. As the Committee Chairperson mentioned, world leaders will gather in Paris over the next two weeks to discuss climate change and seek agreement on international efforts to keep temperature rises below two degrees Celsius globally, the commonly-agreed point at which climate change becomes dangerous climate change. I am delighted that our Environment Minister will be there, and it is important that Northern Ireland plays its part. We have to take our responsibility seriously as, in international terms, a wealthy nation.

I remind the House that in February 2014 we agreed that we needed to pass a climate Bill. I ask the House not to row back on that call to the Executive to bring forward legislation specific to Northern Ireland. While we are committed under the UK Climate Change Act 2008 we have no specific Northern Ireland targets that are legally binding. The question I have to ask the Minister — and I do not aim it at him personally, but as the representative of the Executive in the debate — is this: what has been done since that debate and what action has been taken? This will be discussed over the forthcoming weeks; it is an urgent situation.

Climate change has been discussed for decades now, but with each passing year the situation becomes more grave. As Lord Stern pointed out in 2006:

"the costs will increase the longer appropriate action is delayed, to the point where the costs of inaction are potentially catastrophic".

He made the point then, and it persists today, that the sooner we act, the less costly it will be, both in human and financial terms. Each year that the Assembly delays in taking action and in bringing forward a climate Bill, we increase the inevitable costs that we will face as a result of climate change.

Photo of Gordon Lyons Gordon Lyons DUP

Will the Member give way?

Photo of Steven Agnew Steven Agnew Green

Now that we no longer have the former Member for East Antrim, I thought that I might get through this speech without an interjection. I hope that the Member is not going to be another climate denier from East Antrim, but I am willing to give way.

Photo of Gordon Lyons Gordon Lyons DUP

I thank the Member for giving way. Sammy Wilson may be in another place now but I know that his views on this have not changed. I welcome the debate and it is good to see the Member here. Who knows; he might be going to Paris himself. I would not be surprised if I found him dressed up as a polar bear standing on a plastic iceberg protesting with a lot of other people.

I will return to what the Member has just said. Does he agree that there can be an awful lot of scaremongering at the same time, which does not do any benefit to any side of this argument?

I refer him to a news article from 2007 that said that arctic summers would be ice-free by 2013. Do you not think that that kind of scaremongering does not do anything good for the debate?

Photo of Steven Agnew Steven Agnew Green

I thank the Member for his intervention, and, all along, I have recommended that all Members take on board scientific evidence and the views of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which presents peer-reviewed science. Whilst individuals may make claims, there is that collective consensus, which has been around 1990 and, indeed, since 1896, when the first causal link was made between carbon and climate. There is that consensus, rather than some of the individual claims that may not bear out to be true. All of the claims that we would see more extreme weather, greater drought and greater flooding have been proven to be true.

When we discussed this motion previously, it was on the back of serious flooding in Northern Ireland and a call to action to mitigate the flooding that we experienced. This month, we have had storm Abigail, storm Barney and storm Clodagh. It is undoubted that freak weather events, as they were once called, are increasingly becoming commonplace, and we are seeing the effects here in Northern Ireland. It is not just flooding that will impact on us. Increasing global food prices can result from changing climate, as farming in many parts of the world may no longer be sustainable. We will see environmental refugees having to move from land that was once fit for growing food crops and is no longer so due to increased drought or, indeed, flooding. We are starting to see some of the commentary on some of our global conflicts focus on the fact that reducing resources is starting to fuel some of those global conflicts. Again, climate change is leading to greater instability in the world.

This is often presented as an environmental issue, and, of course, it is, but, as I always say, the planet will survive. Life as we know it for humans and animals may not, but the planet itself will survive anything that we can do to it. The social justice element of this issue should not be lost in the House. It is unfortunate that those who have probably done least to cause climate change are those who will be affected most by its consequences. A briefing paper from Oxfam says:

"Climate change threatens to put back the fight to eradicate [hunger] by decades".

It is often not environmental groups such as Friends of the Earth, the RSPB or Northern Ireland Environment Link that are making the loudest calls for action on climate change but our aid agencies, our Churches and or missionaries who are going out to Africa and developing nations elsewhere and are seeing the impacts of climate change on poverty, not in the future but today.

It is no longer something that we talk about that might happen. It is something that is happening, and, in Paris, our leaders will be seeking not to prevent climate change, because it is too late for that, but to mitigate its worst impacts and keep temperature rises below 2°C.

I have mentioned the social element and the environmental element, but there is, of course, an economic element. I come back to Lord Stern's report. He was very clear that the benefits of strong, early action on climate change outweigh the costs. We need legislation so that we can have some certainty on our policy direction. Approximately 35,000 jobs in Northern Ireland are in the low-carbon and environmental services sector, and we have seen recently, with the debacle around renewable energy subsidies, that 10,000 jobs could be at risk in that sector due to our inability to agree a way forward on subsidising renewable energy. I know that people will point to the costs, but I will come to evidence. The IMF has estimated that, globally, subsidies for fossil fuels are at $5·3 trillion, despite the evidence that they are one of the number one causes of climate change. If we look at Northern Ireland alone, we see that the new gas power plant at Ballylumford put 1% on bills. We have a target of 100% Housing Executive homes on gas. At the same time, other nations are committing to a fossil-free future. We are still subsidising fossil fuels and, at the same time, withdrawing subsidies for renewables. We are going in the opposite direction of many other countries.

So, we have the evidence. We need to move on from the somewhat facile debate about whether climate change is happening or whether it is caused by human activity. We need to act quickly, and we need to act now. We need a Northern Ireland climate Act.

Photo of William Irwin William Irwin DUP

As a recently appointed member of the Environment Committee and as someone who has a lifelong background in agriculture, this is an area of interest to me, especially given the fact that, according to data, agricultural activity accounts for some 29% of emissions of greenhouse gases in Northern Ireland. At times, action to reduce greenhouse gases has been an amusing debate in agriculture circles. Everyone is familiar with the fragrant smells of the farm wafting over our countryside.

As a dairy farmer, I know that there is a particular focus on the output of methane from cows in milk production, and statistics reveal dairy production to be a key contributor to greenhouse gases. There is a saying that what goes in must come out. That is more than applicable in this instance. However, it is what happens inside the cow that is the main focus of our scientists at the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI). Indeed, I was somewhat amused to view photos of cows with backpacks attached to measure their methane output. That shows the in-depth approach taken in a bid to come up with ways to reduce the methane output from bovine sources.

What scientists are struggling with in regard to livestock is the fact that, in essence, they are trying to intervene in a natural process — the digestive system. That system has worked as nature intended since time began. The focus of the scientists has been the make-up of the feed used in production and how that contributes to methane levels released. The difficulties with the various tests that have been conducted point to the cost of the various food additives or replacement elements that have been utilised in tests that seek to reduce gas content in the feed. Reports have stated that whilst additives have reduced recordable methane levels from the cow's mouth, the cost of the additives are a prohibitive factor. There is also the added cost of the carbon footprint in the production and transportation of those feed additives were they to become commonly used. So, we have a catch-22 situation in that regard.

The fact that we are discussing greenhouse gases and carbon footprints in agriculture signals a level of thought and importance that has been given to all aspects of production, be that food or any other manufacturing process. As far as agriculture is concerned, the fact that cows have been the subject of methane studies and the fact that agrifood production has been steadily moving away from small individual operators producing a small amount of product to a much larger industrialised operation has moved agriculture into a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.

In closing, one major concern that I have about targets set is the potential for added strain and cost on the farmer. With farmers already complying with extremely stringent legislation on animal traceability, by-product control, nitrates and a plethora of other directives, I fear that there may be further demands placed on our agrifood industry to go further with potentially costly measures to further reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Getting back to my original point about what goes in must come out, I plead for a level of common sense, especially with regard to agrifood production, and not to increase the burden on our farming industry unrealistically.

Farmers are not afraid to play their part. Indeed, they already play a vital role across the globe in conserving and maintaining millions of acres of land. The motion points to an innovative approach to reducing emissions, and it is important that such approaches are indeed innovative and, critically, must be available and workable in the real world.

Just a couple of years ago, we had some very bad weather, and I read a report that it was due to global warming. Indeed, another paper article said that it was the worst weather for over 100 years. So much for global warming. We were told that we had the worst weather due to global warming and, on the other hand, it was the worst weather for 100 years.

Photo of Cathal Boylan Cathal Boylan Sinn Féin 7:45 pm, 30th November 2015

Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. Ba mhaith liom labhairt i bhfabhar an rúin agus ar son an leasaithe. I rise to speak in favour of the motion and the amendment. I welcome the motion from the Chair of the Committee and from the Committee. I also welcome the attendance of the Minister to respond to the debate and the fact that he and the Taoiseach are heading to Paris. In fact, the Taoiseach is at the convention in Paris today and has already committed to introducing legislation on this matter when he comes back.

This week will see the twenty-first meeting of the conference of parties under the United Nations framework on climate change, or COP21 as it is more commonly known, when 195 nations will gather in Paris to further their commitment to limiting the future effects of climate change. They will bring with them their own ambitions, targets and plans to help limit the growth of emissions, and rightly so. Climate change is one the greatest challenges facing modern society. We have witnessed unpredictable weather catastrophes, from freak floods to record-breaking heatwaves. We have witnessed a rise in our sea levels and have watched as the area covered by the Arctic sea ice has become smaller and the ice thinner. With global average temperatures on land and sea rising, you could argue that, as a collective unit across the globe, we have been slow in coming to an agreement.

Closer to home, in May this year, the cross-departmental working group on climate change submitted its fourth annual progress report to the Executive on the performance of each Department in implementing the agreed greenhouse gas emissions reduction action plan. The action plan supports the achievement of the Programme for Government target to continue to work towards a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of at least 35% on the 1990 levels by 2025. Many would say that that goal is not ambitious enough, but, at the very least, we must achieve it and, if at all possible, exceed it. However, current projections tell us that we are likely to achieve only a 33·3% reduction by 2025, which means that our interventions to date have not been enough and that we must do better.

I want to refer a few things back to the Minister. In 2013, the previous Minister initiated a consultation to seek views on the need for a climate change Bill and on potential elements including statutory targets to reduce greenhouse gases, the creation of a new independent climate change committee and the introduction of new statutory duties for public authorities to promote and report on actions to reduce emissions and adaptation measures. Maybe you would like to respond on where we are with that.

I have only a minute and a half left, and I want to pick up on some points that we could maybe look at in addressing some of the issues. The main contributors, as some Members have mentioned, have been transport, agriculture and carbon dioxide emissions. There are many interventions that we can carry out. It is about housekeeping practices and looking after your own homes in relation to some of the things we can actually do. In waste management, we could eliminate food waste from going into landfill and incineration sites across the North. Then there is the kerbside waste collection, which involves plastics, bottles and cardboard. Minister, maybe you would like to respond to that. It is strange that we have a system here in the North of two or three collection types right across the councils. A small start would be to get all the councils to go some way to carry out the same practices, instead of a kerbside collection in one council area and a blue bin system in another area, with contaminated waste going into them. Those are simple things that we could try.

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

Will the Member draw his remarks to a close?

Photo of Cathal Boylan Cathal Boylan Sinn Féin

We need to incentivise people in relation to transport and encourage the public sector, including councils, to purchase and use electric vehicles.

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

The Member's time is up.

Photo of Alban Maginness Alban Maginness Social Democratic and Labour Party

I thank the Chairperson of the Environment Committee for bringing this motion to the House. Obviously, it is a timely motion. One that will be helpful to the whole House, the Executive, which will be represented in Paris by the Minister, and in dealing with climate change as it relates to our situation locally.

There were rallies yesterday throughout the world to highlight this issue, including one in Belfast. Canon Michael Parker of St Anne's Cathedral, Belfast, said that there was a:

"moral obligation to care for the world and all of its people".

That reflects very much the view of other churchmen, for example Pope Francis, who has put the environment at the very top of the agenda in dealing with not simply an environmental issue but, as Mr Agnew said, an issue of social justice. This is not just a scientific issue. This is an issue of social justice as well as a political issue because, if our climate deteriorates and our world overheats, as it were, the consequences for the poorer people in the world will be disproportionately devastating. Of course, we in the West will suffer as well, as we are suffering at the moment because of the effects of industrialisation since the middle of the 19th century. We have got to address this issue and do it locally.

Photo of Basil McCrea Basil McCrea NI21

Will the Member give way?

Photo of Basil McCrea Basil McCrea NI21

I know the point that he is making about those most vulnerable, but climate change is catastrophic. I do not think that people have got their head around the fact that it is not just Pakistan that it is going to affect; it is us as well. We really do have to do something and do something urgently.

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

The Member has an extra minute.

Photo of Alban Maginness Alban Maginness Social Democratic and Labour Party

The Member reinforces the point that I was perhaps inadequately trying to make. Certainly, our whole world will be affected. We are custodians of the earth. We do not own the earth. We have to hand that earth over to other generations, so we must look after what we have been given.

I commend the Minister for going to Paris. Some may say, "What's the point of a Minister from here going to Paris? Sure, he'll have no effect." It is important for us to send out a strong message that we are interested and concerned, that we are part of the UK and part of Ireland, we are part of Europe and part of the world, and we want to make our contribution. It is very important that the Minister does that.

He has a strong and very clear belief that there should be climate change legislation. Unfortunately, we do not have the political consensus in this Chamber, the Executive and society at large to bring forward climate change legislation. However, we have to do it. We cannot squander time in speculating whether there are ill consequences as a result of climate change. Climate change is here. It is a scientific fact, proven in the international community. We have to wake up to the realities of that and take action.

I support the Minister in his laudatory aim of bringing climate change legislation to the Executive and to the Chamber. I hope that that can make a difference — it must make a difference. The consultation process must continue, but we must also see an emergence of political consensus. That will not happen in this mandate, but it can be realised in the next one. It is not a pipe dream; it is right and proper. We must cooperate with colleagues in the rest of the UK and Ireland because it affects our geography. It affects our two islands so intimately and is so important that we have common measures to deal with all the problems that we are faced with and will be faced with in the near future.

I look forward to further political developments on these issues. It is important that we support the Minister and other colleagues. We must build a very firm consensus. I believe that the Environment Committee has done good work and will continue to do so, showing leadership to the political community here.

Photo of Sandra Overend Sandra Overend UUP

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on the motion. The Ulster Unionist Party recognises the need to address the threat of climate change. It goes without saying that this generation should have a moral obligation to pass the earth to the next generation in as good a condition or better as when we received it.

We very much hope that the aspiration of the Paris talks to deliver the first ever truly global deal to tackle climate change is realised. However, we recognise that creating consensus on the issue is extremely difficult, as was evident from the previous United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in 2009. Some 20,000 people are due to attend the Paris conference. Among them will be 140 global leaders, including Barack Obama, Vladimir Putin and David Cameron. It is to be encouraged that the Environment Minister will also be in attendance to represent Northern Ireland.

The challenge of tackling climate change is no less formidable now than it was five years ago. The Ulster Unionist Party is fully committed to reducing our emission levels in line with the United Kingdom's commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% from 1990 levels by 2050 and to reduce our carbon footprint consistently.

During Danny Kennedy's tenure as Regional Development Minister, he did his utmost to reduce emissions by making public transport more attractive. Indeed, the Belfast rapid transport system, which Mr Kennedy worked on for a long time, is introducing vehicles that utilise some of the latest hybrid technology, with lower noise vibration and, indeed, pollutants. He was rightly acknowledged for leading the cycling revolution and taking steps to create a Northern Ireland where people have the freedom and confidence to travel by bicycle. However, it appears that, collectively, the Northern Ireland Executive are not doing all that they should to bring down emissions. The Executive are on course to miss the Government targets to reduce emissions by 35% from 1990 levels by 2025. I hope that this does not become another example of the Executive being unable to deliver.

From recent figures, we can see that, rather than the Executive taking real steps forward in reducing emissions, they are going backwards, with emissions increasing from 2011 to 2012 and remaining static in 2013. That is simply not good enough. I acknowledge Steven Agnew's amendment, which seeks to establish a Northern Ireland-specific climate Bill, but there is clearly a lack of agreement among the parties on the issue.

Photo of Paul Frew Paul Frew DUP

Will the Member give way?

Photo of Sandra Overend Sandra Overend UUP

If you do not mind, I will continue. The levels of public consultation required in discussions with relevant stakeholders would take up a significant amount of time, so much so that it would be unachievable to establish such a Bill within the mandate. While it may not be an ideal scenario, Northern Ireland, as well as the other devolved Administrations, are covered by the UK Climate Change Act 2008, which established the world's first legally binding climate change targets. In the absence of specific Northern Ireland legislation, it is our party's view that all public bodies, including local government, should put in place carbon reduction strategies with accompanying targets to measure progress.

It is clear that there is much more work to be done to lower emissions. That will involve innovative solutions. We should maximise the potential of our renewable sources by supporting advances in solar, biomass and hydro technologies, provided we do so in a way that is sensitive to local communities. The Ulster Unionist Party will continue to support steps to increase energy efficiency and, in line with UK targets, to substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions in pursuit of a strong and sustainable environment for Northern Ireland.

Photo of Sandra Overend Sandra Overend UUP

I have just finished. Sorry.

Photo of Paul Frew Paul Frew DUP

Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I was about to ask the Member for Mid Ulster whether the Ulster Unionist Party supports a climate Bill for Northern Ireland, but I never got the chance. I will give way if she wishes to answer the question, but if not we will move on.

There is no doubt that the United Nations climate change conference is very important. It makes ambitious global plans to tackle the threat of climate change, and I welcome the Minister's attendance, not only to represent Northern Ireland but as part of the UK delegation. It is very useful, and it will stand him and the Assembly in good stead. There will be more than 190 countries in Paris to try and agree something that they have never been able to agree before. I will welcome any real progress, because countries can do more. Some of the greatest emitters in the world can do a lot more than they have done, especially over the last 25 years.

Photo of Basil McCrea Basil McCrea NI21

Will the Member give way?

Photo of Paul Frew Paul Frew DUP

Yes, I will.

Photo of Basil McCrea Basil McCrea NI21

The Member issued a challenge to the Ulster Unionist Party, but I invite him to clarify his position. What I have heard so far is a lack of consensus. Does the Democratic Unionist Party accept that climate change is a problem, and will it take any actions necessary to address the problem?

Photo of Paul Frew Paul Frew DUP

I thank the Member for his contribution. I can be very clear: we see this as a problem, and we see that things have to be done, but we cannot support a climate Bill for Northern Ireland. I will get to that later.

Most of the countries at the summit have never agreed, and probably will not agree, legally binding clauses or legislation. The US never ratified the Kyoto treaty from 1997. It is one of the top five emitters in the globe, and it will not ratify Kyoto.

Photo of Gordon Lyons Gordon Lyons DUP

I thank the Member for giving way. Just for his information, the United States and Canada have both said already that they will not commit to any legally binding targets.

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

The Member has an extra minute.

Photo of Paul Frew Paul Frew DUP

I thank the Member for that contribution.

India and Saudi Arabia — for different reasons, of course — are only two of the countries trying to water down the rules to keep on using fossil fuels. Of course, Canada has withdrawn completely from the Kyoto protocol. China will even resist any transparency that the UK might try and place in an agreement, even a voluntary agreement. We are therefore faced with a difficult position. However, it is a global problem. While I can certainly support the motion and the intentions behind it, I cannot support the amendment, because one thing that we cannot do in Northern Ireland is tie the hands of our farming community and of our business community, which exports and uses transport, and of this region of the UK generally. The UK passed the Climate Change Act 2008, and we are part of that. Look at Northern Ireland's record on this.

The International Energy Agency, a think tank, estimates that 13·5% of the world's primary energy supply was produced from renewable sources in 2013.

That sounds like a pretty decent slice, but almost three quarters of that was from the burning of wood, dung and charcoal in the poorest countries. Wind turbines, solar farms, tidal barriers and geothermal power stations made up just 1·3% between them, and that is globally. Little Northern Ireland produces 20% of its energy through wind. Northern Ireland is punching well above its weight when it comes to the fight against climate change. I plead with the Minister and the House to continue that good work and keep enticing and encouraging our businesses, councils and Departments to do more.

Photo of Steven Agnew Steven Agnew Green

I thank the Member for giving way. Does he not agree that all of that has been put under threat with the withdrawal of subsidies for wind energy?

Photo of Paul Frew Paul Frew DUP

No, it is not. How could it be under threat when we are already at 20%? How can you put under threat the 20% that we already generate? If we generate more, that would be great, but not at the cost of crippling our businesses or hurting our agricultural base. These are the people who will help propel Northern Ireland into a better place. Why would we tie their hands behind their back when China will not do what it is told on voluntary arrangements? In fact, China will balk against transparency, especially when India produces more cars and burns more fossil fuel. Why would you tie the hands of Northern Ireland's businesses? I plead with the Minister to encourage, cajole and incentivise but not to tie the hands —

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

Will the Member bring his remarks to a close?

Photo of Paul Frew Paul Frew DUP

— of our businesses behind their back. You will hurt our families even more. We already have rules —

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

The Member's time is up.

Photo of Paul Frew Paul Frew DUP

— with regards to the Climate Change Act in the UK.

Photo of Phil Flanagan Phil Flanagan Sinn Féin

Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. Cuirim fáilte roimh an díospóireacht seo. I welcome the debate and place on record my support for the amendment. We had tabled a similar amendment, but it was not selected as Mr Agnew's appears to be more comprehensive. The overall sentiment of seeking an ambitious climate change Bill was the same, so I am more than happy to support Mr Agnew's amendment.

I also want to take the opportunity to send my support and gratitude to all those who were involved in activism over the weekend to highlight the talks that are going on in Paris. Those people, more than the global leaders who will invariably take all the media attention over the week, deserve our thanks for raising the issue and making sure that it was the headline story on the news all day yesterday and for much of today. Climate change is the most important issue for this and future generations.

I heard one of the people interviewed on 'The RTÉ Nine o'clock News' last night quote a very simple phrase. The gentleman said:

"We are the first generation to feel the effects of climate change and the last that will be able to do anything about it".

It is very important for us to remember that.

For once, we have significant scientific evidence telling us what will happen if the temperature continues to increase, but we still have time to act. We do not have much time, but it is important that we take as many opportunities as we can to reduce any further increase in the temperature of the planet.

The first thing that we need to do is to move to reduce carbon emissions and introduce Government policies that reflect that requirement. Some Members of the House and some members of the community are open proponents of fracking, which is one of the biggest threats to tackling the serious issue of climate change. If we are serious about keeping the temperature of the planet lower, we need to stop going after fossil fuels, particularly those extracted by non-conventional and dangerous methods. We need to move away from fossil fuels; we do not need to look for more of them.

We also need to invest in energy efficiency. For the last five years, the Assembly and the Executive have missed the opportunity to invest tens of millions of pounds in retrofitting homes and businesses through the failure to implement the green new deal.

Photo of Basil McCrea Basil McCrea NI21

Thank you for giving way. In exhorting people to invest, does the Member think that the Northern Ireland Executive should invest in the grid infrastructure so that we can bring more wind power online? What is his position on the interconnector with the South of Ireland?

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

The Member has an extra minute.

Photo of Phil Flanagan Phil Flanagan Sinn Féin

I thank the Member for his intervention. The Executive should not just invest in the grid; it is my view that the grid should be nationalised, because it effectively operates as a subsidised monopoly. Why should that happen? Why should private companies be allowed to profit from something that is run in the public interest? Instead of just investing in it, I would like to see it nationalised and run in the public interest.

With regard to the North/South interconnector, the Member is well aware of Sinn Féin's policy on it: we want to see it undergrounded, particularly through the A5/N2 project, as it makes sense to me that it should be done as part of that scheme. I do support infrastructural investment, but energy efficiency is one of the greatest tools that we have for reducing consumption, which is just as important as reducing overall usage of carbon emissions. It could be done very simply by investing in energy efficiency. Not only would that reduce emissions, it would also create thousands of local construction jobs and reduce the fuel bills of families here.

Moving away from local activism and towards a more global scheme, people like Pope Francis have shown great leadership on that issue at a global level. In my own constituency, Father Joseph McVeigh, with the support of Bishop Liam MacDaid, has established the Clogher Justice Peace and Integrity of Creation group, which counts campaigning and action to prevent climate change as one of its top priorities.

Photo of Paul Girvan Paul Girvan DUP

Will the Member give way?

Photo of Phil Flanagan Phil Flanagan Sinn Féin

I will, Paul; go ahead.

Photo of Paul Girvan Paul Girvan DUP

For a point of clarification, does the Member have any idea what the cross-section of the cable for that underground interconnector would be?

Photo of Phil Flanagan Phil Flanagan Sinn Féin

I do, and I am happy to speak to you afterwards, Paul, but I have a minute and a half in a debate about climate change here, and I do not think that I should talk about the North/South interconnector.

That group has tackling climate change as one of its key priorities and now has the support of people from other denominations, including the Reverend Kenny Hall, who supports the work of the group and what it tries to achieve. The Church and our religious leaders have recognised the seriousness of the issue; so too have many scientists. It is now time that we as a political class grasp the seriousness of the issue and work to ensure that we address it.

I support the call for the Minister to bring forward a Bill. We hear a lot about how he has to get Executive support, but many Members have tabled questions to him and, in one previous answer, he indicated that he does not have support from Executive parties but that he would bring proposals to the Executive once he had concluded his considerations. I am keen to see what proposals he brought forward and whether his considerations were concluded.

A former Environment Minister who is constantly talked about when we talk about climate change, Mr Sammy Wilson, recently appeared on 'Inside Politics' on the BBC with Mr Agnew and, amazingly, described saving the world as a vanity project. I have never heard such nonsense. His views are clearly antiquated, and, fortunately, he represents a minority.

I do not think that some people have grasped the environmental and societal impacts of climate change —

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

Will the Member draw his remarks to a close?

Photo of Phil Flanagan Phil Flanagan Sinn Féin

— and the fact that it will be felt much greater in areas of the world where poverty is much higher and where levels of prosperity and affluence are not as high as here. We have a responsibility to other citizens in the globe, not just to those who live here.

Photo of Claire Hanna Claire Hanna Social Democratic and Labour Party

I thank the Member for bringing the debate and clarifying our minds on it. I think that we are agreed that climate change is the biggest challenge facing this generation and the world today. It is not just about environmental issues; it is about poverty and global security. It is certainly welcome that the Minister is attending the summit next month. I know that since he first took up office he has worked to build the consensus that we need here for a climate Bill.

COP21 does have the ability to change how we deal with climate change. There are 160 countries coming together, representing 90% of emissions around the world and 90% of the world economy. The fact that they have already put proposals on the table is a change from business as usual. I remain optimistic, but the kind of transition that we need to a lower-carbon economy will take coordinated effort and binding targets. We certainly cannot expect developing countries to jump first.

The SDLP sees climate change as a global justice issue. It is a very current issue; it is not hypothetical. As others said, those who are least responsible are already on the front line of drought, flood and other extreme weather events that are making food security a massive issue and making food chains less predictable or secure. Extreme weather hits our screen around things like a cyclone in the Philippines and hurricane Sandy. The Member has left, but I do differentiate between weather and climate, as they are very different things and should be treated in different ways. Those shocks are reducing agricultural yields, causing food price shocks and massively growing the hunger gap that many of the world's poorest people already experience.

The Member on the Benches opposite mentioned climate change as scaremongering: it is not. We are ignoring the reality in front of us. I was with Concern in Bangladesh in 2010, and up to a fifth of that country is already, at times, underwater. Hundreds of thousands of climate refugees have nowhere else to go and are living a forced nomadic lifestyle to try and stay ahead of flooding and landbank erosion. Drought and hunger are exacerbating conflict in places such as the Horn of Africa. If we look at the conflict-driven Syrian refugee crisis, we can see that this is an interconnected world. We cannot close our eyes to these issues any more, and that is another reason why this is our problem. I think those —

Photo of Basil McCrea Basil McCrea NI21

The Member has been talking about nations. I draw her attention to the plight of Pakistan, where one of the most densely populated areas in the world is under huge threat. Many countries are saying that a reduction of 2°C is too much and that we should be aiming at 1·5°C. Even if we were to get 2°C, it is by no means certain that that would fix the problem.

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

The Member has an extra minute.

Photo of Claire Hanna Claire Hanna Social Democratic and Labour Party

Fortunately, I think that the targets that have already been put on the table would probably produce 3°C, which is considerably higher than the 2°C we need. Even those who are not motivated to alleviate human suffering — and I am sure that everybody in the Chamber is — global security concerns mean that getting a deal in Paris has to be an absolute no-brainer.

So, these talks need to address simultaneously mitigation, reducing carbon emissions and the global temperature rise and helping people who are least able, and most vulnerable to climate shocks, to adapt. I worked in international development for 10 years before coming into the Assembly. The innovation, creativity and will are there, at low level and national level, for people to develop their economies in a more sustainable way. However, if you add up all the interventions on the table for adaptation, they come to something like $3 per smallholding farmer in the world. That is not enough. There needs to be substantial financial support for that.

Every month and year of delay in tackling climate change is making it harder. As others have said, it really threatens to reduce all the progress that has been made. Around the world, people are wary that politicians do not have the vision and long-term thinking beyond their next election to make the really major infrastructure and mindset shifts on this. We have got to stop seeing decarbonisation —

Photo of Paul Frew Paul Frew DUP

Will the Member give way?

Photo of Claire Hanna Claire Hanna Social Democratic and Labour Party

I will not, because I am just going to finish up. We have got to stop seeing decarbonisation as a punishment and a threat. We have to start looking at the benefits it can bring to our lifestyles and economy. Hopefully, we in the Assembly, who are probably least known for our vision and long-term thinking, can confound that view and come up with something binding here.

Photo of Paul Frew Paul Frew DUP

Will the Member give way?

Photo of Claire Hanna Claire Hanna Social Democratic and Labour Party

I will finish — if you want to, go on ahead, yes.

Photo of Paul Frew Paul Frew DUP

I thank the Member for giving way. She has that extra minute. I hear what she is saying, appreciate all her arguments, and I am on the same page with a lot of them. However, can she tell the House how a climate Bill for Northern Ireland could make any inroads that we cannot make under the UK Climate Change Act 2008. The deal really has to be done in Paris, with the emitters that are doing most damage — the big five, 10 and 25. Northern Ireland generates 4% of the UK's emissions.

Photo of Claire Hanna Claire Hanna Social Democratic and Labour Party

I have only 20 seconds, but I think that that discussion is being held. We need to have binding targets here. I will finish by quoting my favourite placard from the many I saw yesterday. It simply stated:

"Blah, blah, blah, fix this now".

We have to. We can have that conversation, and I am sure that the Minister will happily have it with you.

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

I call Jim Allister, and the Member will have four minutes of the remaining debate.

Photo of Jim Allister Jim Allister Traditional Unionist Voice

Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. This debate could do with a bit of climate change itself. We are missing Mr Sammy Wilson to raise the temperature a bit, but there we are.

I have no issue with the fact that there is climate change. I have no issue with the fact that, as its custodians, we should seek not to damage the planet and pass it on in as good shape as we possibly can. However, I have a major issue with the cause of climate change. I do not swallow all this climate alarmism that it is all man-made. I believe the truth to be that climate change is cyclical. In the 16th and 17th centuries, there were winter ice-skating fairs on the River Thames. Before that, in the 11th century, we had the medieval warming period, when they grew gapes in Britain. Who are we going to blame for that? Was it due to the emissions that were belching out from the Industrial Revolution? I do not think so. In the 1st century, we are told, there were grapes grown in Britain at the time of the Romans. So, I hear talk about climate change deniers, but what about the history deniers who deny the fact that, cyclically, the climate has changed over the centuries and is doing the same again?

Photo of Jim Allister Jim Allister Traditional Unionist Voice

No, I am sorry, I have not been given any extra time, so I will not.

Yet, puny man thinks that we will somehow, with our tiny little teaspoon, stop the inevitable cycle of climate change. It is vanity to have a motion like this, talking about the mighty things that we are going to do. Yes, you should not add to it, but the truth is that most of it is beyond your control. That is something that the climate change alarmists fail to face up to. That should be the starting point.

Then, we should recognise that some of the things that this motion would have us do, and what its supporters would like to see come out of Paris, would inflict immense damage on some of the poorest countries in the world, which are dependent on fossil fuels to try to pick themselves off the floor — the Indias and the Chinas. Who are we in the West to say to them, "You shall not have the opportunity that we had to build an industrial society by using the fossil fuels that you have. It's all right for us, but it's not all right for you. You just live in your poverty."? That is the grandiose message of some of this motion.

Then, of course, we think, "Ah well, we will have all sorts of wonderful targets, and we'll feel so much the better for it." Never mind the fact that, in setting those targets, we inflict upon our population unnecessary and huge energy costs. We go for the most expensive form of energy possible, namely wind energy, subsidise it to the hilt, expect the consumer to pay and then we say we are serving the interests of the community.

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

Will the Member draw his remarks to a close?

Photo of Jim Allister Jim Allister Traditional Unionist Voice

We need a reality check, and this motion is taking us in the opposite direction.

Photo of Mark Durkan Mark Durkan Social Democratic and Labour Party

I thank the Chairperson of the Environment Committee and the Committee itself for proposing this very timely debate on climate change, which corresponds with the opening day of the Conference of the Parties in Paris. I also thank Stephen Agnew for tabling his amendment to the motion, and I am grateful to all Members for their contributions to this very important debate.

As most Members pointed out in their contributions, the mounting evidence on the speed and impact of climate change is indisputable. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports published last year set out the overwhelming scientific evidence that current climate change impacts are set to increase and will do so dramatically unless urgent action is taken to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions.

Photo of Mark Durkan Mark Durkan Social Democratic and Labour Party

I might come to you later, Basil.

The reports highlighted that climate change is set to inflict severe, widespread and irreversible impacts on people and the natural world unless carbon emissions are cut sharply and rapidly. The truth is that climate change presents the biggest worldwide challenge of our time. It presents the greatest risk to our health, environment and economies, and it will affect us all no matter where we live.

However, the gravest injustice is that climate change hits hardest the developing world, those who have done the least to cause it. I firmly believe that we have a moral responsibility to protect the poorest and most vulnerable groups and regions from the dangers of climate change, and it is critical that we take action now.

International efforts are necessary to ensure protection of humankind and our planet and to limit the increase in global average temperature to below 2°C, increases above which would lead to significant and dangerous climate impacts throughout the world.

At COP21, I will work closely with the UK Government, devolved Administrations and the Irish Government in supporting efforts to reach an ambitious and robust international agreement. In preparation for the conference, countries have publicly outlined what post-2020 climate actions they intend to take under a new international agreement. Those contributions will largely determine whether the world achieves an ambitious agreement in Paris that puts us on a path towards a low-carbon, climate-resilient future.

In March this year, the 28 member states of the EU submitted their intended nationally determined contributions giving a commitment to an EU-binding target of at least a 40% domestic reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 compared with 1990. I fully endorse the EU’s climate change ambition set out in that approach and the meaningful contribution that it makes to a balanced global agreement in Paris. The COP in Paris and the proposed international agreement on contributions is the biggest of its kind to take place, gathering together the countries that are responsible for 86% of global emissions. This is about four times the amount of global emissions covered by the Kyoto protocol, the world's first carbon-cutting treaty.

In Paris, I will be part of the UK delegation and therefore involved in discussions around the Secretary of State's negotiation position. I will engage with other Environment Ministers and attend events that focus on how Governments at the devolved and regional level can take action to invest in sustainable economies that deliver the benefit of reduced emissions, job creation and security. It is also my intention to engage with representatives from charities such as Christian Aid, Trócaire and the Mary Robinson Foundation, some of whose good work has been mentioned today. My aim is to encourage and provide support for a comprehensive global agreement on climate change action that ensures that we fulfil our moral responsibility to protect the poorest and most vulnerable people and regions from the dangers of climate change.

I also firmly support objectives for any agreement at Paris that will secure additional funding from 2020 onwards. This funding is essential in order to help developing countries with their plans to mitigate and adapt to climate change. The international agreement must be supported by a comprehensive monitoring and reporting regime and enshrined in a legally binding agreement to ensure that countries abide by their commitments. If we achieve a successful outcome on the issue in Paris, we will offer those in poverty the opportunity to build for a sustainable future and mitigate the worst impacts of climate change.

At home, we must also play our part and make our contribution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. As outlined in the Committee's motion, the current projected reduction of greenhouse gas emissions for the North is 33·3% by 2025, based on 1990 levels, and falls just short of the PFG target of 35%. Mr Agnew, rightly in my opinion, asked what had been done since the debate last year that — unexpectedly, I suppose — gave me a mandate to pursue climate change legislation through the Executive. Mr Flanagan asked something similar. While I was given a mandate, what was demonstrated that day and again today is that there is no consensus on the issue. I have been working to build consensus and to build momentum for climate change legislation. While some parties and Departments are still reluctant, it is them and not us who are the King Canutes here. They are standing against a growing tide of scientific and public opinion.

Photo of Mark Durkan Mark Durkan Social Democratic and Labour Party

I will try to get you in later. I have a lot to get through. I am not trying to freeze you out.

I will continue to work across all Departments to examine and report on emissions reduction performance both within Departments and through partnership working across Departments and with other stakeholders. I will also continue to encourage, identify and promote current and new actions to reduce emissions and to monitor their effectiveness. The motion calls on me, with Executive colleagues, to step up efforts and consider innovative approaches to help reduce emissions and move to a low-carbon economy. To date, we have developed mitigation and adaptation plans and annual reporting mechanisms to the Executive. There is no doubt that we are making progress.

Our energy sector has significantly reduced its emissions from electricity generation, while our renewables sector has expanded its contribution to our energy demand. Our agriculture sector has been working hard to reduce carbon inputs in its production, thus helping its promotion in global markets. Mr Irwin expressed concerns about potential costs for the agriculture sector: it is important that we look at the work that has been done in other jurisdictions, particularly the South, which has a similar reliance on agriculture for its economy. Through work on carbon-intensity indicators, there has been no negative impact on productivity. While their Origin Green policy drives it forward, our orange and green politics hold us back. Mr Boylan referred to the transport sector. It has seen the development of an e-car infrastructure. The infrastructure is there, and people are slowly but surely switching on to the merits of electric vehicles.

In my Department, I have agreed voluntary prosperity agreements with several companies, through which the NIEA and an organisation or business can explore innovative approaches to reducing environmental impacts in ways that create prosperity and well-being. Those who have signed up to the agreements are already seeing the benefits to the planet and, importantly, to their pockets.

The message is also being brought to future generations. I am proud to say that Northern Ireland is the first place in the world to achieve 100% Eco-School status. We are creating little eco-warriers in every school across the North.

We have reduced the amount of waste going to landfill, increased recycling and supported innovative projects that match my desire to work towards zero waste and a circular economy. Mr Boylan referred to disparities across councils when it came to recycling policies. That is something that I am acutely aware of. I have made no secret of my preference to move towards a single waste authority and the implementation of uniformity across councils. The simpler we make recycling, the easier it will be for people to do and the more successful it will be. The Member also referred to an increase in the incidence of severe weather, as did others, although I have not seen many of the heatwaves that Cathal referred to.

While current projections indicate that we are close to the target of a 35% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2025, its achievement remains challenging. There remains considerable uncertainty due to the range of variables, policies and issues that have the potential to lead to a slowdown in the rate of reduction or even to an increase in emissions. That could be anything from a cold winter, the rate of economic growth or a change in government policy. One such example is the recent DETI proposal on the closure of the Northern Ireland renewables obligations (NIRO) for onshore wind development. It is estimated that the closure could result in energy from renewable resources making up only 30% of the required demand by 2020 and not the 40% indicated in the strategic energy framework. That could have a significant adverse effect on the future projected performance against the PFG target for greenhouse gas emission reduction.

It is incumbent on government to show leadership and to act as a driver for action. That is why I am fully committed to ensuring that the North plays its full part in minimising emissions. I have strenuously supported having our own climate change legislation, which would provide clarity and the long-term certainty that business and industry need. It would create the environment to drive and encourage innovation, to plan effectively in the technology needed and to generate employment as we make the transition to a low-carbon economy and a more sustainable and just society. In doing so, we could deliver my vision of a better environment and a stronger economy. Most importantly, we must deliver for our people, from how we deliver our services as a Government to the support that we provide to business. They must see the benefits of attracting business and industry in the jobs that they deliver and in how, together, through efficiency, planning and innovation, we can deliver a better environment for all.

I want to pick up on some of the points that were raised, while I have a wee minute.

Paul Frew wondered whether agreement was possible at Paris. I seem to remember his party saying that agreement would not be possible at Stormont House unless certain conditions were met. They were not met, but there was agreement. Without seeing a climate change Bill for Northern Ireland, he has said that the DUP will not support a climate change Bill for Northern Ireland. It seems as though the DUP is doing a Meatloaf song: "We would do anything to stop climate change, but we won't do that."

Phil Flanagan made a very pertinent point on the wasted opportunity that was the green new deal. He referred, as did Alban Maginness, to the leadership that was shown by the Churches. Recently, I met Church leaders from across the island. He would be interested to learn about the deliberations that I have had in progressing legislation. I think that he would also be very interested to learn which Ministers resistance is coming from.

I see Northern Ireland climate change legislation as part of a strategy in achieving my aim. That is why I have issued a discussion document to stakeholders that outlines my thoughts on climate change legislation and seeks their support for the introduction of a climate change Bill in the next Assembly term. My discussion document seeks the views of stakeholders on a range of proposals that I would like to see included in a future Northern Ireland climate change Bill. These include ensuring that we contribute to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by the setting of a long-term target; providing powers to set interim targets that would assist in evaluating progress being made to the long-term target while ensuring that we remain competitive in a global economic market; and providing powers to establish an independent climate change advisory body.

In parallel with this exercise, at my request, the Committee on Climate Change is working on an update on its 2011 report 'The Appropriateness of a Northern Ireland Climate Change Act'. That update is expected to be published next month. I believe that the outcome of my discussion document on proposals for taking forward our own climate change legislation and the update from the Committee on Climate Change on the appropriateness of a Northern Ireland climate change Act, along with the outcome of the climate change conference in Paris, will ensure that we are well placed to make a climate change Bill central to the work programme of the new Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs. I will also endeavour — I look forward to support — to ensure that the passage of this vital legislation is central to the next Programme for Government.

Photo of Steven Agnew Steven Agnew Green 8:30 pm, 30th November 2015

What if it is all a hoax and we make the world a better place for nothing? What if we insulate our housing stock and prevent the atrocity that is more people dying in Northern Ireland due to winter-related deaths than in Finland, where temperatures are much colder? What if we switch from pollutant fossil fuels and reduce the 500 deaths a year in Northern Ireland due to air pollution? What if we cut congestion? What if we did all those things and climate change is, as Mr Allister would suggest, something that we could not affect?

Photo of Paul Frew Paul Frew DUP

Will the Member give way?

Photo of Steven Agnew Steven Agnew Green

I will give way very quickly.

Photo of Paul Frew Paul Frew DUP

What if Northern Ireland had the second most expensive energy costs in Europe? What if we lost thousands of jobs because of that fact? What if you put thousands of people into poverty overnight because they lose their job?

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

The Member has an extra minute.

Photo of Steven Agnew Steven Agnew Green

What if we did not have a DUP energy Minister?

The Member made arguments about tying people's hands, the threat of legislation and the danger of going down that road. He suggested that we were already on the right trajectory. I am sorry to the Member, but if his view of the right trajectory is scrapping the green new deal to insulate people's homes and tackle fuel poverty, and switching instead to a subsidy for the gas industry and withdrawing subsidies from renewables, which are not a threat to farmers — in fact, the Ulster Farmers' Union is legally challenging that — it is not a view that I share. Instead of subsidising clean, green, renewable energy, we provide £32 million for gas to the west and subsidise a gas power station at Ballylumford that puts 1% on every energy bill, including the large energy users that the Member is a great defender of. We are subsidising that at the same time as withdrawing subsidies for renewables. We still have a target of 100% of Housing Executive homes being heated by gas while the rest of the world is coming to the conclusion that we need a future that is fossil-free.

Photo of Basil McCrea Basil McCrea NI21

Will the Member give way?

Photo of Steven Agnew Steven Agnew Green

The Member did not get an opportunity to speak, so I will give way.

Photo of Basil McCrea Basil McCrea NI21

Thank you; I will be brief. I ask the Member in his summation to address the two counterarguments in the debate. The first was from Paul Frew, who said that there is climate change but that Northern Ireland is too small to do anything about it and that the issue is for China and India. The second argument — climate change probably happens but is cyclical, and we cannot do anything about it — was put forward by Mr Allister in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence that it is man-made.

Photo of Steven Agnew Steven Agnew Green

Mr Allister's point that climate change is somehow cyclical, that that has not been taken account of by the greatest scientists around the globe and that this would be news to 97% of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is up there with the people who told me, when we had the volcano eruptions, that volcanoes were causing climate change. The IPCC is well aware of volcanoes and cyclical climate change; the evidence is about human-caused climate change. That is what we are talking about and is what we need to tackle.

Photo of Gordon Lyons Gordon Lyons DUP

Will the Member give way?

Photo of Steven Agnew Steven Agnew Green

I cannot give way any further because of time constraints.

Mr Allister made a point that world poverty would somehow be increased because we are going to prevent poorer nations from developing. I will give him the benefit of the doubt and put it down to ignorance rather than deception, because the very central point of the Paris talks is about contraction and convergence: we meet those poorer countries halfway, reduce our emissions and allow them to increase theirs so that we have equity across the globe to tackle poverty and ensure that the developing world, which has suffered as a result of our lifestyle, does not continue to do so and that we have fair distribution.

On the point that we, as a small country or region, cannot or should not act, I say that we must act. Indeed, we must give certainty to investors who want to invest in renewable and low-carbon technologies that this is the trajectory and that this region and this Government are committed to taking action on climate change. In response to Mr Wilson: I am so vain; I do think that climate change is about me. I think that it is about you and about all of us, and we need to act now.

Photo of Pam Cameron Pam Cameron DUP

I welcome the opportunity to conclude the debate on the Environment Committee's behalf. I thank everyone for contributing to the debate this evening. There is no doubt that the subject of climate change generates passion, emotion and debate, which has been demonstrated by many of you.

Before I make my winding-up speech, I reiterate the need for the Executive to work together to develop further innovative approaches. This evening, many of you reflected on the need for a climate change Bill, and the House will shortly decide whether it wishes to accept Mr Agnew’s amendment calling for such a Bill. Outside of that, however, there are many innovative approaches that the Executive can adopt to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions further.

As the Chair outlined in her opening remarks, the largest source of emissions in Northern Ireland comes from agriculture, transport, energy supply and the residential sector. No Department can work in isolation to tackle this issue.

A cross-departmental working group on climate change is certainly a start, but, given the uncertainty over whether Northern Ireland will achieve its 35% reduction of emissions by 2025, we should refocus our efforts and work together to become innovators and leaders in developing approaches to achieve this target. The Committee saw one such example of innovation a few weeks ago during a visit to a recycling centre which is part of a social enterprise. It offers an innovative approach to reuse recycled materials, which generates both environmental and economic benefits. It certainly provided members with food for thought.

I will now refer to Members' contributions. Anna Lo, speaking on behalf of the Alliance Party, talked about a 1% increase in global temperature according to the Met Office. She talked about the poorest countries facing the greatest harm, the upset to the entire ecosystem and the loss of biodiversity and habitat. She referred to her discussion with — sorry, I cannot make out the rest of that. She wants to see a climate change Act.

Mr Steven Agnew, who proposed the amendment, was delighted that the Minister would be at the conference. As he said, we have to take on our responsibilities and to do that seriously. He said that we have no specific legally binding targets in Northern Ireland. He said that this is an urgent situation that becomes more urgent with each year. He said that the sooner we act, the less costly it will be in human and financial terms. In response to an intervention, he said that he would accept the evidence and views of international scientists. When this motion was discussed previously, it was on the back of incidents of flooding, and increasing global food prices may make farming in some parts of the world unsustainable. Climate change leads to greater instability in the world, he said, and it is unfortunate that those who have done least to cause climate change will be the most affected by it. He said that what we are seeking to do in Paris is not to stop climate change but to deal with its worst effects. He also said that 10,000 jobs could be at risk in the renewable energy sector and that we are still subsidising fossil fuels.

William Irwin spoke next, and, from an agricultural background, he said that agricultural activity accounts for 29% of emissions produced in Northern Ireland. He said that scientists are taking an in-depth approach to reduce methane emissions from cattle by changing the make-up of feed. He said that the fact that we are discussing greenhouse gases in agriculture shows the attention that is given to all aspects of production. He talked about the farmer already having to deal with restrictions and the farmer playing a vital part in protecting the land. He called for a level of common sense and not to overly burden farmers, and said that solutions and approaches should be workable in the real world. He concluded by saying that we had had the worst weather in 100 years and asked whether that was global warming.

The next Member to speak was Cathal Boylan, and he spoke in favour of the motion and the amendment. He said that climate change is one of the greatest challenges facing modern society. He said that we must attempt to meet or exceed the Programme for Government targets for emissions. He talked about transport and agriculture being the main contributors and of how we can prevent food waste from going to landfill. He said that we need to look at all councils introducing a kerbside collection system.

Alban Maginness spoke next, and he welcomed the motion. He said that there is a moral obligation to care for the world and all of its people. He spoke about Pope Francis and the fact that he had put this to the top of the agenda, and that it is not just an environmental issue but a social issue. He said that we need to address the issue globally and that we must look after the earth. He commended the Minister for going to Paris to send out a strong message that we are part of the world and that we want to make our contribution. He commended the Minister for bringing forward climate change legislation and said that we must cooperate with colleagues in the UK and Ireland. He spoke of its effect on us all.

Next we had Sandra Overend, and she spoke about creating consensus and how difficult that is. She also said that when Danny Kennedy was the Regional Development Minister he did his utmost to reduce emissions. Sandra spoke about the Executive being on course to miss targets for emissions and said that there is clearly a lack of agreement on climate change. She said that Northern Ireland is covered by the UK Climate Change Act and that there is much more work to be done.

Paul Frew spoke next and asked whether the Ulster Unionist Party supports a climate change Bill. He welcomed the Minister's attendance at the conference as part of a UK delegation. He said that he would welcome real progress at the conference, as countries have responsibilities. He said that he sees climate change as a problem but cannot support a climate change Bill. He spoke about the USA never ratifying the Kyoto agreement and about China resisting any transparency in agreements. He said that he could support the motion but not the amendment. His concern was that we do not tie the hands of farmers and businesses when the UK already has a Climate Change Act, and we are already part of that.

Phil Flanagan spoke on behalf of Sinn Féin and said that it had a similar amendment, which was not accepted. He spoke about climate change being a most important issue for this generation and for those who will follow. He said that there was significant evidence that we still have time to act, and he talked about the need to reduce emissions. He spoke of concerns about fracking and fossil fuels and said that the Assembly had missed the opportunity to invest in the green new deal. He supported structural investment and said that, on a global level, Pope Francis had shown leadership, and that Churches and religious orders had recognised the seriousness of climate change. He welcomed the intention to introduce a Bill.

Speaking next, Claire Hanna said that climate change is the biggest issue facing the world and that we can change how we deal with it. She spoke about the transition to a lower carbon economy taking time and said that we cannot expect the poorest countries to move first. She also said that up to one fifth of Bangladesh already suffers flooding due to climate change and that this is an interconnected world. She said that the targets currently on the table would produce a 3% reduction, which is higher than we need. She talked about the need to help the most vulnerable to adapt and said that every delay in tackling climate change makes it more difficult.

Next, we had Jim Allister, who said that he had no issue with the fact that there is climate change and that we should put the world in the best shape possible. He believes that climate change is cyclical and natural and that most of it is beyond your control. He said that the actions called for would inflict the most damage on the poorest countries and prevent them building a modern economy using their fossil fuels.

The Minister was next, and he thanked the Committee for the motion and Steven Agnew for his amendment. He said that there was overwhelming evidence that climate change is increasing and that it hits the developing world hardest. He said that it is critical that we take action now and that we engage with other Environment Ministers and charities to encourage comprehensive global agreement.

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP 8:45 pm, 30th November 2015

Will the Member draw her remarks to a close?

Photo of Pam Cameron Pam Cameron DUP

I will not get through all the contributions. In conclusion, I would like to wish the Minister well at this week's conference in Paris. The Committee looks forward to hearing the outcome from his officials in the new year.

Question put, That the amendment be made. The Assembly divided:

<SPAN STYLE="font-style:italic;"> Ayes 46; Noes 43

AYES

Mr Agnew, Mr Attwood, Mr Boylan, Ms Boyle, Mr D Bradley, Mrs Cochrane, Mr Dallat, Mr Dickson, Mr Durkan, Dr Farry, Ms Fearon, Mr Flanagan, Ms Hanna, Mr Hazzard, Mrs D Kelly, Mr G Kelly, Ms Lo, Mr Lynch, Mr Lyttle, Mr McAleer, Mr McCallister, Mr F McCann, Ms J McCann, Mr McCartney, Ms McCorley, Mr B McCrea, Mr McElduff, Ms McGahan, Mr M McGuinness, Mr McKay, Mrs McKevitt, Mr McKinney, Ms Maeve McLaughlin, Mr McMullan, Mr A Maginness, Mr Maskey, Mr Milne, Mr Murphy, Ms Ní Chuilín, Mr Ó hOisín, Mr Ó Muilleoir, Mr O'Dowd, Mrs O'Neill, Mr Rogers, Ms Ruane, Mr Sheehan

Tellers for the Ayes: Mr Agnew, Mr B McCrea

NOES

Mr Allister, Mr Anderson, Mr Bell, Ms P Bradley, Mr Buchanan, Mrs Cameron, Mr Clarke, Mr Cochrane-Watson, Mr Craig, Mr Cree, Mrs Dobson, Mr Dunne, Mr Easton, Mrs Foster, Mr Frew, Mr Gardiner, Mr Girvan, Mr Givan, Mrs Hale, Mr Hamilton, Mr Hilditch, Mr Humphrey, Mr Irwin, Mr Kennedy, Mr Lyons, Mr McCausland, Mr I McCrea, Mr McGimpsey, Mr D McIlveen, Miss M McIlveen, Mr Middleton, Lord Morrow, Mr Nesbitt, Mr Newton, Mrs Overend, Mrs Pengelly, Mr Poots, Mr G Robinson, Mr Ross, Mr Storey, Mr Swann, Mr Weir, Mr Wells

Tellers for the Noes: Mr Lyons, Mr G Robinson

Question accordingly agreed to.

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

I have been advised by the party whips that, in accordance with Standing Order 27(1A)(b), there is agreement that we can dispense with the three minutes and move straight to the division.

Main Question, as amended, put. The Assembly divided:

<SPAN STYLE="font-style:italic;"> Ayes 46; Noes 42

AYES

Mr Agnew, Mr Attwood, Mr Boylan, Ms Boyle, Mr D Bradley, Mrs Cochrane, Mr Dallat, Mr Dickson, Mr Durkan, Dr Farry, Ms Fearon, Mr Flanagan, Ms Hanna, Mr Hazzard, Mrs D Kelly, Mr G Kelly, Ms Lo, Mr Lynch, Mr Lyttle, Mr McAleer, Mr McCallister, Mr F McCann, Ms J McCann, Mr McCartney, Ms McCorley, Mr B McCrea, Mr McElduff, Ms McGahan, Mr M McGuinness, Mr McKay, Mrs McKevitt, Mr McKinney, Ms Maeve McLaughlin, Mr McMullan, Mr A Maginness, Mr Maskey, Mr Milne, Mr Murphy, Ms Ní Chuilín, Mr Ó hOisín, Mr Ó Muilleoir, Mr O'Dowd, Mrs O'Neill, Mr Rogers, Ms Ruane, Mr Sheehan

Tellers for the Ayes: Ms Lo, Mr A Maginness

NOES

Mr Allister, Mr Anderson, Mr Bell, Ms P Bradley, Mr Buchanan, Mrs Cameron, Mr Clarke, Mr Cochrane-Watson, Mr Craig, Mr Cree, Mrs Dobson, Mr Dunne, Mr Easton, Mrs Foster, Mr Frew, Mr Gardiner, Mr Girvan, Mr Givan, Mrs Hale, Mr Hamilton, Mr Hilditch, Mr Humphrey, Mr Irwin, Mr Kennedy, Mr Lyons, Mr McCausland, Mr I McCrea, Mr McGimpsey, Mr D McIlveen, Miss M McIlveen, Mr Middleton, Lord Morrow, Mr Nesbitt, Mr Newton, Mrs Overend, Mrs Pengelly, Mr Poots, Mr G Robinson, Mr Ross, Mr Storey, Mr Swann, Mr Weir

Tellers for the Noes: Mr Lyons, Mr G Robinson

Main Question, as amended, accordingly agreed to. Resolved:

That this Assembly notes that the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference is taking place in Paris from 30 November to 11 December; considers that this is an opportunity to agree an ambitious global plan to tackle the threat of climate change; welcomes the Minister of the Environment’s attendance at this conference to represent Northern Ireland; further notes that the projected reduction of greenhouse gas emissions of 33·3% by 2025, based on 1990 levels, falls just short of the Programme for Government target of 35%; and calls on the Minister of the Environment to work with his Executive colleagues to introduce a Climate Bill for Northern Ireland that includes legally binding, long-term and interim targets on the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

Photo of Basil McCrea Basil McCrea NI21

On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I want to draw to your attention that, once again, I was the only Member who had his name down to speak who was not —

Photo of Peter Weir Peter Weir DUP

No, that is not right. There were at least three.

Photo of Basil McCrea Basil McCrea NI21

Sorry, my misunderstanding, Mr Deputy Speaker.

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

Order. Mr McCrea, you have the Floor. Please continue.

Photo of Basil McCrea Basil McCrea NI21

Thank you. I do not wish to be inaccurate. I thought that I was to speak after Mr Allister and was therefore next on the list.

It was an important debate, which, as chair of the all-party group, I have had a lot of input into. I really would have liked to have had the opportunity to make a proper contribution. I am grateful that many Members afforded me the courtesy of letting me intervene, but, given the importance of the debate, a few minutes extra from the Business Committee might have been appropriate. I ask you to bear that in mind, Mr Deputy Speaker. I am not making any complaint. I am just drawing that to your attention.

Photo of Peter Weir Peter Weir DUP

Further to that point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker, without making any challenge to the Chair, will you confirm that there were Members who were not called to speak in the debate who were higher on the list than some who were called?

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

A number of Members who wished to participate were not called. Acting as the Deputy Speaker, I have the duty to try to give regard to party strengths and the variety of views — the balance of opinion. That is a job that I endeavour to do to the best of my ability.

When everyone does not get to speak, I can assure you that, like this moment in time, I am aware that a number of Members are not satisfied, I understand that it was a motion for which the Business Committee allowed one and a half hours. If someone wishes to change that, it is in the hands of your representatives on the Business Committee. Acting in my role of Deputy Speaker, I am required to follow the guidance that is set down and to endeavour to provide a range of Members to speak to reflect the balance of party strengths and opinion on a particular issue. Your views are on the record and I am sure that the Speaker will be made aware of them. I hope that your representatives on the Business Committee will also be aware of them.

Adjourned at 9.20 pm.