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Climate Change Legislation

Oral Answers to Questions — Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3:00 pm on 7th November 2016.

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Photo of Mark Durkan Mark Durkan Social Democratic and Labour Party 3:00 pm, 7th November 2016

T1. Mr Durkan asked the Minister of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, given that it is almost a year since the historic COP21 agreement and that it is a few days since that agreement came into force, to outline the Executive’s view on the need for Northern Ireland-specific climate change legislation. (AQT 426/16-21)

Photo of Simon Hamilton Simon Hamilton DUP

I thank the Member for his initial remarks.

I have always believed — I think that it is the Minister's view as well — that Northern Ireland does not need specific climate change legislation. Legislation to address climate change is already in place in the form of the UK's Climate Change Act 2008. Given the Member's past job as Environment Minister, he will be aware of the ambitious long-term targets in that legislation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% from 1990 levels by 2050 across the UK. It also makes it a requirement for Northern Ireland to produce a climate change adaption programme that addresses our particular risks and opportunities. Northern Ireland continues to play its fullest role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions as part of the overall UK reduction. The latest greenhouse gas inventory, which was published in June 2016, shows a reduction of 17·4% from 1990 levels. Updated projections published last year show that we are broadly on track towards achieving our Programme for Government target, which was set by the previous Executive, of a 35% reduction by 2025.

The Member is or ought to be well aware of the particular circumstances and issues that face Northern Ireland's much larger agri-food industry compared with those across the water, issues in the manufacturing sector of our economy and issues with transportation. I do not want any Northern Ireland-specific climate change Bill being passed that would impede our economic development or have the perverse consequence of increasing problems elsewhere. If our agri-food industry cannot grow, we will have to import food from somewhere else, which will impact on carbon and greenhouse gas emissions elsewhere.

Photo of Mark Durkan Mark Durkan Social Democratic and Labour Party

I thank the Minister for his answer. He will be aware that we are the only region on these islands that does not have its own specific climate change legislation. Our reliance on the agri-food industry, for example, is very similar to that of the Irish Republic. Does he accept at all that Northern Ireland-specific climate change legislation and Northern Ireland-specific targets for the reduction of emissions could and should be beneficial to our economy as well as to our environment?

Photo of Simon Hamilton Simon Hamilton DUP

If others have decided to do something, that is entirely a matter for them; that is what devolution is about. It is for us to decide in Northern Ireland what we want to do for Northern Ireland and not slavishly follow what others do. We are making good progress. The Member mentioned targets, and I remind him that the last Programme for Government had a target of a 35% reduction by 2025 and all the indications are that the Executive are on course to have that 35% reduction on 1990 levels in place by 2025. I do not accept — I am sure that the Minister would agree — that there is a need for Northern Ireland to have its own legislation. Northern Ireland is making a contribution, as the evidence shows, and it is doing so as part of the overall UK legislation.