Climate Change Act

Oral Answers to Questions — Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:00 pm on 3rd November 2020.

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Photo of Chris Lyttle Chris Lyttle Alliance 2:00 pm, 3rd November 2020

2. Mr Lyttle asked the Minister of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs for an update on the delivery of a Climate Change Act to give environmental targets a strong legal underpinning, as outlined in New Decade, New Approach (NDNA). (AQO 994/17-22)

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

I am currently finalising a discussion document consultation on a future Northern Ireland climate change Bill that I will publish in the next number of weeks. A climate change Bill for Northern Ireland must be given proper thought and consultation to ensure that the measures that we take are appropriate and will deliver benefits and that we allow business time to adjust to a new way of working and, where necessary, provide financial support.

I have written to the independent expert UK Climate Change Committee (CCC) for advice on what would be our equitable contribution to the UK's net zero emissions target. I want to consider that information to ensure that our emissions reduction targets are credible and evidence-based. Unfortunately, the CCC will not be 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.

I will consider the responses from the discussion document consultation on a future Northern Ireland climate change Bill along with the advice provided by the CCC and then present my findings to the Northern Ireland Executive to agree a way forward.

Photo of Chris Lyttle Chris Lyttle Alliance

I thank the Minister for his response. What is the Environment Minister's timescale for the enactment of a climate change Act? Would it not be better for him to add his support to the passage of the cross-party climate change private Member's Bill?

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

The lifetime of this Assembly.

No, it would not be, because rushed legislation is not normally good legislation, as the Member well knows. We are going about the process correctly. There will be a public consultation, which you normally do before you introduce legislation. Legislating without consultation is not good practice. It does not give the respect to the public that should be given. I will bring forward legislation that has been appropriately and correctly carried out, as opposed to the rushed legislation that he appears to back.

Photo of Philip McGuigan Philip McGuigan Sinn Féin

The North is the only jurisdiction in these islands that does not have a climate Bill. Given that you, Minister, said in the Assembly two months ago that your officials would begin work to scope out the options for climate change legislation, surely you are in a position to give a definitive time frame to the Assembly.

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

The time frame is that we are close to having a consultation document ready and we will then go to public consultation. You take a decision after you publicly consult, not before. That gives the public some credibility. We will consult with the intention of proceeding with a climate change Act, but let us consult the public on it and do the thing appropriately, as opposed to ignoring what the public have to say.

Photo of Cara Hunter Cara Hunter Social Democratic and Labour Party

Does the Minister agree that it is crucial that environmental targets are given a strong legal underpinning and that it is vital that we do all that we can to prevent coastal erosion in areas such as the north coast?

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

Coastal erosion is a significant issue. It is probably an issue of even greater significance in County Down than County Antrim, but nonetheless we have a beautiful coastline that needs to be protected. That is a course of work that we are currently doing, and we will continue to support other organisations and provide our own qualitative work.

In terms of underpinning, we need to set targets that are reasonable and achievable and that will make a difference. We do not have to wait for a climate change Act to do some of that. For example, we are looking at targets at the moment of 65% recycling, which would be an increase on the 50% that we have achieved ahead of schedule. I would like to push that to 70%. The UK position is 65%. We have already overstepped our target on renewable energy. We were to produce 20% by 2020, but we are well over 40%; I think that it is around 45%.

I want to see that percentage go upwards still. We could be setting a target of 70% for renewable energy.

Those are all things that are achievable and will make a real difference, and that is what is important. An Act in and of itself is fine. I have no issues with having an Act, but an Act alone will not achieve those things unless we set ourselves targets that we fulfil. History tells us that we have been fulfilling targets, and we will set targets that we will fulfil going forward as well.