Climate Change Bill

Oral Answers to Questions — Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:00 pm on 8th September 2020.

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Photo of Sinéad Ennis Sinéad Ennis Sinn Féin 2:00 pm, 8th September 2020

1. Ms Ennis asked the Minister of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs whether he will commit to introducing a climate change Bill to address the climate crisis, as agreed by the Assembly on 21 July 2020. (AQO 578/17-22)

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

It is imperative that we build the evidence base and ensure government policymaking has climate and the environment at its core and that future policies and strategies can demonstrably deliver the outcomes that people expect. We need to fully understand the unique characteristics of the make-up of Northern Ireland emissions and determine what is our equitable contribution to net zero. That is why I have written to the independent expert UK Committee on Climate Change (CCC) for advice on what would be our equitable contribution to the UK's net zero emissions target, to ensure that our emissions reduction targets are credible and evidence-based. Unfortunately, the CCC is not in a position to respond to my request until after it has provided advice on the UK's sixth carbon budget, which will be published in December 2020. In the interim, my officials have commenced work on scoping the options for the introduction of a Northern Ireland climate change Bill. I will consider those options along with the advice provided from the CCC and will present my findings to the Northern Ireland Executive to agree a way forward.

Photo of Sinéad Ennis Sinéad Ennis Sinn Féin

I note the Minister's response, and I thank him for the actions that he has outlined thus far. Minister, given that you have acknowledged that there is a climate crisis and a need to follow the latest scientific advice on climate change and given that we are the only place on these islands without a climate change Act, how can you justify your heel-dragging on the issue and your reluctance to bring forward a climate change Act?

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

I can assure you that there is no heel-dragging taking place in my Department. We are working on actions, as opposed to Acts. Actions actually deliver things; Acts put a form of words in place. Action speaks louder than words, always.

Photo of Sinéad Bradley Sinéad Bradley Social Democratic and Labour Party

Minister, with all respect, you have not really given an answer to the question. I do not think that you have to wait for a CCC report dated December 2020 to gather evidence that a climate change Bill is required today.

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

In producing a Bill, one will want to have the best and most credible evidence available. We are doing courses of work in conjunction with gathering that evidence. A Bill will not be what delivers real and significant change; it will be the actions that flow from it or, indeed, the actions that we can take prior to developing a Bill. What is important is our actions, as opposed to legislation. I assure you that my Department is working extensively on what actions it can take to reduce Northern Ireland's carbon footprint and make a significant contribution to ensuring that Northern Ireland's effort in reaching net zero is significant.

Photo of John Blair John Blair Alliance

I acknowledge the answers given by the Minister and the work done by the Department and, indeed, others to achieve net zero. To frame this specifically in relation to the original question, can I ask whether there is an exact date or even a general timeline in the Department or the Minister's office for when a climate change Act might become a reality?

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

No, there is not an exact date, because we are working towards gathering the appropriate information. We have been in correspondence with the Committee on Climate Change, because it has the most expertise and the best qualitative information to work from. We will continue to work closely with it to identify what the issues are, what contribution will be expected from us and how best we can achieve that most expeditiously at the best value for money.

Photo of Martina Anderson Martina Anderson Sinn Féin

2. Ms Anderson asked the Minister of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs to outline the support he will provide to meet import and export costs not covered under the Trader Support Service, such as sanitary and phytosanitary checks and export health certificates. (AQO 579/17-22)

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

I have already sought assurance from the UK Government that they will meet any associated costs placed on Northern Ireland business as a result of the implementation of the protocol, including as a result of sanitary and phytosanitary checks. I will continue to press them on the matter.

Photo of Martina Anderson Martina Anderson Sinn Féin

Minister, thank you for that answer, brief though it was. As you will know, farmers and rural businesses face the loss of millions of European funding post Brexit. Are you telling me that there is not an estimated cost for the number of businesses that will be made unviable as a consequence of the implementation of this disastrous Brexit? Have businesses been made aware of what they face, particularly with checks?

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

The Member assumes that the funding that came from Europe will not be replaced, and that is not something that we have accepted. Her party might have accepted that, but I will fight to make sure that we have that funding available and that we distribute it. Given that the UK was a net contributor to the European Union and that we were getting back only about 50% of what we were paying into it, it is entirely reasonable that my ministerial colleagues and I make the case that that funding should be fully replaced. That is the case that we will make.

Photo of Jim Allister Jim Allister Traditional Unionist Voice

No later than last night, the Minister's political party affirmed opposition to Northern Ireland's economic place in the UK being compromised by the protocol and proclaimed opposition to any new customs infrastructure in Northern Ireland as an immoveable foundational pillar. Why, then, is the Minister continuing to be ready to provide infrastructure at our ports in Northern Ireland to create an Irish Sea border?

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

The Member will find that the Minister has always opposed infrastructure at the Irish Sea ports, as have his colleagues at Westminster, who have voted consistently against any such proposals. We have resisted such proposals in Northern Ireland. The protocol is an imposition that has been put upon us. It was not put through the Assembly. We sought to have that be the case, but it was refused.

We will have to wait and see what the Government do next, because legislation is going through this week. At this point, we do not even know what will be required at ports, because nothing has been agreed between the European Union and the UK on those matters. That is the flux that we find ourselves in.

Photo of Steve Aiken Steve Aiken UUP

Does the Minister have any details of the goods and products that can avail of the free Trader Support Service? Can he publish a regular updated list and information?

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

Again, all those things are being continually negotiated; I think that we are in the eighth set of negotiations. Therefore, we do not have the clarity that, I suspect, the Member would like and that all of us would like. Consequently, we will continue to lobby. We will continue to make the case that Northern Ireland have unfettered access from NI to GB and from GB to NI. After all, 53% of our goods go from Northern Ireland to Great Britain, and 65% of goods imported into Northern Ireland come from Great Britain. It is entirely illogical to create barriers or create tariffs or fetters between those internal markets. Let us see what comes out of the internal market Bill. It is fundamental that Northern Ireland's place is appropriately recognised in the United Kingdom and that we are not treated differently from other places.