The sitting may now extend to 8.00 pm, should it be necessary. By then, the debate will have had over six hours of plenary time, which is plenty of time for the balance of opinion to be expressed and party strengths recognised. The Business Committee and I have, therefore, agreed that the Minister will be called no later than 7.00 pm, the sponsor of the Bill no later than 7.30 pm and the Question put no later than 8.00 pm. I hope that all contributors yet to speak will facilitate this approach.
I begin by thanking Clare Bailey and her team for taking the lead on this matter on behalf of concerned Members. I also commend Climate Coalition Northern Ireland for its experience, expertise and dedication to the Bill, and I thank it for its research and preparation and for keeping Members informed throughout the drafting process. Those of us who have been involved closely with the Climate Coalition will be forever grateful for its contribution and dedication.
Much of the Bill's detail has been discussed in the opening and subsequent speeches. Without going into all the detail, it is worth pointing out that, thus far, it has been a most constructive debate.
The Bill was brought forward when there was no movement on the introduction of a long-overdue and increasingly urgent climate change Act, and, in the context that Northern Ireland is the only region of these islands not to have such an Act and associated frameworks, something had to be done. Quite simply, such a situation could no longer be tolerated or defended.
Emerging from the catastrophic coronavirus crisis, our immediate priority must be how to avoid further disasters. Like with the pandemic, all of us will feel the impact of climate change, but we will not all feel it equally. The pandemic has laid bare the injustices and weaknesses in our society and economy. We have seen the damage caused by Governments acting too slowly, from having chronically underfunded public services and through the taking of flawed, short-term and self-serving decisions. We simply cannot make those same mistakes when tackling the climate crisis.
Industrialised nations such as the UK — there are others, of course — disproportionately bear responsibility for climate change, and millions are already suffering the impacts. Millions of people across the globe are immediately threatened. Climate change is destroying livelihoods, infrastructure and communities, forcing people from their homes, towns and countries. The UN Refugee Agency reported that, in 2019, weather-related hazards triggered 24·9 million displacements in 140 countries. That does not even include people forced to flee their homes as a consequence of slow-onset environment degradations such as droughts, sea-level rise and melting permafrost.
It is estimated that there could be between 25 million and one billion people on the climate change front line who will be forced to leave their homes by 2050. The crisis will only increase in magnitude if immediate action is not taken to reduce carbon emissions rapidly. Right here in Northern Ireland, we can and must play our part.
As a member of the Agriculture Committee, I feel that it is pertinent to address the concerns raised by the agri-food sector that have been much mentioned today. Along with Alliance Party colleagues, I have met the Ulster Farmers' Union on the matter, so we are acutely aware of the union's concerns and of the huge efforts being made by farmers to tackle environmental challenges.
The agriculture sector is our greatest ally in tackling the crisis. As was outlined recently in my party's policy document 'Alliance Green New Deal':
"Our farmers play an essential role in driving nature's recovery, and matters like cattle grazing and hedgerow maintenance are critical to protecting our wildlife and biodiversity. Across Ireland, climate and soil mean we depend on a grass-based industry."
We are very aware of that. Our native grass and trees are crucial for carbon sequestration. The policy document adds:
"Nevertheless, much can and must be done to make the industry more sustainable."
"With around 25,000 farms in Northern Ireland, most of which are small and family-run, the Alliance Green New Deal will support our farmers in embracing environmentally beneficial farming practices, reducing their carbon footprint, and better using and protecting natural resources and biodiversity."
In fact, I am, with AERA Committee colleagues, working with the Nature Friendly Farming Network (NFFN) on a motion to protect our natural environment and tackle the climate emergency while providing a profitable future for the sector. The issue of future agriculture policies, which I raised recently in Assembly questions, must enable a transition whilst providing nutritious food and increased farm resilience. Farmers contributing to sequestration and taking valuable actions to assist in the battle against climate change must therefore be assisted. We need new and better ways of rewarding them for their efforts as they continue to make progress.
I said this earlier, and it is worth repeating: the Climate Change Bill is not sector-specific. All sectors have a major part to play in tackling our carbon emissions. My colleagues Paula Bradshaw and Andrew Muir will refer to other sectors when they speak in the debate later.
Returning to the issue of COVID-19, I hope that all Departments and sectors work together to protect the environment, as well as to protect existing jobs and bring forward new green jobs. The Alliance Party is committed to a green and just recovery and to an urgent and radical overhaul of the policies and practices that have hindered our progress to date.
With that in mind, it should be said that the Bill, and its subsequent outworkings, should not and cannot be about whose idea it was first, whose policy it most closely embeds or who made additional proposals in the first instance. If there is any issue on which we can and should share vision and ambition and exhibit a determination to move forward, surely safeguarding the future of our planet is that issue.
As a co-sponsor of the Bill, I will be supporting this stage of the Bill along with Alliance Party colleagues. We encourage others to do the same in order to progress these urgent matters for the good of our people and for our future.
I welcome the opportunity to speak in this important debate. The DUP is committed to addressing climate change and ensuring that this part of the United Kingdom plays its role in reducing emissions. I am a firm believer that, as custodians of our planet, we all have a moral and civic responsibility to care for the environment and to do all that we can to create safer and healthier spaces to live in and to enjoy.
As has already been said, tackling climate change is a commitment of 'NDNA':
"The Executive will ?introduce legislation and targets for reducing carbon emissions ?in line with the Paris Climate Change Accord" through the bringing forward of legislation to:
"give environmental targets a strong legal underpinning."
I am aware that Minister Poots has been working on a climate change Bill that is in the final stages of drafting and has been awaiting approval for discussion by the Executive for a number of weeks. Given that 'NDNA' makes it clear that it is for the Executive to introduce legislation, given that the Minister has brought proposals to the Executive and given the urgency with which other parties wish to address the issue, I cannot understand why the matter has not so much as been discussed by the Executive. I find it bizarre that parties that tell us that there is a climate emergency have not even been able to find time to discuss the Agriculture Minister's Bill.
Regardless of where the Bill originates, the same core issues are at play, including the need to get a robust legislative framework that underpins environmental targets that, though ambitious, are achievable and do not require us to bankrupt our business community. On that point, I echo the sentiments of Manufacturing NI, which warned the House to be careful not to destroy jobs and livelihoods by failing to strike the right balance. I have concerns that the Bill does not strike that balance. I come to that view on the basis of the direction provided by the Climate Change Committee, the independent body tasked by the Assembly and the other UK Administrations to advise on this important issue. In its recent recommendations on Northern Ireland, it commented:
"In every scenario for achieving UK Net Zero that we have constructed, Northern Ireland would not get to Net Zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050."
It also commented:
"An 82% reduction in all greenhouse gases in Northern Ireland represents equivalent effort and a fair contribution to the UK Net Zero target."
This Bill proposes a target of net zero by 2045. That is something that the Climate Change Committee has said is not only impossible but is unnecessary for ensuring that the UK's climate change targets are achieved.
It is evident that the Bill gives little thought to the impact that a net zero target will have on farm businesses and the wider agri-food sector. Northern Ireland is a significant net exporter of agri-food products, with nearly 50% of agri-food products produced in Northern Ireland being consumed in the rest of the UK. It is only fair, therefore, that other parts of the UK that have a lesser focus on food production bear a heavier burden in meeting the UK target. The Ulster Farmers' Union (UFU) regularly reminds us that NI farmers feed 10 million people in the UK. Any climate change legislation from the House must acknowledge that.
As has already been said, we must get the balance right. That is pivotal. Unachievable targets are of use to no one. We must tackle climate change head-on, but it cannot be at too high a price; otherwise, we will have achieved nothing.
I am really pleased to speak in this important debate. I commend those who have worked hard to progress the Bill, particularly Climate Coalition NI and the parties across the Assembly that have supported it to this stage. I am proud that my first motion of this term of the Assembly, when it was re-established last January, was to declare a climate emergency. We worked with the mover of the Bill and her party to table that motion. A collaborative approach is entirely the right approach and the only way that we can deal with the existential issue of our time.
There is no doubt that we face a climate emergency and a biodiversity crisis. Across the globe, there are some acute impacts being caused by climate change, including melting polar ice caps; increased ocean temperature and acidity; increased sea levels; deaths from weather events; droughts and famines; disease; more people being forced into climate refuge, as referenced by Mr Blair; and threats to global food security. The impact is also clearly being experienced locally, with more extreme weather events. Mr McAleer mentioned wind and flooding in his constituency, and my constituency was also impacted by the flooding in the Sperrins. We have also seen wildfires over the past couple of weeks in the Mournes. This year alone, we have had the driest and frostiest April and the coldest May Day on record.
The 2019 'State of Nature' report by RSPB outlined that 11% of species on the island of Ireland faced extinction. In the UK, 41% of species have declined since 1970, with 26% of species found in fewer places. That is the reality of what is happening around us and what will continue and worsen without action now.
In 2016, 197 parties signed up to the Paris Accord, a binding agreement that brings all nations into common cause to undertake ambitious efforts to combat climate change and adapt to its effects. More than five years on, we are the only part of these islands without specific climate legislation. In January 2020, in 'New Decade, New Approach', the parties committed to bringing forward a climate change Act. Unfortunately, despite it being a commitment in 'New Decade, New Approach' and the expressed will of the Assembly, the AERA Minister dragged his feet on taking the action necessary to bring forward climate legislation, and so the other parties collaborated with NGOs and activists to bring forward the Bill that we debate today.
Only then did the AERA Minister belatedly publish a discussion document to bring forward a Bill through his Department, and, disappointingly, those proposals could best be described as unambitious and somewhat leading in terms of how they were written. In that document, there is no serious discussion about how an Act would operate as an overarching framework to adhere to when creating legislation. Only basic lip service is paid to the idea of a just transition. A green new deal is not even mentioned, and, most worryingly, the proposals do not address the fact that we are an island and that these are all transboundary issues. It seems like the bare minimum, and given that the Minister has previously denied that there is a climate emergency, one can only surmise that that is why there is a complete lack of ambition in his proposals. It would have been much better if the Minister had chosen to work with the proposers of this Bill in a constructive way. Unfortunately, it seems that he has sought to undermine it rather than engaging, and the approach is somewhat disappointing, given that his office covers environment and rural communities also.
The progression of this Bill is an opportunity to have a really informed debate and discussion about the type of action that is required and how we plan to deliver on ambitious, fair and achievable decarbonisation targets together. We have the opportunity to learn from the mistakes of the Government in the South, who did not engage properly with the rural community and where there is some disillusionment with the actions that are being imposed or are seen as being imposed on communities there. Over the past couple of weeks, like every other MLA, I am sure, I have received dozens of emails both supporting and expressing concern about the Bill. I thank all those who have taken the time to correspond with me. There is no doubt that there is huge support for the Bill and for climate action.
Almost all the emails that I received expressing concerns about the Bill have been from our farming community, and they are genuine concerns. I am from a largely rural constituency. I am a former member and Chair of the AERA Committee. I worked for almost 15 years in agri-food research, and I worked alongside the industry. I know its importance. I have talked to farmers about climate change. Not only do they understand it, they want to play their part, and many already do so. They are the custodians of our land, and, given that 75% of land in the North is managed for agriculture, there is much that they will contribute in delivering the action that is needed. Our farming community is and will continue to be at the coalface of the impact of climate change. Weather events that devastate land and crops; increased incidences of plant and animal pathogens, including new plant and animal diseases and pathogens being found to occur in regions where they did not occur previously; and altered growing seasons: all those things will impact on the profitability of our farmers and agri-food producers. Importantly, it also affects our food security and our ability to feed ourselves sustainably. Our farmers, like all communities, must be supported.
That means financially and in developing innovative practices and knowledge transfer to be the most sustainable that they can be.
It is not just by reducing our emissions that we will deliver on the greenhouse gas reduction required; it is by expanding our carbon sinks. Again, our farming and rural communities have much to contribute and must be supported in delivering afforestation programmes of native trees and hedgerow management that will not only act as carbon sinks but support and improve our biodiversity. Those things need to be part of the discussion and central to the action plans being developed.
Sinn Féin is completely committed to ambitious climate action: it is necessary. Inaction and half measures are not an option at this point. As it stands, we are on our way to a 3° or 4° increase on pre-industrial temperatures, which will be catastrophic for our planet. Limiting temperature increase to 1·5° will be a significant challenge and will require radical action.
Every time I have spoken on the climate and biodiversity crises and the need for action, I have emphasised the need for the principles of just transition to be embedded in that action. Climate action has to be based on social justice. It has to be equitable. It has to empower communities. That must be the guiding principle of the climate action that we deliver through the Bill.
Let me assure all those who have expressed their concerns: I hear those concerns. We hear those concerns. The Bill is a hugely positive development, and it should be seen as an opportunity. I have talked about our targets being ambitious: they must be achievable. We must be able to deliver on the targets. That will require investment in financial support for the communities impacted; in technology, research and development and innovation; and in support for businesses and entrepreneurship. It is investment that has the potential to pay off hugely for our local economy, and it must be seen as such.
In 'New Decade, New Approach', we also committed to a green new deal, which has to be core to our economic recovery from COVID. We must seek to positively transform people's lives, rapidly reducing emissions while creating good, decent-paying and secure jobs; delivering warmer homes through retrofitting; tackling fuel poverty; delivering healthier lifestyles and more efficient ways of moving around through investment in our active travel and public transport, world-class digital and physical infrastructure and an abundance of renewable and more affordable electricity from our wind and tidal resources. We must create opportunities for young people and those whose jobs will no longer exist in the way that they did.
The debate today is about the principles of the Bill. It is about moving the Bill forward to Committee Stage, where there will be opportunity for further scrutiny, input and consultation. The Bill creates a climate office and a climate commissioner. The Bill will establish the requirement for a climate action plan within three years of receiving Royal Assent and then every five years. The climate action plans would have to be approved by the Assembly, and those plans would be subject to public consultation. Nothing is being imposed or done in the scope of the Bill that will not be agreed by the Assembly.
There is scope for development to ensure that the Bill protects communities in achieving the ambitious targets that it sets out and the climate action plans that need to take account of our circumstances. A greater focus on transboundary impacts needs to be developed in the action plans. We are an island, and there needs to be proper account and cooperation across the island.
It is positive that the just transition principles are embedded in the Bill, and there are references in clause 3(8) to reducing inequality and eliminating poverty and social deprivation. I want to see it expressly written into the Bill that achieving the net zero target and the climate action plans must be based on the principles of just transition. It is important that we define what we mean by a just transition. At its simplest, it means that transition to net zero must happen in a fair way that leaves no one behind. A report for the OECD in 2017 stated:
"A just transition ensures environmental sustainability as well as decent work, social inclusion and poverty eradication."
In fact, it is set out in the Paris agreement itself: national plans on climate change that include just transition measures with a centrality of decent work and quality jobs. A just transition must be based on social dialogue, as mentioned by Clare Bailey when she moved the Bill, and ensure the type of social interventions needed to secure workers' rights and livelihoods when economies shift to sustainable production to combat climate change and to protect our biodiversity.
The development of the first climate action plan should be informed through the establishment of a just transition commission that involves all partners and representatives of all sections of our society and economy. I would like to see that expressly written into the Bill.
The climate office described in the Bill must have meaningful civic engagement as its modus operandi. The type of radical action that is needed to halt the catastrophic breakdown of our planet will mean change. It will require a major rethink of what prosperity means. The continuing pursuit of profit and capitalist models of consumption have greatly contributed to the climate breakdown that we face, but we have the power to make change if we act now. We have to be honest with people that change is necessary. We also have to empower our communities and provide reassurance and evidence that climate action will mean job creation and community renewal. We have to lead, and we have to manage change.
I will finish by, first, speaking directly to those who have concerns about what the Bill means for them. We are listening. We believe that the best and only way to effectively tackle the climate emergency is by working in partnership through informed debate and discussion that is designed with communities for communities. The type of climate action that we are talking about cannot be done to our communities. We must have maximum buy-in to the plans that are developed. That is the only way that they will be successful. That is the process that I want to be delivered through the ambitious, achievable and fair climate change legislation. That is what Sinn Féin will be working to ensure as the Bill progresses.
Finally, when I think about the climate emergency, I think of our young people. I think of those young people on the climate strikes who have been motivated to become activists by their desire to save our planet. I think of those kids who get on to their parents about recycling, turning off the lights and walking instead of going in the car. Those young people will inherit the planet that we leave. As political leaders, we have to do not only what is politically expedient but what is right. Protecting our planet for future generations is the very least that we can do. I support the Bill.
It was a bright, sunny day in May 2017. I thought to myself, "I will be environmentally aware. I will not drive from Lurgan to Banbridge; I will take the bus". Off I tootled to my local bus stop in the middle of Lurgan. There he was, the bus driver, reading his newspaper. It was 'The Sun', as it turned out; I will not bring out any jokes from 'The Two Ronnies' here. While he was reading the newspaper, his engine was on. It was a bright, hot day, and, of course, the seating that Translink and Craigavon borough council kindly provided at the bus stop was directly in line with the exhaust pipes of the bus. I sat there as he read his newspaper. Fifteen minutes went by and still his exhaust was going quite merrily. He finished reading his newspaper and folded it. He walked across the street to his bank and withdrew some money. He came back to the bus and started to eat his lunch, still with the engine running. That was half an hour of exhaust fumes pouring out into the atmosphere. I wrote to Translink about that dreadful waste of energy and taxpayers' money and the resultant carbon emissions. You would think that I was asking for the impossible to suggest to it that it might ask its staff to turn off their engines when they are waiting at bus stops. I have seen that many times since. That is an example of what is going on and of the profligate way in which we use energy.
We do not have to go too far. In this Building, the recording machines for Hansard in the Committee rooms remained on for three years when the Assembly did not meet. Nobody was prepared to go and switch them off. The roof would collapse upon us if we dared to switch off those machines in the three years in which we did not meet. We recorded the hottest day in Northern Ireland's history, and, of course, the heating was on full in the Building on that hottest day. All attempts to get the heating turned off fell flat with no success whatsoever.
The problem is, Mr Deputy Speaker — Mr Speaker, sorry; I have enough trouble with you without calling you Deputy Speaker. The problem is, Mr Speaker, that 24% of the energy that we use in Northern Ireland is wasted; it goes down the plughole. If we could solve that problem, we would not have to burden our farmers with very strict emissions targets.
We would have to do very little to increase our renewable energy demands because we could solve the problem simply by not wasting the stuff that we already produce. Any time that yours truly — an obscure Back-bencher from South Down, who is of no great political import — raises that with any of the authorities, you would think that I was asking for the sun, the moon and the stars. Nobody is prepared to tackle the absolutely basic point that we could utilise now to protect our planet.
Bringing our emissions down to net zero by 2045 will be painful for all of us: industry, private consumers and farmers. We cannot reverse the juggernaut of climate change without huge pain. As the honourable Member for East Londonderry pointed out, however, the consequences of not doing it might be that we do not have an agriculture industry in the future. If we allow our planet to go the way that it is going, we might not be able to produce enough food to feed ourselves in the future.
I do not know how many emails, letters and phone calls I have received about this issue. I suspect that the number is second only to the number that came to me on the debate on abortion. Many people in South Down asked me to support the Bill, and many people, most of them farmers, asked me not to do so. I suspect that we have all had the same email from the farming community, which, I believe, was instigated by the Ulster Farmers' Union. It is a fact that what we are asking for will produce pain for the farming community, but we have the mechanisms to deal with that.
First, everyone thus far has said that there has to be protection for vulnerable groups by means of a transition to a net zero target. The fallback is that any targets and policies will have to be agreed by the Assembly. Ms Bailey's Bill sets up a framework, but, time and time again, issues will come back to the Assembly for a final decision. The Bill is only at Second Stage. It will go off to the Committee for further consultation and scrutiny. Assembly Committees have been good at dealing with complex Bills. We are often maligned by the public, but, through our ability to ask questions for written answer and, through Committees, to scrutinise Bills, legislation and policies, we have been successful. Nobody will report that in tomorrow's newspapers.
The Bill will go off to the Committee. I have no doubt that the Committee, led by Mr Irwin who is one of its prime spokesmen, will scrutinise every jot and tittle of the Bill and pore all over it. No doubt it will come back to the Assembly in a different shape and form from that in which it entered the Committee. There is an opportunity to deal with the issues and the legitimate concerns of the farming community about the emissions targets.
We have in Northern Ireland and throughout the United Kingdom a unique system of farm support. I still call it the single farm payment, but Mr Irwin, being the guru and the font of all knowledge on the issue, will point out the exact terminology that is now used. The single farm payment is the mechanism that we inherited from the European Union and that we now control for ourselves. That can be used as a mechanism to compensate farmers and to cushion the blow that will undoubtedly occur as a result of the targets.
No matter what Bill we adopt, be it Ms Bailey's or the Minister's — I have no doubt that the Minister's Bill arrived very quickly because Ms Bailey's Bill was coming down the railway line, and, in a rush, the Minister's Bill suddenly appeared as Ms Bailey's Bill was published — there will have to be reductions in emissions from all sectors in Northern Ireland. Some might argue that the Minister's Bill will be less painful than the Green Party's Bill, but it will have to be done. We must take the mechanism that we already have in place to ensure that we minimise the damage to all sectors as a result of the emissions targets.
I see the single farm payment as a way of allowing farmers to adjust to the new landscape by compensating them through a mechanism that has worked very well. I do not believe that it necessarily means that farmers will be out of pocket, but it will be painful.
We have a resource in Northern Ireland. If we stopped wasting energy — I do not think that we will, because many Northern Ireland people are not happy unless they are wasting energy in some form — that would make a major contribution, but we in Northern Ireland and, indeed, the Irish Republic have a unique resource, which, if properly utilised, would be a much less painful way to deal with this climate change issue. Peat covers 18% of our land. Peat covers only 3% of the land area of the entire world, and yet it stores more carbon than all the other vegetation in the world put together. We have a vast tract of peatland, which, if properly utilised, could form a carbon store of immeasurable consequence. It has been shown that, if you take degraded peatland and restore it by a process known as re-wetting, you can form a carbon sink, which can do so much to reduce emissions from industrial and farming processes.
That begs the question: if 18% of our land is peat, and it is our most valuable tool to sequestrate carbon, why are we still allowing the destruction of peatlands in Northern Ireland? Why are we still giving planning permission for peat removal, and why are we permitting peatlands to be drained, burned and damaged when we have this essential tool that could save the day? There must be a complete moratorium on all further damage to peatlands immediately. There must be a policy, which is only just starting, to re-wet those peatlands. I am aware of the excellent project on the Garron plateau and of the work at Cuilcagh in Fermanagh. That is a good step forward, but we really need to get our act together to protect this valuable habitat.
Now, of course, Dolores Kelly has tabled a motion for tomorrow that will deal with that issue to a large extent, but I want to make the point that we have two areas where we can immediately take action to reduce emissions — wastage and peatlands — but we are not doing anything about them, and both are an awful lot less painful than imposing restrictions on other parts of our economy.
Finally, Northern Ireland is extremely blessed with a lot of wind and land suitable for solar panels and tree planting. Again, those are much less painful ways to deal with the problem.
I listened to the Member intently, and he has used the word "painful" half a dozen to maybe a dozen times during the debate. Does he agree that, when constructing a narrative about climate change, using the word "painful" is doing a disservice to what the Bill is about? Clean energy production, less air pollution, more active travel, more green energy, businesses investing in the future, our children and grandchildren having a much better future: this is not painful, and there are many positives that society will gain from the Bill.
It grieves me to say this, but the honourable Member speaks a lot of sense. Yes, he is absolutely right that there are real rewards for our community when we get to our final goal. There is a healthier environment, less dependency on fossil fuels and less waste of precious resources. However, in order to get from our present position to that holy grail, there will be pain and difficult decisions will have to be made. There will have to be reductions in emissions, and there will have to be compensation —.
Does the Member agree with me and my party colleague who spoke before me that it is imperative that there is a just transition so that nobody loses out on this path to net zero?
In this situation, is it not a little too simplistic to say that no one loses out, when we know that our agri-food industry will lose up to 50% of its production and that meat eaters, which the Member is not, will find that they are exporting their carbon to import their meat supplies, which will no longer be supplied locally?
Is it not rather trite to suggest that no one will lose out?
Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right: I am stuck in the middle on my own. The Member makes a point that, I know, is held by many in the farming community. We have a system whereby we can use the mechanisms that we already have to ease the pain — that is where I disagree with the honourable Member to my right — that there will be for some people in this process, and there will be pain. As long as the farming community believes that it is being treated fairly and that, if society demands that it reduce its emissions, society is also prepared to use the mechanism that it already has to compensate farmers for that, the farmers will join us and support us in what we are doing.
What we cannot do, however, is leave the farming community behind, marooned, because, as everyone has said, it has a tremendous role to play — a crucial role to play — as we move to net zero. There is no doubt that we cannot do it without the farming community. The only way in which we will do it with the farming community is to have mechanisms in place to ensure that it does not lead to the massive reduction in farm incomes that the Member mentioned and that we can compensate farmers. It is difficult. It will stretch everybody in the Chamber and on the Committee and, indeed, the Minister to achieve it, but it is the only way forward, if we are to deliver an effective Climate Change Bill.
If anyone had told me when I first came into the Chamber, a very long time ago, that over half of our electricity generation would be achieved through renewables, I would have laughed. It was pie in the sky. It was impossible. That is exactly what we have done. Northern Ireland now has a very high rate of renewable electricity generation, and that is just from wind turbines. We have not scratched the surface of generation from solar panels. I am beginning to see farms start to be developed. I know that the honourable Member for North Antrim has a particular problem in his area. I will get my retaliation in first before he raises the issue. The reality, however, is that Northern Ireland has huge potential for solar energy. Even in our climate, which is not the sunniest, it is amazing what modern technology can now do in order to achieve a high rate of renewable energy. There is an opportunity there for the farming community.
I will raise the issue of afforestation. One of the best ways in which to control carbon emissions and reduce the amount of carbon in the atmosphere is through tree planting. Again, Northern Ireland is one of the least afforested parts of the United Kingdom and, indeed, in Europe. Vast areas of Northern Ireland could be used for tree planting. Courtesy of the Minister, we already have an attractive system of grants and subsidies that enable farmers to set aside land to plant trees, and the payments are spread over 25 years. Those should be used to a much greater level in order to diversify farm incomes.
I must say how disappointed I am in the Minister and the Department. Last Saturday, I opened 'Farming Life', in which Mr Irwin features at least three or four times every week, and I saw the announcement of a large afforestation project; from memory, I think that it was in County Antrim. It was all well and good — 50 hectares and hundreds of thousands of trees — until I read that half of the trees were to be Sitka spruce. We will get absolutely nowhere in increasing biodiversity and improving the emissions problem in Northern Ireland if we believe that planting exotic, foreign, coniferous trees here will do anything to help the situation. I felt disappointed when I read that. The Minister has announced a major tree-planting programme, but all attempts to tie him down on what proportion of it will be native Irish/Ulster/British trees have failed. They must all be native trees. You cannot increase diversity by going back to the serried ranks of conifers that have marked hillsides so much for many years. That has to stop. We have to go back to the oak, the birch, the sycamore and all those species that, we know, are good for biodiversity and climate change. That penny has not dropped yet. What I am trying to say in my inadequate way is that there are options available that, if we take them now, can turn round the juggernaut of climate change. Those options will have less — I will not say the word "pain", as I have been hauled up already for saying that — they will be less challenging than if we simply leave it too late and end up in a situation where emissions have got out of control.
People may say, "Why should we bother? This is little Northern Ireland, just six counties. We are part of the UK, but, sure, we are only 3% of the population, and our percentage of emissions is just slightly above that". We have two fundamental problems. First, we are part of a big polluter: the UK. The UK has the fifth largest economy in the world, so we have to be seen to play our part in the overall UK target. Secondly, even though Northern Ireland has a population of only 1·8 million, its emissions are much higher than those of many African countries. In the Sahel region of Africa, you have countries with populations 10 and 15 times higher than the population in Northern Ireland, but their emissions per head are so much lower that their overall contribution to global climate change is very small. Northern Ireland cannot sit back and say, "We'll just forget about this and pass on it"; we have to do something to help lead the world, as Scotland, Wales and the Irish Republic have all done. We have to play our part. We are the only part of the United Kingdom that does not have a climate change Act. That is our first difficulty. Secondly, how can we lecture other countries? How can we say to small, impoverished nations that have very low levels of GDP, "You must take challenging steps to reduce your climate emissions", if we are not prepared to do it ourselves? We simply cannot do that. That is why Ms Bailey is absolutely right to move this Bill and why Mr Poots is absolutely right to move his Bill. Hopefully, between the two, we will arrive at a situation where we play our role.
Mr Allister, the honourable Member for North Antrim, made a rather disparaging comment about vegetarianism. As far as I know, there are only three vegetarians in the Chamber, but just remember this: it takes 16 pounds of grain to produce one pound of meat. I will put it another way: if everybody in the world was vegetarian, we could feed the planet three times over and still have a surplus. We have to face the fact that we have only one planet. To sustain ourselves to the level of the United States or Germany, we would need four planets, and we do not have that option. We have to start thinking about our diet and how we produce food.
The frightening thing is that the only reason that 1·1 billion Indians and 1·4 billion Chinese can survive is that they have a largely plant-based diet. The frightening spectre that we have, as a planet, is of those two huge populations adopting a Western diet with all the energy demands that that entails. If that happens, we really will have a problem. In that scenario, our population could remain static, but we would have two major concentrations of people moving rapidly towards a diet and a lifestyle that is incredibly demanding on our planet. Therefore —.
I ask the Member to focus more on the principles of the Bill. This is the Second Stage of the Climate Change Bill. Equally, the Business Committee, as we announced earlier, has agreed that the Assembly sitting will finish at 8.00 pm. We will call the Minister to respond at 7.00pm, and he has confirmed that he will take only half an hour to speak, as has the sponsor of the Bill. The business will conclude at 8.00 pm. I ask the Member to be understanding of the fact that quite a number of Members still want to speak, but that the sitting will end at 8.00 pm, whatever happens.
I assure you, Mr Speaker, that I will not be speaking at 7.00 pm. I was just about to draw my remarks to a conclusion.
It is good for the Assembly that we are dealing with the issue. I have already heard some very useful contributions from all sides. We should allow the Bill to continue to Committee Stage, where, no doubt, many Members are waiting to get their teeth into it. We can then come back and give it further consideration. By the time that process is finished, knowing the track record of the Assembly, we will have made a major contribution on the issue.
Sinn Féin has been consistent on the need for climate justice and for a climate change Act in the North because we are living in the middle of a climate emergency. In Derry and the north-west, we have already seen the impact of severe weather, with flash flooding and, at times, scorching heatwaves and storms that have been battering more relentlessly over the last decade. In August 2017, 70 millimetres of rain — around 63% of the rainfall of August — fell in just nine hours, and homes, businesses, agriculture, infrastructure and habitats were destroyed. Four hundred homes were affected. The A5 was closed for three days. Local farmers lost tens of thousands of pounds due to land damage, and five bridges were completely washed away. Then, in 2018, we had 58 consecutive days without rainfall, straining farmlands, causing water shortages and hospital admissions, not to mention gorse fires raging throughout. Being the only part of these islands without bespoke climate legislation is unacceptable because it is our duty as public representatives and custodians of this land to do everything in our power to keep global temperature increases to less than 1·5° Celsius on the pre-industrial level. If we fail to do that — we will fail if the Bill does not go through, and I welcome the fact that we are discussing the principles of it today — the consequences for our island, our peatlands, our wetlands, our ancient forest and mountain life in all its natural beauty could well face extinction.
My Sinn Féin colleague Declan McAleer spoke about the rural community and farmers, and we have all received emails from farmers, particularly in recent days, who must be consulted and must be listened to so that there is, as has been said, a just transition. I also acknowledge the Sinn Féin spokesperson Philip McGuigan, who has led the Sinn Féin position on climate justice from the front and is a proud co-signatory of the Bill.
The Bill provides a framework for decisive action in the North because we are failing to adequately reduce carbon emissions. When you consider that, between 2008 and 2016, the North managed to reduce emissions by only 9%, you see that that is totally unacceptable. Unless urgent action is taken across this island, we will be on a trajectory for natural disaster, so I urge all the MLAs to vote in favour of sending the Bill to Committee Stage so that its principles can be fully and transparently discussed and considered, as has been outlined today.
The Bill gives us an opportunity to tackle an endless cycle of extraction, under-regulated capitalistic growth and materialism that has brought our planet to the brink. Business as usual is no longer an option. That is why Sinn Féin tabled a motion in February 2020 declaring a climate emergency and why my party colleague Declan McAleer, as Chair of the Agriculture Committee, tabled a motion calling on Minister Poots to introduce a climate change Act. However, Minister Poots continued to drag his boots. He only started to take action when every other party in the Chamber came together to bring forward this Bill, and I acknowledge and congratulate all who were involved in that.
I welcome the fact that the Bill sets out the framework for the creation of a climate action plan to put us on an ambitious trajectory for net zero carbon emissions by 2045. A cornerstone of the Bill is the fact that a climate action plan will be co-designed with sectors, businesses and industries to work to make crucial and fundamental change.
Of course, change can be challenging, which makes it all the more important that we ensure a just transition, as has been referred to today and is outlined in the Bill, so that crucial action to protect our environment does not disadvantage anyone who is already struggling to make ends meet.
The Bill offers us the chance to be ambitious, fair and deliverable and to protect workers, farmers, families and communities by protecting and enhancing our natural world. The climate action plan that is envisaged in the Bill will, without doubt, with reference to energy production and supply, revolutionise our electricity production and consumption, which was mentioned earlier as one of the things that should be taken account of. Currently, as has been stated by other Members, almost half of our electricity in the North comes from renewable sources. As good as that is, it is not enough. The sectoral plans that are envisaged by the Bill should take account of changes that need to be undertaken in, for instance, the transport sector. I know that the Minister has been doing work on all of that. As more hydrogen buses get on the road, we need to have the skills base to maintain them and the ability to fuel them locally. If we do not produce local hydrogen, we will unravel any environmental benefits that are referred to in the Bill by shipping tanks of hydrogen into the North from abroad.
The hydrogen production industry is set to be worth something in the region of £2·5 trillion globally by 2050. That is an opportunity for the Economy Minister, who should not attempt to shunt it into a small corner of the north-east, particularly as the natural geography of Derry and the north-west, including Donegal, is perfectly suited to, and in the perfect location for, the generation of wind energy, which is referred to in the sectoral plans of the Bill and is necessary for the production of hydrogen. I have been centrally involved in showcasing Derry and Donegal to investors; I have exposed to them what the Bill sets out regarding energy production and supply, which is in abundance in the north-west. The Bill sets out the ultimate objective of achieving net zero emissions, and hydrogen opportunities can help to achieve that in Derry, investing in economically sustainable jobs and tackling regional inequalities in the north-west.
In relation to what the Bill says around energy production and supply, I have already initiated conversations with, for instance, Magee university, the Letterkenny Institute of Technology, Derry and Strabane council, Donegal council, the Foyle port and NI Water to help to advance the opportunity for Derry and the north-west city region to capture the all-Ireland opportunities to advance climate justice. In fact, over the past number of months, I have done more for Derry with potential investors than Invest NI has. That would not be too hard, but that is another debate for another day. I know that you will not want me to stray into that.
The bottom line remains that we are at a crossroads. We can choose to do more of the same or to protect our natural world. The longer we dilly-dally over choosing which path to go down, the less of our natural world we will protect. The next stage of the process will be vital in understanding and shaping a climate change Act that will protect people, our ecology and our environment.
I thank the principal sponsor of the Bill for its introduction here today. My party colleague Mark, the Member for Foyle, is a co-sponsor of the Bill. When he was Environment Minister in 2015, he proposed a climate action Bill at the time of the Paris Accord in order to keep the rise in global average temperature to well below 2°C, which is above pre-industrial levels, and to pursue efforts to limit the increase to 1·5°C.
We have an obligation and a responsibility to meet those commitments. The commitment to climate change is a commitment to social justice. The delay in seeing a climate change Bill brought before the Assembly has been because of a number of issues, among them the denial of some Members of the current Environment Minister's party and the absence of an Executive, when members of the deputy First Minister's party walked from the Assembly. Nevertheless, we are where we are today, and, indeed, when the Assembly declared a climate emergency in February last year, the Minister, along with his party, voted against that declaration.
However, as we look at this —.
Thanks very much for your elucidation, Jim. I appreciate that, thank you.
It is good to see the Bill in front of the Assembly today and to see the debate under way. The Bill is unambiguous in its ambitions. It sets down in legislation a commitment to a target of net zero by 2045 compared with 1990 levels and puts in place a framework for the delivery of that target. Some Members will raise the advice of the UK Climate Change Committee. I accept its advice for what it is: it is its expert opinion based on the evidence that is available to it. However, as the Climate Change Committee has pointed out:
"there is no purely technical reason" why we cannot meet a net zero target for greenhouse gas emissions. As the chair of the Climate Change Committee, Lord Deben, said to the AERA Committee of the advice that the CCC provides, its job is to:
"make sure that you, as a Government, and the arrangements that you have in the North of Ireland, are such that you can genuinely say to all the people of the Province that you are absolutely able to reach this end".
He also told the Committee:
"if you were to decide that you wanted to do better than that, we would be very pleased indeed."
It is also worth noting that since the CCC appeared before the AERA Committee, the United States and the UK have significantly updated their commitments to much more ambitious targets than before.
The SDLP supports the Bill not only because we want to do better but because we must do better. Reaching net zero by 2045 will not be easy, but it is essential. The latest NI greenhouse gas inventory estimates for 2018 show a 20% decrease in emissions compared with 1990 levels. The current projections estimate only a 39% reduction by 2030 compared with 1990 levels. Agriculture remained the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions for Northern Ireland in 2018, at 27%. The share is expected to increase to 35% in 2030 as a result of the improved performances of other sectors, with only a 3% reduction in agricultural emissions.
That is not sustainable, but there have been many scare stories about what the Bill will do to farmers. I represent a rural constituency, and I have no intention of putting farmers or the agri-food sector out of business. I was really glad to hear the proposer of the Bill, Ms Bailey, say that, from her party's point of view, the Bill does not assign sectoral targets. Parallel to that, however, or as a consequence of it, we would welcome a cross-departmental just transition working group that would not only audit comprehensively the environmental potential but look at the social consequences in terms of food prices etc, the economic and business implications and opportunities as well as the energy implications and changes in the use of energy, which Mr Wells mentioned. Also, for those of us who live in rural areas, there are big transport implications for that and the necessary requirements for properly funded infrastructure, whether that be electrical or, indeed, changes in the types of existing modes of transport that are being used. I suggest that that working group come up with proposals for government to support and incentivise the various sectors and industries, such as farming, in order to help them to make that transition and to support them through that change.
Change can be welcome, or it can be a challenge. This change is inevitable, because it is needed. I can think of one particular night in 2014 when, at 2.00 am, I was standing in Sandy Braes, which is in an estate in Magherafelt, and we were up to our knees in floodwaters as a result of flash flooding, which had never happened there before. The incident in Glenelly valley, which the Chair knows much better than I do, caused a crisis for a lot of farmers. I have been to Curran, which is a small townland between Maghera and Magherafelt, where the River Moyola burst its banks, and new houses were flooded. That had never happened before. Indeed, last year, the same thing happened with the River Moyola, and a house on River Road in Draperstown that had never been flooded before had 1 metre of water in it. Those incidents are not happening by coincidence. They are being caused by a change that we must stymie and try to stop. That is why the Bill is before us today.
Given the sectors that are affected, the aim must be to maintain the profitability of farms, the agri-food sector and other businesses; to promote new methods and ways that are equally, if not more, sustainable and, indeed, profitable for them; and to encourage the use of less environmentally damaging methods and practices. It would be for the working group to see through that work and bring forward proposals for financial support or other incentivisation for the various sectors.
We need to build social benefits into the reduction efforts so that communities can see it working for them. Bringing communities with us as we reduce greenhouse gas emissions across all sectors — energy, transport, business and agriculture — is key to successfully making the transition to a net zero society. I welcome that the Chair, Mr Declan McAleer, said earlier that the Committee will ensure that there is inclusivity and that all voices will be listened to so that the legislation, in its final form, represents the needs of the community. There are many, many needs, and I was glad to hear the Chair say that.
With a fair and ambitious target in place, we can shape policy to meet that target and put in place support and incentives to help all sectors. We have a responsibility to help to meet the net zero target of not just Britain and the rest of Ireland but the net zero target globally. Importantly, as the Bill works its way through the AERA Committee, the consultation process will be uppermost.
Again, I thank the Bill's sponsor for moving its Second Stage. I welcome working with the Committee and with her as it progresses through the Committee and its various stages.
I do not believe that many Members, if indeed any, do not recognise that climate change needs urgent attention. It is not just an issue for Northern Ireland. Rather, it is a global topic that requires international action.
Today, the Assembly has the opportunity to debate the issue and to start to find a way forward that attempts to confront and mitigate the problem. However, it is equally important that we do not create legislation that presents severe and perhaps unachievable challenges for any of our citizens, especially those who may have their livelihood curtailed or damaged as a result.
Like others, in recent days, I have received a large number of emails from those in our important agriculture sector. Some were irate; others were very reasonable in setting out the challenges that they might face from any legislation that flows from the Bill as it stands.
The one common theme in all the emails is that everyone recognises that climate change is a reality. It is a reality that we must address in the interests of the welfare of our children and our grandchildren in the future. No one is in denial. The biggest fear expressed in the correspondence that I have received from those in the agriculture sector was about the timelines outlined in the Bill. Suggestions that herd sizes need to be reduced to achieve zero carbon emissions by 2045 are a major concern for the farmers who contacted me.
Many of their concerns are around large investments that they have recently made based on business plans that go beyond the Bill's timeline targets. Others are about to make investments but are concerned that family members who inherit the farm will be left with business plans that start to unravel, creating financial difficulties for them in the future.
I have a background in business, and I understand their concerns and recognise the need for certainty when making long- to medium-term investments. We all rely heavily on the financial support of banks when we embark on such investments in our businesses. The Bill may make banks nervous about long-term lending if there is any suspicion that forward financial and business planning could be disrupted by challenges thrown up by legislation. Some local farmers have called with me personally. Their approaches have been civil and heartfelt. From listening to them, I have been impressed by the steps that they are already taking on their farms to reduce carbon emissions and by how they carry out their work. That has reassured me that I have been engaging with people who are on the same page as the Assembly in recognising the dangerous reality of climate change.
I will support the Bill today because it is the right thing to do for the community that I represent. It is also the right thing to do for my grandchildren and everyone else's grandchildren. However, I have listened to our agriculture sector, and I recognise that some of their concerns are genuine and set firmly in reality. They want to reach the position of a zero carbon emission level. They support our aspiration to achieve that. That said, I believe that meaningful amendments will need to be tabled and timelines revisited as the Bill progresses. We cannot afford to make legislation that will have unforeseen consequences that may damage not only our agriculture sector but other areas of our economy. We must go forward together in common cause, and, to achieve that, we will need those meaningful amendments. I believe that there will be the will in the House to produce legislation that everyone will support and that will be achievable. We need to get this right. To that end, I will give a pledge to our agriculture industry that I will support all amendments to the Bill that will make that sector feel more comfortable with any resulting legislation.
I agree wholeheartedly that a Climate Change Bill is necessary and urgent, and I thank my AERA Committee colleague Ms Bailey for introducing the Bill to the Assembly. However, I worry about its impact on the agri-food and farming industry, which will be most affected.
It has been a good debate so far, and I will try not to replicate some of the excellent points that Members have raised. Increasing rainfall, unpredictable storms, landslides and the threat to habitat and species, which was highlighted recently by the Mournes wildfire, are all warning signs that cannot be ignored. Climate change is the world's most pressing emergency, and I agree that we in Northern Ireland must do our bit to combat rising seas, rising temperatures and unstable weather patterns. We need more than words and lip service. We are in the midst of an emergency, but it is an emergency that needs to be properly funded to ensure that any climate change Bill is a success. That cost has not been factored in as yet.
We need to be part of a joined-up strategy that is properly funded and has measurable outcomes, and that is in line with the rest of the UK and our neighbours in the Republic of Ireland. There are differences regionally in industrial usage. Here in Northern Ireland, agriculture is one of our main industries and employers, and we cannot overlook that industry. Its input is vital. One such measure is the reinstatement of bog and peatlands, and more needs to be achieved quickly on the reforestation of Northern Ireland. Here I agree with my colleague Mr Wells. Where suitable, native broadleaf trees must be planted in preference to coniferous trees.
On renewable energy, whether that be wind farms or solar farms, we need to gravitate away from fossil fuels and use green energy. The Bill heralds a time when all stakeholders need to sit down and discuss a time frame for a strategy on the way forward. We need to involve processors, wholesalers, corporate food retailers, industry and the general public. We also need to look at airlines, both passenger and freight. Burning 5 litres of aviation fuel at 30,000 feet is the equivalent of burning 25 litres on the ground, yet many of us cannot wait to get away on holidays. A societal change is also necessary.
In addition, the shipping and corporate haulage industries use massive amounts of fossil fuel, with too much of it used to bring beef and dairy products into Northern Ireland, while we export up to 80% from Northern Ireland. Burning home heating oil, gas and coal across Northern Ireland and having fossil-fuel vehicles that produce the worst emissions possible damage our environment.
Although I support having a climate change Bill, I would rather wait until the Minister's Bill is brought before the House. To that end, I encourage the Executive Committee to grant its introduction as soon as possible. I believe that it has been with the Executive Committee for the past four weeks. I fear that having two separate Bills on climate change will be counterproductive. I therefore prefer to wait until the Minister's climate change Bill can be heard, in order to see which better benefits all of us in Northern Ireland or to see whether the two Bills can complement each other. It is too important not to look at all the issues.
We are in the middle of an emergency. If we do not take stock now, it will be our children and our children's children who will suffer the consequences.
I thank the Bill's main sponsor, Clare Bailey, for bringing it to Second Stage. It is a privilege to be a named co-sponsor of this important Bill on behalf of my party, and I am delighted to speak today in its favour.
I point out the broad, cross-party support for the Bill and its desired outcomes. This progressive Bill is a good example of MLAs in this institution cooperating. Indeed, it is an excellent example of cooperation between MLAs and civic society.
As politicians, there are many vital and important issues deserving of our attention. We are still dealing with the effects of a global pandemic. We are trying to keep our citizens safe and well as we move towards reopening society, and building back our economy must be an immediate priority. Rebuilding our health service, tackling inequalities in education, boosting our economy, dealing with Brexit-related issues, progressing and shaping positive and progressive politics towards a shared future on this island and many more vital issues also require our attention, now and in the time ahead. There can be absolutely no doubt, however, that the defining political issue for this generation, on this island and beyond, is the climate emergency that we all face. How we deal with it will determine the types of chances given to our children and grandchildren and the type of world in which they get to grow up.
"Every week, a different report or study alerts us to the real and catastrophic dangers of global warming." — [Official Report (Hansard), 21 July 2020, p13, col 2].
That is a sentence I read out last July, during the last debate on the need for climate legislation to be brought forward. Those alarming reports have not stopped being produced since then.
Just a few short weeks ago, the United Nations produced its 'State of the Global Climate 2020: Provisional Report', stating in it that 2020 was one of the three hottest years on record, marked by wildfires, droughts, floods and melting glaciers, which prompted the UN Secretary-General to say that the world stands:
"on the verge of the abyss".
Hopefully, nobody in the Chamber is still in denial about the extent of the problem that we face and the need for urgent action to be taken on our part.
I listened to Clare intently as she outlined the likely impact on the world that we live in with each degree increase in temperature. Her contribution reminded me of a recent radio debate, because a similar debate is going on in the South on climate legislation. I cannot remember the name of the contributor to that debate, but he stated that sometimes the science is overly complicated and turns people off. He described the impact in lay terms, and compared the growth in the Earth's core temperature to that of rising body temperature in humans. Internal body temperature is normally, as we know, 37°C. He said that, if it rises by one or two degrees, you have a fever. With the rise of another degree, you are in hospital. If there are any further rises in temperature without reduction, you die. He went on to say that we have not seen the changes in temperature that we are currently seeing in millennia, since the last ice age. In fact, the six hottest years ever recorded were between 2015 and 2020, yet we are the only part of these islands not to have climate legislation. What message does that send?
Through the Bill, I want to be part of shaping legislation that shows our citizens that we in the Chamber are prepared, not only to join with others across the globe and show leadership but to set a direction of travel that will build a better, just and economically and environmentally vibrant economy for the citizens of the North whom we represent.
Climate impacts are not happening only in far-off places. We have all witnessed the growing number of freak weather patterns in the North. The Chair of the Agriculture Committee described the incident in the Glenelly valley. My colleague on the AERA Committee Patsy McGlone described floods in Curran and Magherafelt. Having grown up in south Derry, I know those places well. Whilst he was speaking, I googled the exact date and year of the freak snow and ice conditions that wiped out more than 10,000 animals and damaged farm properties in the Glens of Antrim. On a growing and more regular basis, all of us, as elected representatives, are dealing with issues associated with the rise in global temperatures.
I want to see the North move to enjoy fossil-free energy supplies. I want to see our businesses thrive and prosper as part of a green new deal. I want to see our transport system transformed through government strategies that support a comprehensive public transport system and which put active travel at the top of their agenda. I want to see our farmers and rural communities rewarded for good environmental practices and the protection of the land and the environment. I want to see people who live in big towns and cities living free from the dangers of air pollution. I want to see all of that come about through a just transition that helps to lift the most vulnerable in society.
Some people listening to this will be rolling their eyes and thinking, "That is lovely rhetoric, but we have heard it all before and for years". They would be right to think that. We cannot rhetoric the climate emergency away; it requires action. For us, as legislators in the North, the Climate Change Bill is that action. The Bill will commit the Executive to creating a climate action plan containing annual targets on various emissions and environmental quality standards and measures on how those targets can be met, with the overriding ultimate goal of a net zero carbon, climate-resilient and environmentally sustainable economy by 2045. That is ambition.
I think that everybody in the House would agree with that, even those who do not believe in climate change. Would he agree with me that there are many options to get to net zero and that some will be more painful than others? Does he accept that forestation, the increased use of solar panels, and the re-wetting of peatlands would reduce the difficulties that some sectors will have? For instance, re-wetting 10,000 acres of peatland will have a lot less dramatic impact on agriculture than reducing herd sizes by 50%.
I thank the Member for his intervention. I found the debate strange in that I have agreed with some of the things that he said.
There will be quick wins. As stated by the proposer of the Bill, and by many of the other Members who spoke, the Bill is not prescriptive on the way forward. The real heavy lifting will come once the Bill becomes law and we start to engage in the action plans and set the targets in each sector. I agree that there will be easy and quick wins in the first years. We should explore all of those.
Steve Aiken is not here, but I listened to him describe his earlier days as a nuclear submarine —. I do not know what you call someone who drives a nuclear submarine. Is it a pilot? Is it a lead? He said that that did not exactly set him up as an eco-warrior. I am Sinn Féin's environment and climate change spokesperson, but I do not consider myself an eco-warrior either. I was recently labelled as a trendy, lefty eco-warrior during a discussion that I had with somebody about the importance of creating more cycling and active travel infrastructure. I am not sure whether it was meant as a joke, an insult or a compliment. Maybe it was just a reaction to the growth of my ginger beard.
Does the Member agree that there is nothing stopping us building a more extensive walking and cycling infrastructure and that it should happen now, regardless of any Bill for climate change?
Gabh mo leithscéal, a Cheann Comhairle. I thank the Member for his intervention. He is absolutely correct. Five kilometres of cycling-only infrastructure a year in the past five years is completely unacceptable. There is nothing to stop an increase in that.
I do not believe that the environment, dealing with climate change and protecting the earth for future generations should be the sole preserve of environmentalists or party environment spokespeople. The issue is far too important and wide reaching for that. Having said that, I commend all of the activists who, over decades, have kept the issue to the fore of the public and political agenda. In particular, I commend the young activists across the North who, in recent years, as has been said numerous times, took to the streets to highlight and campaign on the issue.
The majority of MLAs want to see climate legislation passed. That has been clearly demonstrated repeatedly. In the debate here in July, the majority of MLAs voted for the Minister to introduce climate change legislation within three months. That is the debate in which Members will remember the Minister, when describing the climate challenge that we face, saying:
"We should not use language such as 'emergency' or 'crisis'"— [Official Report (Hansard), 21 July 2020, p26, col 2].
He also said that the Bill could not be produced within three months. Thankfully, others disagreed. I pay tribute to those in Climate Change NI who listened to the debate and heard the positivity and desired will of the majority of MLAs and worked to produce the Bill that is before us. They all deserve immense credit.
However, as is the case with all legislation, it is vital that we get it right. Today is only the second stage in that process. Despite the fact that climate legislation will be transformative for all of society and every sector within it, lots of today's debate has been taken up by what it could mean for our agriculture sector. I totally understand that. I represent North Antrim, which is, primarily, a rural constituency, the local economy of which relies heavily on tourism and agriculture. Like most MLAs, I have family members, friends and neighbours who are farmers. Agriculture is a vital part of my constituency, and it is vital to the economy in the North. I see nothing in the Bill that will jeopardise that, but I know that if we do not tackle growing temperatures, the negative impacts of climate change will greatly damage agriculture in my constituency and beyond, over the years to come.
Key to the Bill is a just transition. Our farmers and food producers must be supported economically, as must other sectors, as we move to reduce emissions so that they can continue to produce high-quality food. As my party colleague and Chair of the AERA Committee, Declan McAleer, has stated, the agriculture sector also has a key role to play in shaping how we move forward. That must be done in partnership with farmers and our agri-food sector. If the Bill moves beyond Second Stage today, as I hope it will, I, as a member of the AERA Committee, look forward to hearing from the public and all sections and sectors of society as we gather evidence over the next few months.
As has been pointed out, the Bill is a framework Bill. If it becomes law, the climate action plans that emanate from it, and which will, in five-year time frames, detail the actions required to reduce greenhouse gases within the time frames, will be laid before the Assembly. They will not have effect unless they are approved by the Assembly. Prior to that, they will be subject to 16 weeks of public consultation. All of that is important.
Climate action is not, nor can it be, something that is done to society. For it to work, it must be something that is agreed and done in conjunction with society. Sinn Féin supports and wants to see a climate Bill that is ambitious, effective, fair, based on science and deliverable. How we move forward, the targets that we set and how we achieve them must be based on the best science available and in conjunction with international targets. The progression of the Bill beyond this stage will allow for that scrutiny and all of the hard work to begin.
I support the Bill at its Second Stage. I thank the sponsors of the Bill and the proposer, my constituency colleague Ms Clare Bailey, for bringing it forward. The Bill emerges from a cross-community, non-partisan initiative, and it reflects the real climate emergency ahead of us. It is not an issue on which we can do what the Assembly so often does, namely engage in endless delays or an internal process of lots of talk but no action. The Bill is already the product of well-defined expert input. If we cannot proceed based on a clear emergency and well-defined expert input, when can we proceed? <BR/>As others have mentioned, we are in the peculiar position of having two climate change Bills in development, with the other coming from the Department. This means that bringing forward this Bill has led to the Department also taking action, and that is good. We are supporting the passage of this Bill on the basis that a challenging climate change Act should exist in Northern Ireland, but we are also content to scrutinise all relevant options to achieve that. Whatever way we end up with a climate change Act, I hope that the legitimate concerns of the agri-food sector, represented by the Ulster Farmers’ Union, sectoral lobbyists and others will be taken into account.
In our 'Green New Deal' paper published recently, the Alliance Party put forward proposals for enabling and supporting a transition, including support for nature-friendly farming. Those proposals will complement this Bill, but it should also be emphasised that they are essential to the success of any such legislation. That is not to say that we should not set challenging targets. On the contrary, we should, but we should also emphasise that some sectors will need support to enable us to deliver on them.
It is also important to note that our intention is not to focus on the fear factor. Indeed, I argue that sometimes the fear factor plays too great a role in these debates and can end up turning people off. On the contrary, as my party established in its 'Green New Deal' policy paper last month, the challenge in tackling climate change can be hugely engaging and positive. It is not just about avoiding an emergency ahead but about creating opportunity. Nor is it just about the environment but about how we proceed with greater fairness in everything, from the provision of social care to the delivery of economic livelihoods. Those who engage in denial are not just denying the obvious impact of rapid climate change but denying social and economic opportunity to a much wider number of people.
Since those at the more sceptical end of this debate tend to come from the unionist Benches, I will also add that there is a significant UK success story here. The decline in carbon emissions is one thing at which the UK is genuinely and clearly world-beating. However, Northern Ireland has not contributed anything like its fair share towards that reduction in carbon emissions. Let us now ensure that Northern Ireland plays its full part in that success into the future, proofing policy to ensure that it is a leader in tackling climate change and grasping the opportunities which emerge from doing so.
All opportunities to make our economy more green are to be welcomed.
I am concerned that some of the targets in the Bill are being presented as restrictive when, in fact, they are means of developing opportunities. This is more relevant to Northern Ireland than anywhere else because of our ongoing reliance on the subvention and the need to create our own wealth to reduce that reliance. What better way than to become a world leader in sustainable development and sustainable economics? The costs that some referred to could be turned into a net benefit.
With regard to sustainable economics, does the Member have evidence to challenge what the Climate Change Committee is suggesting: that we would need to wipe out over 50% of our beef and dairy herds? Does she understand that agri-food employs 100,000 people and generates £5 billion for our economy? If we do not listen to what the Climate Change Committee is saying, we will put ourselves in a position where tens of thousands of people who work in the agri-food sector will be out of jobs. Can she give some evidence to challenge the Climate Change Committee about where these economics are coming from to sustain what she has just said?
The Minister will know that I do not sit on the AERA Committee, I sit on the Health Committee. Our spokesperson sits on that Committee, and they will engage fully in the scrutiny process as people bring forward the information. I mentioned that we are open to engaging. I know that John Blair met the Ulster Farmers' Union and other organisations to look at the issues that they are bringing forward in order to see how they could be mitigated.
I will make a broader comment. There must be no question of meekly returning to the status quo when the pandemic is over. We must grasp the opportunity to reset some of our policies and even assumptions that have proven to be so outdated.
Tackling climate change is not just about the environment, as I said. It is about creating a genuine, fair society with opportunities for all. We want Northern Ireland to be a world leader in green opportunities and innovation in environmentally friendly areas as far-reaching as fintech, where we are already world-leading; renewable technologies and green aerospace, where we have much to build on; and emerging areas in hydrogen deployment and smart materials.
Yet again, we find that Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK without legislation in a crucial area. Over a decade since it was put in place elsewhere, we are lagging behind politically on yet another issue. The attitude that we will not be bounced into legislative action is one that condemns us all to lag behind. Is that what we want for Northern Ireland?
It is time to lead, it is time to legislate and it is time to grasp the opportunities of a green new deal that is supported by the Bill.
I support the Climate Change Bill in all its parts.
No one can overstate or overestimate the magnitude of the climate problems that we collectively face. Decarbonising our economy requires action right across most of our lives and will impact on every industry, including power, agriculture and travel, to name but a few.
Amid the vast number of issues impacted by climate change, I want to look at one to illustrate the importance of the task at hand. I want to discuss one of the biggest challenges of all, and that is heating our homes. According to the Department for the Economy's draft energy strategy, we need to retrofit 50,000 homes a year in Northern Ireland in order to make them energy efficient so that we can meet our net zero obligations by 2050.
Unfortunately, the strategy says very little about how to do that, and the Finance Minister's Budget says even less. Retrofitting homes to make them energy efficient is a massive challenge. Many of our homes leak heat. Many do not have cavity wall insulation and much of the existing cavity wall insulation is old and needs replacing. Windows need replacing, insulation needs to be installed, dry lining needs to go on walls and, of course, the heating systems need to be replaced, ending a reliance on the fossil fuels of oil and gas. That is an expensive set of improvements. On average, it is likely to cost in and around £20,000 per home. In some homes, it will cost up to £50,000, yet some of the homes in my constituency of Derry have a market value of £80,000 or less. Those figures should give us all a little bit of food for thought.
Then we have the vast number of privately owned rented homes. Some of them are in much worse condition. Yet there is precious little sign that Departments, their officials and, sadly, the Ministers have got to grips with the scale of the challenge. So, I congratulate the Irish Government, which are expected to announce plans very shortly under which homeowners will have access to state-backed loans in order to make properties energy efficient.
In place of a realistic solution, our Department for the Economy seems to have adopted a policy of hope and delay. The draft energy strategy includes many optimistic references to the use of green hydrogen to heat our homes. Not everyone listening to the debate will know the difference between green and blue hydrogen. I admit, hands up, that I was one of those people not so very long ago, so let me explain.
Green hydrogen is produced from renewable electricity, but the process is not energy-efficient, because much of the energy value is lost in the process of converting electricity to hydrogen. It is clean, however. On the other hand, blue hydrogen uses electricity from fossil fuels, which is neither energy-efficient nor clean, unless the carbon that is emitted is captured and stored, but the Department for the Economy says that our landscape is not suited to carbon capture and storage.
Theoretically, hydrogen could replace natural gas in homes that are connected to the gas network. That option is currently favoured by gas companies. Remember that there have been numerous complaints, including in the University of Exeter report, that the gas industry has been too influential in making energy policy in Northern Ireland. At present, the use of hydrogen on this scale is largely theoretical, without evidence that it can work on the scale required. Nor do we have the scale of renewable electricity that is necessary to dedicate much of it to the production of green hydrogen to replace natural gas.
Britain is looking to replace its natural gas, but Northern Ireland continues to invest heavily in the gas network, with £66 million of financial support coming from the Government in recent years to expand the network in Northern Ireland. Although natural gas emits less carbon than oil — I will give it that — it remains a serious carbon emitter, and it is a fossil fuel. That is why England is seeking to make significant progress in moving away from the use of natural gas over the next four years. Despite that, the Northern Ireland Minister for the Economy seems to be giving serious consideration to new gas exploration and extraction in Fermanagh, and the Utility Regulator still has a statutory duty to promote gas as an energy source while not having a duty to promote energy efficiency. Frankly, all of that is quite unbelievable.
I will certainly support the Bill today, but the Bill and our vote mean nothing unless our Ministers act much faster than they have until now. That means that the Minister for Communities must ensure that the Housing Executive and housing associations have realistic and achievable plans for retrofitting our social housing stock. Her Department's programmes should stop financing the replacement of oil boilers with gas boilers. The same is true of the Economy Minister. To cut not only carbon emissions but fuel poverty, the focus must be on energy efficiency. The Economy Minister must, with the backing of the whole of the Executive, come forward with proposals to retrofit homes across all tenures, as well as proposals for financing that retrofitting. Those conversions will need to use technologies that work, such as heat pumps, district heating schemes, solar panels and the electrification of heating systems backed by energy efficiency improvements.
Tackling the climate crisis is one of the most difficult tasks that faces our Administration, but none is more urgent or important.
I thank the Member for giving way. She might have moved on from the Ministers, which is why I asked her to do so. I have corresponded with the Minister for Infrastructure — indeed, I have spoken to her on at least two occasions separately from that — about trying to press ahead with getting more charging points for electric cars. Of course, electric cars are much more widely available now, and 45% of our electricity is produced from renewable sources. Utilising that energy for electric cars would be a superb thing to do. Can the Member indicate whether she includes the Infrastructure Minister and whether she will press her to accelerate the availability of charging points throughout Northern Ireland, thereby encouraging investment in electric vehicles by the general public?
Thank you for your intervention, Minister. This is a cross-departmental crisis. Every single Minister has a duty to implement changes that will help to decarbonise our economy. I, too, have concerns about charging points, and I have spoken and written to the Minister for Infrastructure about that. It is a cross-departmental issue.
I thank the Member for giving way. Maybe the Minister was not here when I mentioned it, but I proposed earlier that the just transition group should be cross-departmental and, in fact, should address issues such as transport, energy, the economy and social consequences, including infrastructure. I know that he has talked to the Minister about that issue.
First, I declare that I own 25 acres of agricultural land that I let out, and I also provide voluntary assistance to my parents on their farm.
From the outset, I indicate my support for Northern Ireland playing its part in enabling the United Kingdom to reach net zero carbon and achieve zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. I recognise that that will be painful for many sectors, and there will be challenges in getting there. The EU also aims to be climate-neutral by 2050 and appears to be moving towards legislation. Most farmers to whom I talk recognise that our climate is changing, and many recognise that action is required. Recently, I picked up a comment from one farmer, who basically said that the tap is either fully on or fully off. That reflects what we have been experiencing, and that causes difficulty for us all.
I say that to acknowledge the fact that we have a climate emergency and to indicate my support for the Northern Ireland Assembly legislating to play our part within the United Kingdom, just as the devolved Governments in Scotland and Wales have done. They have already legislated to provide protection. Scotland has had a Climate Change Act since 2009 and recently updated its targets to include a 75% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and 90% by 2040. Scotland is well ahead of us. In 2016, Wales legislated to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and, in February this year, after almost five years of planning and actions, Wales updated its targets, worked out how to do it and is now aiming to achieve net zero by 2050.
I have to ask: why has Northern Ireland not legislated yet? I ask that to the First Minister and deputy First Minister and, indeed, the Minister of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, who made commitments in NDNA that the Executive would bring forward a climate change Act to give environmental targets a strong legal underpinning. Minister, why has there been such a delay? There has been talk of legislation. When will it be presented to the Executive, and when will the official Bill be published?
I accept the Speaker's comments.
I commend the Member for South Belfast for her private Member's Bill to the degree that it has forced this issue onto the table once more and has provided the increased visibility that the Executive have not delivered as they should have. This Bill sets out ambitious targets over a compressed time frame that are way beyond the UK Climate Change Committee targets.
I believe that that was a Westminster manifesto. It certainly risks delivering an overly painful shock to our economy and to jobs rather than enabling efficient changes and mitigating the effects of any change.
Clause 2 would force the Executive to bring a plan for net zero. Why does it not simply state that we will follow UK Climate Change Committee recommendations to ensure that Northern Ireland contributes its fair share of greenhouse gas reductions? It indicates a legislative commitment to reach net zero carbon by 2045. We are at least five years behind Wales in legislating, and the Bill proposes that we will miraculously leapfrog other regions in a compressed time frame. I have to ask this: how is that to be achieved without pain?
I urge all Members to read carefully and study the UK Climate Change Committee's letter to DAERA, dated 1 April 2021. It is a serious letter with an unfortunate date, but it was not an April Fool. It is a key letter, of which everyone should be aware, that was in reply to a DAERA official's request in February. In it, the Climate Change Committee states:
"In December 2050 [sic], we recommended that any climate change legislation for Northern Ireland include a target to reduce all greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by at least 82% by 2050 as part of a fair contribution to the UK Net Zero target in 2050 and our international obligations under the Paris Agreement. This remains our clear recommendation."
Again, I point out to everyone that there will be pain and cost as a result of legislation. We need to legislate to protect the environment but in a fair and proportionate manner so that our region contributes to the UK's meeting its climate change targets by 2050.
The UK Government are well advanced in their targets to meet the Paris agreement climate change commitments. Some regions are to be net sinks, while others are to be net sources, but the UK as a whole will meet the climate change target set in the Paris Accord. We have to play our part.
This Bill will affect much more than just the agriculture industry. Each region of the UK is different, and all aspects must be taken into consideration. Take electricity generation. In the UK, there are numerous nuclear power stations. I understand that there is, at present, 8 GW of generating capacity in Scotland, Wales and England. There is none in Northern Ireland, however. The other regions of the UK are able to generate electricity without contributing to CO2 emissions. Somehow, we have to generate electricity without that. I acknowledge that we have the interconnector with Scotland, and, undoubtedly, some nuclear energy will flow along it. In addition, the UK has significant hydroelectric power installed, with a capacity of 4·7 GW. That includes 2·8 GW of pump storage. Again, where is there significant hydroelectricity in Northern Ireland? The reason that those two forms of electricity generation are particularly important is that they can continue to flow when there is no wind. That issue must be catered for.
Going forward, Kilroot is destined to close, so we will be entirely reliant on gas, which admittedly has lower CO2 outputs than Kilroot's coal. Nevertheless, there will be a more significant proportion of CO2 outputs in Northern Ireland. In addition, in other parts of the United Kingdom, there are an extensive number of offshore wind turbines — I think of the North Sea and Morecambe Bay — and to a degree, when wind does not blow in one area, it may blow in another. We do not have that either, which again may lead to additional energy being produced from gas.
Mention was made earlier of hydrogen production. How will the electricity be generated to generate the hydrogen? That is a significant problem that has not been addressed here. GB has greater options for assisting with generation when there is no wind.
No allowance had been made in our local targets for the fact that that may, in turn, affect the price of electricity for individuals and businesses because additional standby generations may be required and carbon mitigation may need to be purchased to compensate for any such generation.
Others have indicated that the Bill impacts greatly on agriculture and the agri-food sector. Food production in Northern Ireland has a greater greenhouse gas footprint than in the rest of the UK. Northern Ireland agriculture is responsible for 27% of our greenhouse gas emissions; in the rest of the UK, the figure is only 10%. The UK Climate Change Committee recognised that Northern Ireland's food production for the rest of the UK generates greenhouse gas emissions here. Northern Ireland food production helps to feed the rest of the UK, and the Climate Change Committee has recognised that in assessing a fair limit and target for each area. That is a major factor in why it has not sought 100% greenhouse gas reduction by 2050, never mind by 2045. The Climate Change Committee stated:
"Our analysis shows that Northern Ireland’s position as a strong agri-food exporter to the rest of the UK, combined with more limited capabilities to use 'engineered' greenhouse gas removal technologies, means that it is likely to remain a small net source of greenhouse gas emissions – almost entirely from agriculture – in any scenario where the UK reaches Net Zero in 2050. It is fair that those residual emissions should be offset by actions in the rest of the UK. At this time, our assessment is that a Net Zero target covering all GHGs cannot credibly be set for Northern Ireland. Targets should be ambitious, but must be evidence-based and deliverable with a fair and equitable route map to achieving them."
How does the Bill recognise that comment by the UK's Climate Change Committee? How does it take on board that committee's views? I have not heard or seen that.
The committee also highlights that there is a difference in land use and, in particular, that:
"The livestock sector results in a higher proportion of grassland in Northern Ireland and lower proportion of cropland. Forest coverage is also lower than the rest of the UK at around 8% (including small woodland area), and significant emissions from peatlands mean that land use is currently a much larger net source of emissions in Northern Ireland compared to the rest of the UK."
Northern Ireland is starting at a different level and on a different plane and:
"must plant trees and restore peatland to build a net land use sink over time".
I am glad that the Member has given way because the Minister is in the Chamber. Would he accept my point that any tree planting that has a high proportion of Sitka — a foreign exotic species — does nothing for biodiversity or climate change and, therefore, that the vast proportion of planting must be of deciduous trees native to Northern Ireland?
The Member has introduced an interesting point. I hope that the Minister will respond to it.
The final comment from the UK Climate Change Committee in this section is that the starting point of our land use:
"means that the total size of the net sink will be smaller in Northern Ireland than in other parts of the UK by 2050."
I think, in particular, of the Minister's recent announcement of 50 hectares of new forest in north Antrim. There was huge cost involved in establishing that. There is cost involved in moving forward. Farmers generally do not have the money up front to convert from agricultural land to forestry. It is hugely expensive, and there is a long wait for that crop to be harvested. Most farmers could not wait for that. There is a cost involved in the change, and we are starting at a different point.
The UK Climate Change Committee has assessed our infrastructure in setting local targets. It highlights the fact that the natural gas network in Northern Ireland is less developed. It talks about our electricity network, existing housing stock, clusters of heavy industry and airport infrastructure. It goes on to comment on our potential to store CO2. As I indicated, part of the plan for parts of the rest of the UK is to use carbon capture to get to the zero figure. The Climate Change Committee says:
"Northern Ireland is less likely to have a major UK CCS cluster by 2050, and therefore does not appear to be the most ideal place to locate greenhouse gas removal technologies."
In that can be seen the complexity of the range of issues that we face. It is not a matter of picking a figure that we have to reach; it is complicated.
Carbon capture is planned to play a role in enabling the UK to reach its Paris climate agreement obligations to protect the planet, but our regional figure will not benefit from capture elsewhere. A different allowance was set for Northern Ireland. That has been a contributory factor in the recommendation of the 82% by 2050 target.
The 2045 zero greenhouse gas target is causing huge concern in the rural community. Friends and neighbours have contacted me because they are concerned not only for their current enterprises but for future generations. What money will there be to mitigate all this? Our budgets are already stretched. I suspect that promises of mitigation will be difficult to deliver.
Why do we not legislate for the targets agreed by the UK Climate Change Committee to enable the UK to meet, at least, the Paris Accord 2050 obligations of net zero greenhouse gas emissions? If individual plans demonstrate that we can better them, we can increase our targets as Scotland and Wales have done. Why have we not learned from them? Is that not a route that we should go down?
One of the most concerning statements in the letter is this:
"The context of a Net Zero 2050 target for the whole of the UK is also important. Rather than leading to additional overall reduction in UK GHG emissions," — wait for it —
"there is a risk that a Net Zero target for Northern Ireland in the same year or earlier could simply shift a greater share of the UK-wide costs of reaching Net Zero to Northern Ireland."
The UK is committed to reaching net zero by 2050. If we decide to move ahead of that, as we are at liberty to do, and pick up the cost and the pain, what may happen? The UK may simply reduce the amount of carbon capture that they are planning for other parts of the United Kingdom. We can inflict as much pain as we wish on our agriculture sector and our other industry, affecting jobs, employment and our economy.
I thank the Member for giving way. One of the issues of most concern to me — it should be shared by the Assembly — is that, if we go down this route and decide that we do not need beef production and dairy production, we will have to get those products elsewhere. I believe that the Member indicated in Committee that we could get them from western Europe and New Zealand, but maybe the Member has not checked her facts and acknowledged that western European production of beef and dairy products has a higher carbon footprint per kilogram than we have in the United Kingdom. Instead of reducing carbon emissions, the Bill, perversely, is potentially raising them by simply diverting the problem, exporting the problem elsewhere and saying, "Haven't we done well, guv?".
I thank the Member.
Minister, at that session of the Committee, when I was asked that question, I was questioning where we could pick up the slack in relation to dairy production and using the New Zealand model. I was not talking about importing from New Zealand; I was saying that it has its own climate Bill and its own measures, and, therefore, to increase its production it would be measured against its existing climate legislation, which is something that we do not have.
I thank the Member for her contribution.
There is another interesting quote in the letter from the Climate Change Committee. The letter must be studied by everyone. It is critical to the future agri-food industry in Northern Ireland and the wider economy. It cannot be taken lightly. I stumbled upon it. How many of you have read it? I ask that everyone ensures that they read it, or what they are wishing to achieve may not be achieved. The letter also says:
"A larger reduction in output from Northern Ireland's livestock sector compared to the rest of the UK. Even our most stretching Tailwinds scenario — which entails a 50% fall in meat and dairy production in Northern Ireland by 2050 and significantly greater levels of tree planting on the land released" — wait for it —
"is not enough to get Northern Ireland to Net Zero emissions in 2050."
That is what the UK experts in this field have stated. I am aghast that I have not heard this referred to in the debate so far. It is critical stuff. Another comment is made that reflects what was said earlier by the Minister. There is a risk that:
"Without a corresponding reduction in consumption of such produce, this would simply shift emissions overseas."
We can stop producing food here; we can stop encouraging farmers and our agri-food industry; we can lower our carbon footprint; and, at that point, consumers in the UK will take food from elsewhere —.
I am somewhat confused. My understanding was that the Member's party had signed up be enthusiastic supporters of the Climate Change Bill. Yet, unless I read him wrong — this is a little bit of the kettle calling the pot black — I suspect he is taking almost a solo run here and seems to be picking the Bill apart line by line. He is perfectly entitled to do that, if that is his view, but is he in line with his party's view on the issue?
I ask the Member to be patient.
There is a real risk of offshoring food production. Will that include other industries? I referred to electricity: if electricity costs go exceedingly high, there is a risk there.
Further, if we move in advance of HMG — this is another important aspect, and I have thought about it — there may not be appropriate carbon tax in place to protect Northern Ireland producers and businesses from competitors overseas. That is a real thing. We can add costs to our local producers and businesses, but will there be protection? I suspect that, at some point, there may be carbon taxes coming in to give a degree of protection and stop unfair competition from the rest of the world, but, if we move ahead of the rest of the United Kingdom, we may not have such protection.
There is a risk that food being sourced from elsewhere in the world could add pain to the local agriculture sector. Will that result in food that has a greater carbon footprint, is perhaps of an even lower quality and has even been produced with lower animal welfare standards compared with our local products? That is the complexity of what we are doing. All those factors must be considered. It is not enough to pick a date and say that we will sort it out by then. This is extremely complex. Some people think that I think too much about things, but I try to get an understanding of where we are and come to a reasonable conclusion.
The Climate Change Committee indicates that going too slowly could lead to unnecessary costs in the future — I agree — and to Northern Ireland missing out on the benefits of the climate investment that takes place elsewhere in the UK. However, going too fast and, in particular, aiming to decarbonise significantly faster than the rest of the UK also poses several risks. Setting emissions reduction targets that are too ambitious to be delivered can undermine their credibility. Going beyond the natural rate of stock turnover and making equipment redundant earlier in its lifetime might lead to the premature scrappage of assets such as vehicles and boilers. That may be costly, it risks undermining popular support for transition and would cause increased embedded emissions. If we scrap equipment early and before the end of its normal lifespan, guess what? We are adding to emissions and costs.
For all those reasons, I cannot support the Bill. In summary, I want a climate change Act for Northern Ireland that is proportionate and fair. Having listened to the contributions so far, I remain concerned that the proposals that are being made are in danger of placing unrealistic requirements on people. I call for common sense. As part of the UK, we must do our bit to protect the planet. I support the 82% reduction in emissions by 2050. I have no doubt that that will be very challenging and painful. It is not a pain-free option, but I recognise that, in playing our part to effect climate change, we must do it. That is why I support playing our part in the United Kingdom.
The UK has targets for carbon capture, and we cannot be part of that. Lots of complex issues are involved here. I urge Members not to be attracted by a simple figure or headline. We need to understand all the knock-on effects. As I said, for that reason, having assessed all the information and looked carefully at the Bill and the Climate Change Committee's detailed letter of, I think, 18 pages, I cannot support the Bill.
The easiest thing in politics is to follow the crowd. I do not intend to follow the crowd on the Bill, and I am glad that Mr Beggs does not either, nor, might I add, do I intend to follow the crowd of unionist leaders who are abandoning the leadership of their parties.
However, when you come to this subject, you find that the communal pressure that builds towards supporting a Bill such as this draws so heavily on hysteria and whipping up fears that there comes a point when it loses its traction with credibility. Some of the cheerleaders for the proposition that there will be the Apocalypse if we do not pass the Bill would take us down that road. Of course, I remind the House that some of the past cheerleaders of the same lobby told us that, by today, we would all be dead and gone because of the horrible things that would happen.
Al Gore. Remember him? Back in 2006, he told us that the world had 10 years to avert a true planetary emergency. In 2009, he reckoned that there was a 75% chance that the North Pole would be ice-free in five to seven years. In 1989, a UN official said:
"entire nations could be wiped off the face of the Earth by rising sea levels if the global warming trend is not reversed by the year 2000."
In an earlier intervention, I quoted the executive director of the UN environmental programme, who, 39 years ago, said that there would be by the turn of the century:
"an environmental catastrophe which will witness devastation as complete, as irreversible, as any nuclear holocaust."
The same genre of people today tell us that the Apocalypse is upon us.
I acknowledge that there is climate change. There always has been climate change. Over the millennia, our climate has changed time and time again. It is changing now, but, frankly, I will take a lot of convincing that it is all because of belching cows or industry or anything of that nature. Yet, on the back of that, we are told that we must do this and that, if we do not, we are doomed.
What is it that we are being asked to do? Very often, when a Bill is published, the first thing that I reach for is the explanatory and financial memorandum (EFM), to see what it is all about. Yes, I will read the Bill, but I want to see what its proponents are saying. This explanatory and financial memorandum is the most audacious but vacuous document that I have read in a long time. It is audacious in the sense that it tells us that Climate Coalition Northern Ireland represents over 390,000 people. This afternoon, the Chair of the Agriculture Committee had the number at over 400,000. Interestingly, if you go to the website of the Climate Coalition and look up its membership, you will find that 26 individuals belong to it, along with all sorts of corporate bodies and institutions. How the coalition gets to 390,000 — that creative and fictional figure — is just not explained. If you go to its website — I will do it live — and click on the button to support its petition in favour of the Bill, you will discover that 1,559 people have signed the petition that the mass-followed coalition has produced — 1,559. This morning, it was 1,558. We need to be more careful with some of the propaganda that is being ushered out on the matter.
When reading the section of the explanatory and financial memorandum that deals with the Bill's background, I asked myself, "What will it say about the Climate Change Committee's report?". The explanatory and financial memorandum was published on 22 March. By then, the first letter from the Climate Change Committee to the Minister, which was written in December, had been on the CCC's website for three months. The background does not even mention it. There is not a single reference in this EFM to the Climate Change Committee and the letter that it wrote. Mr Beggs has dealt very fully with it. That means that I need not deal as fully with it, but it is a very illuminating document. It tells us that:
"Achieving net-zero GHG emissions for the whole of the UK by 2050 does not necessitate that every sector or area of the UK reaches absolute zero emissions by that date. Some parts of the UK will be ‘net sources’ of greenhouse gases by 2050 with emissions offset in other parts of the UK that are ‘net sinks’."
It records how much we are relied on in the UK as a food producer and that we are a net exporter with nearly 50% of all agri-food products going from Northern Ireland to GB, and, therefore, it is right that we should have the benefit of the sinks that are elsewhere.
The letter goes on to be very clear, as Mr Beggs expounded, that a consequence of forcing net zero on Northern Ireland is:
"A substantial reduction in output from Northern Ireland's livestock farming".
That is why it says that, by 2050, for Northern Ireland, to get the whole UK to where it needs to be, 82% is sufficient, but it is not sufficient for those who drive the Bill. They want us to go ahead of everyone else and, by 2045, have a 100% reduction, and all that with no regard to what it would do to our primary industry in Northern Ireland. The proposer of the motion managed to make a speech, and, unless I missed it, did not once mention agriculture, yet agriculture is the very foundation of our economy.
Someone said in the debate that the Bill does not set targets for agriculture. I am sorry, but agri-food is identified in clause 3(6)(i) and clause 3(7)(h) on sectoral plans. Sectoral plans inevitably will include targets, so the Bill anticipates setting sectoral plans with targets for our agri-food industry.
We have all had many lobby letters on this subject — rightly so — but probably the one that encapsulated for me the threat came from the Northern Ireland Grain Trade Association. Let me read a couple of paragraphs from it because I have not heard them countered in this debate:
"The private Member's Bill proposed by the Green Party will be devastating to the agri-food sector. It will reduce the value of the livestock sector by more than 50% — taking around £1 billion per annum out of the rural economy, leading to rural depopulation and a major loss of export earnings. There will be a loss of up to 50,000 jobs in the processing and supply industries which will devastate the NI economy ... The private Member's Bill currently proposed is ill-considered and irresponsible. It ignores the UK Climate Change Committee's advice which recognises the much greater importance of agriculture in Northern Ireland and that much of the food produced here is consumed in Great Britain. It also flies in the face of the excellent work carried out by our expert scientists and researchers in DAERA and AFBI and the reality is that the measures will contribute nothing to the global environment or to the challenge of feeding a growing population. The inevitable outcome of this policy is that the UK requirement for meat and dairy will simply be imported from regions where emissions are higher, and animal health and welfare standards are much lower than in Northern Ireland."
That sounds pretty irrefutable. I have heard no one in the debate refute it: no one.
People have spoken out of both sides of their mouth in the debate. They have said, "Oh, we're going to look after the farming sector. We're going to consult. We're going to make sure that these things don't happen". It is clear what will happen if the Bill is enacted. You cannot proclaim, for the sake of your constituency, that you will protect your farming community if you troop through a Lobby tonight to vote for something that will devastate your farming community. That is the reality that we face in the debate.
I remind the House of a point that I made in an intervention: the targets set cannot be reduced. We are told, "Oh, things can be reviewed" and, "We can look at things as we go along". There are some things that you cannot look at. Clause 11(2) is clear:
"the Executive Office must not propose any alteration which has the effect, whether directly or indirectly, of lowering any target under section 3(2) ... from the level approved by the Assembly under section 2(3) ... when the corresponding climate action plan was so approved."
There is no second chance under the Bill to rescue a sector that you will so wantonly devastate. You cannot reduce the targets.
Another point that I want to talk about is the powers that the Bill creates. Clauses 5 and 6 and the relevant appendix create a Northern Ireland climate office and a Northern Ireland climate commissioner, and staff will be appointed by the commissioner. There is no limit on the number of staff whom the commissioner can appoint; indeed, there is no refusal of the House to approve the expenditure, because it is to be done under the Assembly Commission and the Assembly Commission's budget is not alterable by the House. It is not something with which the House can tinker. Once it gets through the Audit Committee, it follows inevitably. By putting it under the Assembly Commission, the House is signing a blank cheque for the cost of the Northern Ireland climate office and the commissioner. The Bill tells us that salaries can be paid as high as the highest salary in the Civil Service. What is that? About £170,000 or £180,000? We truly are signing a blank cheque with the Bill. Once we give the function to the commissioner to appoint his or her staff, the Assembly Commission must do it. It becomes part of the Assembly Commission's budget and is beyond our reach. A blank cheque is what the House is being asked to sign in respect of the Bill.
Of course, under clause 6, the commissioner can acquire property. I invited the sponsor to tell us what it meant, but she did not oblige. I will read clause 6(8) again:
"The Climate Commissioner may do anything (including acquire or dispose of property or rights) which is calculated to facilitate, or is conducive or incidental to, the discharge of the functions of the Climate Commissioner."
I asked, "What does it mean that the climate commissioner can do anything, including disposing of rights?".
The Member is, perhaps, one of the most experienced parliamentarians in the Building. He knows what will happen, because it is what happened to his two private Member's Bills. The Bill will go to the Committee, which will be diligent in teasing out all his concerns. No doubt, when it comes back from the Committee, there will be significant changes to what we have before us at the moment. I also suspect that he, using his expertise, will table amendments at Consideration Stage if he is not happy. He has concerns, and those will be dealt with at that stage. The Bill will come back, and he will have ample opportunity to scrutinise and amend it accordingly. He certainly has the ability to do that.
Well, of course, the much better option is not to let it get to Committee. It is so flawed and its potential so disastrous that it would be far better for the House to take courage and refuse it.
The honourable Member for North Antrim needs to come clean. Does he believe that man has any role in the climate change disaster that we face? If he does not believe that and believes that it is just a natural occurrence, he is right: there should be no Bill, because there is no crisis. Is that where he stands?
I have made it plain: I accept that we should all want to leave the planet in better shape than we found it, but I will not be swept along by the hysteria that climate change has never happened before and is happening now only because we have too many animals or too many factories or too many cars. Climate change happened long before we had cars or anything else. Climate change happens, and the profligate use of resources, I have no doubt, can add somewhat to it. However, it is not the primary cause. Natural cycles of climate change happen. That does not take away from us our obligation to do what is right but not to do what is foolish.
I do not think that I have denied that. However, I am saying that the answer is not to take 50% of our animals and slaughter them or to take 50% of our production and export it to the depleting rainforests of Brazil and then sit back smugly and say, "Didn't we do well?". That is the ethos of the Bill. People, much as Mr Wells might not like it, will continue to buy meat. Do they buy the meat produced in north Antrim or the meat produced on land that has been stripped in the Amazon basin? That is an issue that politicians in the Western world have to consider. Therefore, I say to the House that the Bill is, as the Northern Ireland Grain Trade Association, I think, described it, ill considered.
I am seeking to illustrate that, in some of its powers, it is extreme. It is full of staff. There is no limit on staff and no ability to control the expenditure. What of the Northern Ireland block grant? Where do you think that money is coming from? It is coming out of the block grant. Of course, the Bill also includes the right to pay incentives. On the powers of the commissioner, clause 10 gives sweeping powers to the commissioner to compel the delivery of information. That is a largely unaccountable person being endowed with those huge capacities.
I come back to this point about clause 6(8) that I was distracted from: what are the rights that a commissioner thinks they can dispose of? Here we are in the House, saying that we will all sit back and be perfectly content that a commissioner whom we cannot remove from office unless there is a two-thirds majority and who can be appointed in perpetuity every five years, which conflicts poorly with international standards, will be given powers to "dispose of property or rights" in a sector that is dominated by the private sector. Are we serious? Maybe, before the debate ends, somebody will tell me what clause 6(8) means and, if I am wrong, put me right.
On the question of cost, what a farce. When you go to the explanatory and financial memorandum to get an insight into what the policy in the Bill will cost, you are told this:
"It has not been possible to precisely cost either of the above implications", those being the costs and the actions taken under the action plans. You are being asked again to sign a blank cheque. The cost of the office has no cap, and the commissioner can be as highly paid as anyone in the Civil Service. They can acquire property: clause 6(7). They can issue financial incentives: clause 3(7). I remind the House that, no matter how punitive and unworkable all this ultimately turns out to be, you cannot, because of clause 11(2), reduce the targets.
I say to the House, although it will not heed me — most Members, I dare to say, not having read the Bill and not having read the Climate Change Committee's letter, will still troop through the Lobby to set on its way legislation that will devastate much of our basic industry and write a blank cheque — that that is not the right way go.
The Polish socialist Rosa Luxemburg said over 100 years ago that we are faced with a choice of overhauling the system in favour of socialism or facing the descent into barbarism. Those words have been repeated countless times since, but I think that it would be hard to imagine a scenario about which that phrase could more aptly be applied than to the climate crisis facing our planet today. The crisis that we face ultimately has its roots in capitalism: in pillaging, burning and aggressively extracting from our earth at a ceaseless rate to feed an ever-growing profit drive, regardless of the consequences for the environment. Those who bear the most responsibility sit at the top of society, raking in said profits while shaping a narrative that all individuals share the responsibility for a crisis of their making. The failure of Governments or, more realistically, the complicity of Governments around the world has fuelled rising temperatures, uncontrollable gas emissions and the resulting weather catastrophes that harm the most vulnerable.
That is the context under which this Bill was written, and, in that context, I think that it is important. Unlike Mr Beggs, I do not think that it goes far enough, to be frank. I agreed to co-sign and support the Bill because it is a start, locally, to challenging climate change, and I remain utterly unconvinced that Ministers in the Executive would take even these introductory measures if left to their own devices. We must see the rise in emissions, the use of fossil fuels and plastic, and environmentally damaging practices as being directly connected to the rise of capitalism, particularly the neoliberal version of the past 40 to 50 years. Environmental breakdown and inequality are essential to both. I know that that may sound like sacrilege to some in this House, but, unless we point this out, many of the aims of the Bill and our ability to effectively challenge the climate crisis in society at large will likely be unachievable.
I welcome the role of a climate commissioner in this Bill. An independent scrutineer of our environmental efforts will be vital to hold us to the aim of targeting the big polluters and reducing emissions. People today can be jailed for non-payment of TV licence fees but major corporate polluters — people who are serial emitters and destroyers of our natural environment who ignore and breach environmental regulations — are likely to be given licences, grants and, in many cases, even protection from the police when challenged. This must change, and the climate commissioner must be allowed to work without political or business interference.
I also welcome the focus in this Bill on a just transition. We know beyond doubt that the climate crisis hurts those at the bottom of society the most, and, through intervention, the most vulnerable must be assisted as we move towards a more eco-orientated society. I think that, in order to stick to the principles of a just transition, there are a number of priorities that we must adopt, whether through the process of this Bill or future Bills, and these are issues that movements around the world are calling for.
The first is the democratisation of planning and the economy. That would allow us to put the needs of communities and the environment first when making key decisions about resources. It should not be limited to housebuilding, although that is clearly important. We need to talk about democratising the planning and the funding of food and transport as well. Take food: we have supermarkets planning how to fill their stores, what food production lines they use and what quality to bulk buy, all on the basis of maximising profit. The system is intrinsically linked to the production of food on the basis of profit rather than need, and this generates waste, destroys the natural earth and often produces huge amounts of emissions, particularly methane. To tackle this, we need to see farmers enabled to produce more sustainably and financially supported to do so. Small farmers in particular do not benefit from the current system, as many have maybe ducked the question. As Mike Davis has noted, the problem occurs:
"because the world market misallocates crop production (beef over grain) and fails to deliver basic income to small producers and farmworkers."
Through a just transition to sustainable production, we can see that change.
Unfortunately, big producers and even some Members in this House would rather see us separate out the issue of agriculture and methane production. That is thoroughly unambitious and undermining. We need to look at the figures: 25% of human greenhouse emissions come from agriculture, food production and deforestation, and this kind of agriculture capitalism is, ultimately, failing workers as well as the planet. The UN has stated that feeding a world population of 9·1 billion people will require the raising of food production by around 70% from 2005 levels. Clearly, this will lead to a massive spike in emissions and has to be addressed. In doing so, we have to separate the interests of the small and medium farmers from those big food production plants which, ultimately, have an interest in keeping things as they are.
I find it galling that some expressed faux concern about farmers while supporting or saying nothing about the Minister's plan to scrap the Agricultural Wages Board, which provides some protection for those workers. Workers on the food production line have been failed time and time again. Notably, they have suffered higher rates of COVID infection. They are paid extremely low wages and reports of conditions, particularly for migrant workers, say that they leave a lot to be desired. Importantly, we need a just transition for them as well.
Ultimately, we need a new system that includes farmers, food producers and workers and is one that puts the needs of communities at its centre. That would capture the spirit and idea of a just transition, which is in the Bill. A just transition must also extend to the creation of a greener economy that creates jobs by building public homes that are fit for purpose, extending carbon sinks and re-wetting bogs. Homes, jobs and a healthier environment: tick, tick, tick. However, it is that kind of break that threatens private developers, big extractors and those who do well in society as it is. That is where we get the resistance and lobbying.
Any Government worth their salt would have made a start already on what is in the Bill. They would have written an environmental charter for companies that forces them to adhere to zero carbon and emission reductions. They would have broken with their addiction to roads and cars already, forced pension funds to disinvest from destructive fossil fuel companies or else risk operating illegally and tackled many more issues.
It is worth pointing out that the COVID-19 pandemic challenged the idea that the state does not or cannot intervene in areas of health or provide support to communities and workers. Leaving aside how many people fell through the cracks or how slowly some actions were implemented, the state intervened and implemented measures, and that puts it up to those who argue for and support a Thatcherite, small-state vision of society and the further privatisation of public services etc. If a state can intervene in the middle of a global pandemic to provide some level of protection and support, what justification can there be for a lack of intervention to prevent further descent towards climate catastrophe, which will threaten the lives and health of our communities, those of millions of people across the world and, ultimately, our ability to survive into the future? How many livelihoods could be improved or even saved with such an approach?
Ultimately, I do not think that this or any Bill will force the hand for action, but these are important, though limited, steps in the right direction. We know what it will take: an almighty shift on the streets to break politicians, with their reckless record in Stormont.
I support the Bill, and I extend my solidarity to the school students; XR activists; all those people in the Climate Coalition; everyone who has stood up to protect the environment recently and over the last number of years; all those campaigning against Dalradian Gold in Tyrone; those campaigning for action around the Mobuoy dump; residents in my constituency campaigning to address the issues emanating from the Mullaghglass site; and the many more campaigns both on this island and across the world.
In supporting the Second Reading of the Climate Change Bill, I pay tribute to those Members from most of the parties who brought it to the House and to all the organisations and groups that helped to shape the Bill that we have before us.
We must make no mistake about this: regardless of flag, language or even the Northern Ireland protocol, that which we discuss today will be the defining debate of our generation. None of us can shy away from the discussion, because all of us will be affected by the outcome of our deliberations and the impact that the Bill has on the world around us.
Climate change is real, it is happening and has been happening for some time. The stark reality is that, unless we act now, we will doom future generations to a world that has been irreversibly infected by the deadly effects of climate change.
Action must be taken now, and it must stem from the House. Leadership must lead and should not be afraid to do so. Such leadership must be proactive and consistent. Doing the bare minimum is not enough.
That was evidenced last year when, upon taking up the ministerial portfolio for Infrastructure, Nichola Mallon MLA invested in an eco-friendly ministerial car and zero-carbon public transport, delivered new cycle lanes, invested in climate-friendly street lighting and created a £20 million blue-green infrastructure fund. She has clearly set the benchmark for other Ministers to follow.
I normally would, but we are really pushed for time, and you have had enough time.
The Bill that is before us has clear objectives. The overarching objective is to achieve net zero emissions in Northern Ireland by 2045 at the latest. It places a duty on the Executive Office to bring forward a climate action plan within three years; and it proposes the establishment of a Northern Ireland climate office and commissioner to set the targets — in doing so, they will be free from political interference — and to monitor their effectiveness. I am under no illusion that those will be ambitious targets to meet, but, frankly, I do not see ambitious targets as a justifiable reason for some to object to the Bill. If we are bold enough to set the aspirations for our response to climate change at the highest level, and we follow through on those, we will cease to lag behind the rest of these islands. Potentially, we will become the benchmark for other regions to follow.
I appreciate that many have concerns about the Bill. Certainly, enough of my constituents have contacted me to that effect. South Down is, after all, a predominantly rural constituency with many agricultural heartlands. Farming and fisheries are part of the lifeblood of South Down and make an essential contribution to the economic success of the North. As in other coastal constituencies, coastal erosion is a major issue in South Down, and we have seen the significant destruction of our natural coastline and its hinterland.
More recently, we saw the immediate impact of climate change, with further wildfires across the Mournes. Once, these wildfires were happening every four or five years; now they take place every year, sometimes numerous times. Tragically, it has been pointed out to me that because our dry seasons are becoming drier and longer, we could soon witness wildfires in Ireland on the scale of those witnessed recently in Australia. Something needs to change, and I am glad that we will have the opportunity to have a further discussion tomorrow.
I heard the concerns of local farmers and those in our agri-food industry. They stated that they are ready and willing to do their bit in the fightback against climate change, but they want their voices to be heard and their valid concerns to be listened to. It is of the utmost —.
I appreciate the Member giving way, as I have not had an opportunity to speak on this very important Bill. There appears to be a perception that we are voting on the final Bill. Will the Member join me in putting on record that this is the Second Stage of a Bill to put in place a framework that will feed into action plans?
I encourage the farmers who have been in contact with my office and the Member's office to engage in that process. The farmers in South Down, like farmers everywhere, are in the most privileged position to effect change and to ensure that farming is sustainable in the long term.
I thank the Member for her contribution. It is great to hear a range of voices from South Down, rather than the same one. If we reflect on some of the other contributions that we heard, in which the Bill was taken clause by clause, we would almost feel that we were voting on the final Bill. Of course, as the Member points out, it is only the principles of the Bill that we will vote on, and there will be many opportunities to engage and help to shape the Bill as it moves forward.
As the Bill progresses, it is of the utmost importance that those people are listened to and that government works with them and does not leave them behind. Although there are valid concerns about potential job losses as a result of the Bill, we must remember that it presents opportunities for growth in the green and sustainability sectors. We will need to see the development of a just transition. That element will be critical.
Perhaps the loudest voice in the ongoing debate has been that of young people. Of everything that we discuss in this place, climate change is the issue that will determine the story of their future. The start of that story has already been written. However, we still have an opportunity to write our contribution and smooth the way forward for future generations. The alternative is to kick the can down the road and leave the fight to the next generation.
Years from now, when most of us lie in scorched-earth graves, our next generation will be left to step out into polluted air in which every breath is contaminated, and every step in the sunlight is a step closer to skin cancer. They will rightly ask why the Assembly did not act when it had the chance. Should that awful day come, we will not be excused for that, and rightly so. The next generation will not forgive or forget. The time is always right to do what is right, and that time is now.
Doing the basics will not cut it any more. It is time to right the wrongs of the past and bring forward an ambitious and bold legislative framework to deliver a zero-carbon society and economy. Every party that seeks to be part of our government must commit to that. The SDLP will not be found wanting. I thank the Member for bringing the Bill before us. I wish her well with its progress, and I am more than content to support it.
I am conscious of that, Mr Speaker, so I will try to keep my comments brief. As the Alliance Party infrastructure spokesperson, I want to focus on how the Bill will impact on infrastructure, particularly transport. That said, the Bill is long overdue, and the need for legislation is clear.
There is much to commend about the Bill as it stands. There is a need for Northern Ireland-specific emission reduction targets, regular reporting on emission reductions and independent monitoring. As has been outlined recently and throughout the debate, this is the start of the passage of the Bill. We are at Second Stage. There will be Committee Stage, Consideration Stage and Further Consideration Stage, as Mr Allister is aware. This is part of an engaging and iterative process.
I particularly welcome the focus on short-term targets. It is all too easy for politicians to promise emission reduction targets for more than 20 years down the line, safe in the knowledge that they will not, perhaps, be about to see them through. To make the long-term targets real, they need to be combined with short-term targets and measures for which the Bill provides. Often, when we debate matters in the Assembly, it is on a basis of us versus them or right versus wrong. As the Bill passes through the legislative process, I look forward to an evidence-based discussion on the measures included in the Bill, in the knowledge that everyone is agreed on the need to cut emissions and on the fact that that matters.
I welcome the provision for sectoral plans, whereby sectors will focus on how they can reduce their own emissions. Targets are meaningless if they do not have tangible and immediate actions to back them up. Transport accounts for between 16% and 23% of Northern Ireland's emissions. Our average transport emissions per head are higher than those in the rest of the UK, but, perhaps most disturbingly, over the past 20 years, when cars have become cleaner, our transport emissions have grown by 29%. On transport, it is abundantly clear that we are heading in the wrong direction and need to turn around fast.
The Bill legislates for the declaration of a climate emergency, something for which the Assembly voted early last year, and, in reality, something that we have been aware of for much longer. It is one thing to declare an emergency, but it is another to respond as if you are in an emergency. In the past decade, we have improved our public transport network immeasurably and delivered better-quality services and customer experiences, but there is still not enough progress in generating a modal shift from cars to active travel and public transport. As Philip McGuigan outlined, Jonathan Hobbs from NI Greenways recently reported that 25 kilometres of cycling infrastructure has been built over the past five years in the whole of Northern Ireland. Last year, the Minister for Infrastructure, with the best of intentions, no doubt, pledged to seize the opportunity for a green recovery from COVID-19, yet, more than a year later, we find ourselves deeply frustrated at the pace of change. Active travel made up 2·5% of the Department for Infrastructure's capital budget for last year. For every one person who works in DFI's transport policy division, which includes active travel, more than 40 work in DFI Roads. We want to support the Minister in the bold action that is required in the Department, and the Bill is one key way through which we can kick-start the radical action that is needed to reach net zero emissions for infrastructure. The actions required include the rapid roll-out of electric vehicle charging infrastructure, as the current set-up is a shambles, and the Department for Infrastructure's budget needs to be rebalanced to fund active travel properly and to review concessionary fares in order to get more young people using our rapidly decarbonised public transport network.
Last month, the Alliance Party published its green new deal. It sets out many other measures that we need to take to meet the requirements in the Bill. Although having a walking and cycling champion is welcome, the reality is that it is a role that has simply been added as a duty for another civil servant. If we are to get real about making the modal shift, we need to have an independent, sustainable and active travel champion.
We all know what needs to be done to avert climate catastrophe, and we know that it can be done while growing our economy and creating a fairer and more equitable society. We support the Bill at Second Stage, because it is a key part of the process of making that vision a reality.
It has been said that we are the first generation to feel the impact of climate change and the last generation that can do something about it. Today, the Bill's Second Stage is a historic moment for Northern Ireland. I am not going to go into much detail on the Bill's clauses. The co-sponsors have done that already. It is a historic moment that we need to consider in order to demonstrate our commitment to protecting our children's future and the generations to come.
Year after year, glaciers retreat and polar ice caps melt at a faster rate. Global temperatures keep rising. The science is there, and we all know the importance of listening to the science, especially in the past year. Why have we not been listening to the science that has been staring us in the face for so long? We see more and more extreme weather events and wildfires that destroy everything in their path, and we need to rebalance. A changing climate is not something that is far off in the future, something that is not affecting us or something that we are able to avoid. It is happening right now. It is already affecting energy prices, crop yields, and food and water supplies across the globe. That results in higher prices and food shortages in poorer counties, which leads to political instability, conflict and the mass movement of people. Changing climates are already changing our food systems, and the more common that extreme events become, with a change in rain patterns and land exploitation, the riskier that our food security becomes, which will have a detrimental impact on those on the lowest incomes. There is nothing just about this, and the direction of travel will only further divide and show inequalities.
It does not have to be that way, however. If we show the right leadership today, we can prevent further catastrophe. The next century will be dominated by necessary, ambitious climate mitigation and adaptation. This climate Bill gives Northern Ireland the tools to operate in that changing world. It will bring about the governance, the plans, the targets, the budgets, the expertise, the audits, the reviews, the duties and the commitments that have been missing for far too long. The climate emergency transcends party politics. The climate emergency does not differentiate between political viewpoints. It should unite us all to do something and everything to mitigate its worst effects.
Mr McGuigan said earlier that he is not designated an eco-warrior, but I am, in the very book that we all signed when we became MLAs. I am glad to see cross-party support for this Bill from all designations. Members, do not be fooled by the cynicism of those who have no desire to change or to do things better, because it is for them to continue to stick their head in the sand. Vested interests and denial will not save us from rising sea levels and extreme weather. Genuine partnership and cooperation among scientists, businesses, economic sectors and people will. That is what democracy and good politics looks like, and we must use effective partnerships to secure climate justice. That is exactly what the Bill does.
Many voices will urge us not to do anything too radical. We all know the usual lines that we have heard before, such as, "We need a little more time to consider things", "One mustn't rock the boat too much", "Why spend money on cutting emissions when we are only a tiny part of a huge global economy?" and the old favourite, especially in Northern Ireland with its pointing of fingers, "Sure, what about China?". The whataboutery continues with, "We have more pressing things on at the moment", "Let others do the hard work, and we can follow later" or, "We are just doing fine." Apart from the moral bankruptcy of those arguments and the fact that we are not doing just fine, if we do not invest in a low-carbon just economy now, we will be left behind, and in pretty short order. We must adjust and rethink how we treat our environment and our land and support the agriculture sector, which has been the subject of much of today's focus in the debate, but also other sectors. That is why the principles of the just transition are included in the Bill at clause 3(8) through the sectoral plans, which must:
"(a) support jobs and growth of jobs that are climate resilient and environmentally and socially sustainable; (b) support net-zero carbon investment and infrastructure; (c) create work which is high-value, fair and sustainable; (d) reduce inequality as far as possible; (e) reduce, with a view to eliminating, poverty and social deprivation".
For workers in any sector, that should provide reassurance that they will be supported and brought along in the switch to a low-carbon economy. With no carbon targets and incredibly poor environmental regulation, however, the people of Northern Ireland will realise too late that we can no longer compete in the green economy. That will not be their fault, but ours for failing to provide the leadership that is needed now.
I commend and thank everyone who played their part in getting the Bill to Second Stage: the coalition, the co-signatories and, especially, my party leader and colleague Clare Bailey MLA. There has been an incredible amount of hard work put into this, hardly ill considered, as some have suggested, and there is much more work to do.
I, too, have a few short words for our children and young people. This Bill is for you, for all you young activists out there fighting for your future, demanding better and demanding action rather than just words or politicians paying lip service to your concerns and greenwashing. So, I say, well done, and thank you for protesting. Thank you for lobbying your elected reps. You may not have the ability to vote yet, but you can raise your voice loud and clear. You are engaging with democracy, and you are certainly being heard by us. We are listening, and we, too, are fighting hard so that the world that you inherit will be more secure and prosperous, where the air is cleaner, the land less polluted, and you have happier, healthier lifestyles and live in happier, healthier communities in a more just and equal world.
The time is now for the Assembly to speak with a unified voice to say that we understand the impact of climate breakdown and that we are doing something about it for the sake of those who will inherit the earth long after we are gone. This is not just about commitments made in past political agreements; this is about our shared future. A very wise man once said, "You can't fix the roof when it's raining". This climate Bill will give Northern Ireland the tools to ensure that we are watertight. Join us and fight for your children's future and vote in favour of the Bill.
I almost feel a bit incompetent following that great speech by Miss Woods.
I support this historic Second Stage of the Climate Change Bill. I also acknowledge the concerns because that, too, is our responsibility. This is primary legislation; it is not prescriptive. It provides a legislative basis and a mandate to build a climate policy. It is a process, not an event. A process that, I hope, will enable stakeholders from all sides of the debate to contribute to and shape that policy.
Clause 1 provides for the declaration of a climate emergency from the date of Royal Assent. It is an acknowledgement that climate change exists, and it fully supports government to address the biggest issue of our time, one that has transcended generations and which will outlive each of us. We owe it to future generations to do what we can to prevent the further decline of our environment and to give children and young people, and those yet to be born, a fighting chance of climate recovery.
Clause 2 relates to the creation of climate action plans, with details to address the challenges of climate change in Northern Ireland. A plan must be laid before the Assembly within three years of enactment of the Bill, and every five years thereafter — a clear path of action. Those plans must be approved by the Assembly and achieve the overriding climate objective of net zero carbon. Scrutiny is the key to democracy. It is not there to undermine; it is there to improve and strengthen.
Clauses 5 to 10 and schedules 1 and 2 establish a Northern Ireland climate office and a Northern Ireland climate commissioner. It is interesting that the commissioner will be appointed by the Crown, on nomination by the Assembly, to allow maximum independence from government. That is important because it means that politics cannot come into this and that someone is dedicated to taking forward the climate needs of our society. All that demonstrates the Assembly's commitment to addressing climate change.
I represent a rural constituency in East Londonderry. A considerable number of farmers in the area have contacted me to share their concerns. Whether unfounded or not, there is genuine fear in the agricultural sector that they will be disproportionately impacted by the Bill, primarily because, they say, Northern Ireland is a livestock region. They tell me that that is due to our climate — poor weather — and our countryside not being conducive to arable farming because it is hilly and stony. Farmers say that much of our land is only good for grazing. To be honest, I really do not know, and I am not sure about it. However, I will not claim to know more about farming land than farmers do, so it is important that we listen to all stakeholders, if only to reassure them.
Like other Members, I have spent much time speaking with farmers and groups such as the Ulster Farmers' Union over these past few weeks. They expressed many concerns, but, in fairness, they also acknowledged the need for climate change legislation and argued that they are ahead in trying to find solutions to the climate problems. For example, a farmer in my constituency collects tyres to be reused by being processed into mattresses. He tells me that, as a main method of disposal, the majority of tyres in Northern Ireland will either end up on bonfires or on a very big bonfire across the world. Huge ships collect this waste from Belfast and take the problem elsewhere, despite the fact that a local business offers a local environmental solution. When that farmer presented his idea to statutory agencies, it was dismissed.
In another part of my constituency, a farmer is growing acres of hemp: the wonder crop for a sustainable environment. It loves Northern Ireland's wet climate. It literally grows as if it is a weed. It improves soils, has no emissions and offsets carbon from elsewhere, such as from other industries. Even the licence to grow hemp here is free, but trying to encourage Northern Ireland government and its various agencies to see what is good for them, as well as for Northern Ireland and the environment, is incredibly frustrating.
I say all of that to demonstrate why farmers are nervous about this radical change. As a co-sponsor of the Bill, I believe that this change is good. I want to convey why it is good, but I am sympathetic to those who fear it. I suggest that the issue may be one not of climate action, but rather one of government inaction. It has taken a private Member's Bill, with very little time left in the mandate, to actually do something, because our Government have not done anything. I appreciate that the Department is developing its own legislation, and I genuinely welcome that, but if this private Member's Bill serves only to force the Government to do their job, then I am grateful to all those involved.
It should not be that way, however. The Government need to get a grip on this issue now; I know that, most Members of the House know that and the public knows that. If the Government cannot do it on their own, then this legislation will support them to do it.
I will come back to our stakeholders. It is important, as part of this process, to acknowledge their concerns, if only to reassure them, in the hope that we can strengthen this Bill and, if necessary, shape it to meet the core objective of addressing climate change. It is not in the spirit of the Bill to diminish livelihoods, to decimate the economy, to undermine the security of food supply or to remove the heart of rural communities. Rather, the Bill seeks to encourage collective responsibility for future generations.
I want farmers to contribute to the conversation so that we do not get it wrong and create unintended consequences. I want them to be part of the solution, as they have told me they already are. Can they offset carbon emissions through better countryside management schemes such as replacing all fences with hedgerows, growing out unused land and exploring new crops that are suited to NI's climate so that the net zero target is less challenging to meet than they expect? If we genuinely care about the planet in its entirety, rather than just about our very small corner of it, maybe we should stop exporting our waste. Shipping the issue away on a big boat does not remove the issue; it sends it elsewhere.
That leads me to an interesting concern raised by farmers. By reducing our food production from livestock, do we reduce our supply in spite of static or growing demand? If demand remains consistent, then where does the food come from, if not locally? Do we add to our carbon footprint if we use aeroplanes and other transport to bring it in? I am not sure about the weight of that argument, especially as intensive farming increases and more food is exported out of Northern Ireland, but it is worth exploring. I hope that this legislative process addresses that concern and reassures that significant sector of our economy. Agriculture is a significant part of the economy in Northern Ireland, and it is only fair that we listen to the sector's concerns, if not reassure it.
Ireland is well known for its grass-fed beef and dairy cattle, in contrast to the grain-fed cattle in other parts of the world. I understand that that adds to the issue. That type of farming replenishes the land, and that can help with carbon emissions. If agri-food continues to farm livestock in some form, perhaps there are better ways of doing it. Maybe that model already exists on these islands and people can learn from our model.
Carbon emissions also seem to be a problem for industrial farming, and yet, despite concerns raised over many years, we have encouraged large industrial farms across Northern Ireland, in which the only benefit to farmers is the rent of the land. As a consequence, the overproduction of manure by-product, which our lands can no longer take, is polluting our environment. These issues sit alongside driving down farmgate prices, as industrial farming increases supply with declining demand. If we want to support rural communities, protect farming families and ensure that local produce stays local to ensure security of food supply so that farmers can feed themselves and their families as well as creating a sustainable and fair livelihood, maybe the Bill needs to look at tackling industrial farming.
I will leave it there, but it is important, as I have said a number of times in my contribution, that we listen to these concerns, not to reject the Bill but to try to shape it, improve it and ensure that we get backing from all in Northern Ireland.
Not my words, but the words of the late Dr Stephen Hawking:
"One can see from space how the human race has changed the Earth. Nearly all of the available land has been cleared of forest and is now used for agriculture or urban development. The polar icecaps are shrinking and the desert areas are increasing. At night, the Earth is no longer dark, but large areas are lit up. All of this is evidence that human exploitation of the planet is reaching a critical limit. But human demands and expectations are ever-increasing. We cannot continue to pollute the atmosphere, poison the ocean and exhaust the land. There isn't any more available."
These are profound words that send a chill down my spine and lay down a challenge to those of us across the globe who are elected to public office to do something about it.
I support the Second Stage of the Climate Change Bill and thank Ms Bailey for her work on this issue. The planet is hotter now than it has been for at least 12,000 years, a period spanning the entire development of human civilisation, according to research, and it has not just happened by a force of nature. We, the human race, have caused this, and we, the human race, have a responsibility to change course. It is not too late, and, in the words of Greta Thunberg:
"I have learned that you are never too small to make a difference."
I am of the land and from the land. I was born and reared in rural south Armagh. I am a culchie and proud. I love and cherish the beauty of our natural heritage, our mountains, our landscape, our waterways and our environment. I was reared farming my uncle Patsy and my auntie Roisin's farm. I cannot begin to describe the life lessons that I learned from my upbringing on the farm of my dear uncle, God rest him. I have fond memories of taking in the hay, milking cows, calving, testing, reseeding, dosing, fencing, feeding, tagging, draining, horning, spreading bag stuff, mowing and counting cattle. I do not have such fond memories of covering the silage twice a year. I so miss the feeling of closing the byre door when the milking was finished.
Therefore, I understand and sympathise with farmers who are concerned. They are concerned that their lives and livelihoods will be impacted, but farmers want to play their part. Farmers and every other stakeholder and sector must be involved in shaping the Bill as it progresses, and they must be informed and incentivised on how they can play their part to not only protect the environment but enhance their roles as custodians and stewards of the land. Rewilding, reforestation and species reintroduction must be incentivised or rewarded alongside traditional farming.
That said, the farming piece and the agri-food piece are only two parts of the climate change jigsaw. We all see the carnage and the damage done to our lands, our ecology and our ecosystems by the activities of the human race. Yes, part of it relates to the over-intensification of farming, but there is also over-industrialisation, traffic, the pollution of our lands and waterways by dumping of waste, the plastification of our daily lives, the dumping of smugglers' fuel waste, the impact of fossil fuels, and the exponential growth and creation of greenhouse gases. The Bill, as it progresses, must engage and encourage a cross-sectoral approach and cross-sectoral responsibility.
As a new dad, I want my son to have the same love, respect and appreciation for the land that I do, and of the sea and the delicate planet that we live on. In 20 or 30 years' time, if he asks me what I did to protect the environment, I want to be able to tell him that I did all I could. I appreciate that this issue is not without contention and that this debate may not be universally welcomed in every part of our community. As I said, I appreciate that there are concerns about lives and livelihoods. I thank all those on both sides of the argument who have contacted me. My team and I will endeavour to respond to each of them individually. However, to me, it is simple: there is no planet B.
We need to do the right thing. We need to work with communities, business and industry in order to change behaviours, practices and policies. We need to be ambitious and to build a collaborative process that brings people, stakeholders and society with us. We all need to think and act differently about what we eat and the way that we produce foods, package food and goods to transport and deal with waste. Putting up a few wind turbines, using reusable water bottles and having more electric charging points for cars, whilst important, will not be enough on their own. I want to educate the Alliance Party Member who does not know about the FASTER project; maybe he should get more up to speed with what is going on on the ground. Small, token measures will not cut through and save our planet.
Climate change is the challenge of our generation. If we are to leave this world a better place, we need to start now. Now is the time. In 20 years' time, saying "would have", "could have" and "should have" will not have saved our environment.
I want to talk about how impressed I am by the way in which this issue has captivated and activated our young people. I am inspired by their activism, determination and impatience for change in order to make this a better place. They, rightly, see this issue as far more important than identity, culture or tradition, and they firmly challenge us to do more to protect the environment and make change happen.
When I think of our planet and our natural world, I think of Sir David Attenborough, so it is appropriate for me to finish with a quote from him:
"Young people: They care. They know that this is the world that they're going to grow up in, that they're going to spend the rest of their lives in. But, I think it's more idealistic than that. They actually believe that humanity, human species, has no right to destroy and despoil regardless."
The biggest threat to the environment is the belief that someone else will save it. We all must save it.
I want to begin by highlighting, once more, that I have developed policy proposals for a balanced and evidence-based climate change Bill, but I have not been able to discuss them at the Executive, despite the fact that I have been seeking to get them on the agenda since 24 March. Once the proposals are tabled at the Executive and agreement is secured to proceed, I can quickly move to introduce the right climate change legislation for Northern Ireland, which delivers on the New Decade, New Approach commitments. I am disappointed that, despite the New Decade, New Approach agreement commitment that we would tackle climate change, I have not been able to get my proposals tabled for discussion. Those proposals have gone through due process and public consultation, which this Bill has not.
I also want to highlight one of the reasons why, compared with the rest of the UK, we did not have a climate change Bill before now. It is because the institutions were collapsed for three years by Sinn Féin and important work like this was not taken forward. People should not forget that and the fact that Sinn Féin Members put everything else on the slow burner because of their issues.
I have deep concerns about the Bill that has been brought before us today. Given those serious concerns, I cannot support it, as I believe that it would seriously damage Northern Ireland. I have many concerns about the Bill, but I will outline the main concerns today, which each and every one of us should consider.
My first concern is the extremely important issue of the target that has been set in the Bill. It is so far removed from the independent expert advice and evidence that I cannot support it. Based on the evidence that I have received and shared widely, a target of net zero by 2045 would be extremely detrimental to our economy without actually reducing global greenhouse gas emissions. It would simply shift our emissions elsewhere. Ultimately, that would mean shifting our food production to those areas that are responsible for cutting down rainforests, which are the very lungs of the earth.
Is that really the result that you want for the people of Northern Ireland whom you represent?
I hope that all Members will pay heed and give serious consideration to what I have to say regarding my concerns about a Bill that would be very damaging to Northern Ireland. It is a view that evidence supports. I am not simply asking Members to take my word. I want them to take into account the lack of evidence provided by the sponsor and drafters of the Bill; the existing and publicly available expert and independent evidence and advice from the UK Climate Change Committee; my consideration of responses to a proper consultation that my Department and I carried out on climate change Bill policy proposals for Northern Ireland; and my consideration of the voices of those who have contacted me and many Members in recent weeks and who would be most deeply and negatively impacted on by a target of net zero emissions by 2045, a target for which there is such a lack of evidence.
What I can confirm is the independent, science-based evidence that has been provided to my Department. If the Member wants me to ignore independent scientific advice, he should stand up and say so.
OK, he does not want to.
First, the CCC has categorically stated that a net zero target by 2050 for Northern Ireland that covers all greenhouse gases cannot credibly be set at this time, let alone by 2045, as proposed in the private Member's Bill. The CCC has advised, on the basis of its evidence and analysis, that a net greenhouse gas emissions reduction target of at least 82% is an appropriate and fair contribution to a balanced pathway to a UK net zero target that aligns with the UK commitment to the Paris agreement.
We, as one country, the United Kingdom, can achieve 100% net zero. Northern Ireland, because it is a major provider of protein for people's food in the United Kingdom, does not have to meet the same target as the rest of the United Kingdom. We can move forward significantly on transport and energy. However, the high production rate in agri-food in Northern Ireland makes 100% much more challenging. For Northern Ireland to reach a net emissions reduction target of at least 82%, it needs to have a percentage reduction greater than that required in the rest of the UK to reach net zero. For example, Scotland is almost halfway to net zero emissions, having had a 45% reduction at 2018. Northern Ireland, meanwhile, is under a quarter of the way to reaching a reduction of at least 82%, having had only a 20% reduction at 2018.
A target reduction of at least 82% in no way lacks ambition. It is easier to move up towards 100% than to be locked into 100% and unable to move anywhere. The outcome of that would be the devastation of our rural communities. I look at Members across the Chamber who represent Mid Ulster, South Antrim, North Antrim, West Tyrone, East Londonderry, South Down and other areas. Do they really want a devastated rural community where tens of thousands of households lose their source of income, the food that goes on their table and the roof that goes over their head because their jobs have been removed from them? Is that what Mr McGuigan wants?
I thank the Minister for giving way. It is important to put on record that the private Member's Bill has been taken forward in response to the Minister's lack of action. It is important also to put on record that it is not appropriate for the Minister to scaremonger in the Chamber. He is well aware that the AERA Committee will call experts to give evidence, including the CCC in which he puts so much stock. He is also aware that the carbon action plans will have to be agreed by all Assembly Members.
I have to deal with the misleading information that the Member has just given.
He says that there is a lack of action, but my Department has gone through a full public consultation process — this Bill has not — and engaged with the public and gone through processes correctly. When I was asked to produce the Bill in three months, I said that it was impossible. It was impossible for my Department to do that because at least eight or 12 weeks is normally given for public consultation. What was being asked of me last year was not achievable. I indicated that it was not achievable. There is a saying that rushed legislation is bad legislation. That is what we are dealing with today: rushed legislation, without proper public consultation. It has, therefore, written off the rural community.
I stand here as a defender of the rural community. I stand here as a defender of the hill farmers of the Sperrins and the Antrim plateau, which Sinn Féin does not seem to care about any more. Contrary to what the proposer of the Bill suggested —.
I want to pick up on a couple of points. The Minister cites the UK CCC comments as the only evidence on the North. There is something that I genuinely cannot get my head around. We are on the same island as the South of Ireland. We are one country. Agriculture accounts for one third of the South of Ireland's emissions; we are on 27%. Why are the experts in the South of Ireland, through Teagasc, not making those dire predictions? Why has the president of the Irish Farmers' Association in the South of Ireland said that it is pure nonsense to suggest that there will be herd cuts to achieve GHG emissions targets?
When I was out of the Chamber, I heard Clare Bailey on the television. She made the point that it is the beginning of a process rather than an event. The Committee will spend the next six months scrupulously analysing the Bill. We will get experts in and hold round-table events. We will hold public consultation exercises. Experts from across the water in Britain and from here in Ireland and, of course, other parts of the world as well will help us to reach a firm conclusion. It is a process, not an event.
Maybe the Member should tell his Sinn Féin colleague Matt Carthy about his views. He said that if:
"we import from countries of more intensive production such as those in South America, that is not climate action. That is hypocrisy."
That is what your own colleague says about what you are pressing today. He said:
"I have listened to Government representatives all throughout this debate talking about just transition and fairness for rural communities, and none of them has specified what that means in reality."
I have listened to the same today. I agree with your Sinn Féin colleague Mr Carthy, who recognises the damage that you are doing to rural communities, particularly hill farmers. Those in marginalised lands will face the harshest cuts as a consequence of what you are backing and going into the Lobby behind me to support.
Contrary to what the proposer of the Bill suggested to the AERA Committee in a recent briefing, the CCC is clear that there is no credible pathway at this time for net zero by 2050 in Northern Ireland and that it cannot recommend such a target for Northern Ireland. It has advised that reaching net zero in 2050 would require one or both of two conditions, one being:
"A substantial reduction in output from Northern Ireland's livestock farming sector"
— where even a reduction of more than 50% in livestock numbers would not get us to net zero —
"Without a corresponding reduction in consumption of such produce, this would simply shift emissions overseas" for no overall benefit. If we are shifting it to South America, it is estimated that it will take twice as much carbon to produce a kilogram of beef than it would if the beef were produced in Northern Ireland.
Why do you want to devastate our rural landscape? Why do you want to devastate our rural fabric? Why do you want to devastate our rural communities and then import beef from an area that is producing it with twice as much carbon going into the atmosphere as would go in if we produced it in Northern Ireland? I will give way to anybody who wishes to answer that.
The Minister quoted Lord Deben and the UK CCC as the experts. I do not take away from the fact that they are experts. Does he also accept Lord Deben's message that, if we do not sign up to climate legislation, we will be punished by the rest of the world?
Does he not accept that, given that a lot of our agri-food is produced across the island of Ireland, we are sending the wrong message to the rest of the world that the North is not committed to climate change legislation as required by the Paris agreement whereas the South of Ireland is?
That is exactly why we are signing up to legislation. That is why I have been waiting for six weeks — almost seven weeks now — for that legislation to be allowed through the Executive. Your own colleagues are holding it back. Let us get it out here to debate it. Let us have the legislation that was publicly consulted on put in front of you and ensure that we drive this forward.
Not every part of the United Kingdom will achieve 100%. Some areas will have sinks, which will achieve a greater percentage, while other areas will not. We happen to be one of those areas that is engaged in producing high levels of food for the United Kingdom and beyond. We produce around 10% of the United Kingdom's protein. It is something that we have exported very successfully, and we are doing extremely well, with a low carbon footprint for the number of kilograms of beef and litres of milk produced. The Climate Change Committee letter states:
"a much greater than equitable share of all UK greenhouse gas removal technologies being located in Northern Ireland compared to the size of Northern Ireland's current emissions, population, land area or economy" would be both costly and suboptimal. It has identified the costs of reaching net zero by 2050 as being:
"higher than those of the recommended 82% reduction target ... by up to £900 million per year by 2050".
Ms Bailey did not give any figures, but there are figures there. I pose these questions: where does the £900 million come from? Does it come from the Department of Health, the Department of Education or the Department for Infrastructure? From which Department are you going to take that additional funding? We are going to have to invest heavily in the first instance, and that is a further £900 million per annum that you are going to walk through the Lobbies for very shortly. Before you do it, I repeat the questions: from where is that money coming? From which Department do you want to take it? From which service do you want to take it? That is important.
Reaching net zero by 2045 would have even greater cost implications, and we have no evidence from this private Member's Bill of what the costs might be, as its co-sponsors have not provided any sort of economic impact assessment. In fact, I have seen no evidence of any impact assessments, such as an economic needs assessment or, indeed, a rural needs assessment, having been carried out on the Bill. Although it may not be fully possible to identify the cost implications of reaching net zero by 2045, there is enough independent expert evidence available about the likely significant impacts of such a target, particularly for the agriculture sector. For example, even based on the "at least 82%" net emissions reduction by 2050, the CCC has indicated that significant investments are required, such as low-carbon capital investment and the need to scale up to £1 billion to £1·5 billion a year by 2030 in Northern Ireland. Your proposal is to put another £900 million a year on top of that. Those are the sorts of figures that we are talking about: close to £2·5 billion per annum that has to be found out of the Northern Ireland block.
The Minister has vast experience in this Building. We are only at the initial stage of the process. He knows from experience that the Bill is going to go through Committee, where Mr McAleer and his team will dissect it line by line. It will come back here, probably in a very different form, after that process, and there will be a whole series of amendments made to it. Today is only about accepting the concept and principle of the Climate Change Bill and accepting that we have to have one. Indeed, would the Minister be suggesting his climate change Bill at all, if the private Member's Bill had not arrived on the scene?
Absolutely, because the work was being done on it. We were doing the work to go out to public consultation before the private Member's Bill was brought forward. The wise thing to do is ensure that a Bill goes through the Executive and out to the Northern Ireland public so that it has been done properly, in that it has gone through the public consultation process that has been so neatly ignored by the sponsors of this Bill.
The Member has asked a question. I have raised the issue of public consultation. The Bill will affect every person in Northern Ireland, given the costs associated with it and its impact. It will particularly affect the rural community. Therefore, I find the appropriateness of bringing forward legislation without any consultation with that community challenging. Maybe the Member thinks that the rural community does not matter; I happen to think that it does and will defend it, irrespective of the Member's views.
I go back to my earlier point. On the basis of the CCC's — I am not getting on very well with this speech, Mr Speaker.
OK, right. I need to get on with it and stop taking interventions.
To go back to an earlier point, on the basis of the CCC's evidence, the aim of net zero in Northern Ireland by 2050 would mean every sector doing more than it has projected in its balanced pathway projections to UK net zero. On top of that, even a further reduction of 50% to Northern Ireland's livestock would not get us to net zero. To put it simply, to get to net zero by 2045, as proposed by the Bill, the livestock sector would have to shrink dramatically to, basically, a non-existent level, which is unacceptable. Northern Ireland plays an important food production role for the UK, with nearly 50% of Northern Ireland's agri-food produce being consumed in the rest of the UK. The target in the Bill disregards and threatens that important role. As the CCC has said, going beyond its recommendation of a target of at least 82% to a target of net zero by 2045 will, most simply, move agri-food production elsewhere for no overall global benefit. That has to be accepted tonight: no overall global benefit.
When briefing the Agriculture Committee, the Bill's sponsor indicated, with regard to dairy, that any reduction in what is produced in Northern Ireland for the purposes of reducing emissions could be offset by increasing production in western Europe or New Zealand — simply exporting the problem. I struggle to see how that could have a positive impact on either the dairy sector or global emissions, given the high-quality food production standards that we have in Northern Ireland. It should be noted that 65% of our farmland is best suited to growing grass for animals. We are well placed to deliver sustainable food. I ask this again: why would we export production when greenhouse gas emissions from UK beef are about half the global average?
I reiterate that the CCC has made it clear that one of the main risks of Northern Ireland pushing towards a more ambitious target than it has recommended through making a substantial reduction in output from the livestock sector is that, without a corresponding reduction in the consumption of such produce, we would simply shift emissions overseas and not reduce emissions globally. Climate change is a global challenge, not just a local one. We all need to recognise that.
My role is to protect and enhance the environment in a sustainable way and to ensure that the agriculture sector thrives as the custodian of the environment. That should be the aim of every Member. We should, therefore, not promote actions and pass legislation that would prevent us fulfilling that responsibility. The CCC has also stated that, at present, a net zero target for Northern Ireland set for 2050 or earlier, rather than contributing to extra overall reductions in UK greenhouse gas emissions, could simply shift a greater share of the UK-wide costs of reaching net zero to Northern Ireland. I ask all of you this: who will pay the extra costs that Northern Ireland will have to bear? Are there not better activities that we could spend that money on while the UK still reaches the net zero target? The potential additional costs and impacts of achieving a net zero emissions reduction target by 2045 in Northern Ireland, as opposed to the target of at least 82% by 2050 that the CCC has recommended, could, therefore, be extensively more significant. The economic impact on sectors would also be much more substantial than in the rest of the UK.
Some may be of the opinion that, because of the agriculture sector in Northern Ireland, we cannot achieve net zero. However, I want to dispel the rhetoric that the target given by the Climate Change Committee of at least 82% is there just to protect agriculture. The CCC's advice is that, even if agricultural methane emissions were removed from the supplementary target, the Northern Ireland 2050 target would still be only a 93% reduction in emissions. There are other reasons, one of which is the number of people who live in rural communities and rely on either oil or coal heating. That is something that seems, again, to be ignored by Members from across the House who allegedly represent rural communities.
The memorandum accompanying the private Member's Bill includes a reference to just transition principles and objectives that sectoral plans in the Bill should deliver. That was also highlighted at the Committee briefing by the Bill sponsor as something that would provide protection and support for sectors. From the independent evidence and advice that I have received from the CCC, it is not clear how such a net zero by 2045 target would or, indeed, could deliver a just transition in Northern Ireland for sectors including the agricultural sector and the rural community.
No budget has come from the sponsors of the Bill, but the advice that we have received is that it would cost up to £2·5 billion per annum.
As I have stated, the CCC has made it clear that a 2045 net zero target would not represent a balanced pathway for Northern Ireland to reduce emissions. In addition to significant reductions in our agricultural output, there could be perverse outcomes if Northern Ireland were to attempt to go too fast in reducing emissions. For example, going beyond the natural rate of stock turnover would lead to a premature scrapping of assets. That could be costly and would risk undermining popular support for transition, and the CCC has said that it could cause increased embedded emissions and unfair distributional impacts, particularly if Northern Ireland targets were out of line with HM Treasury actions to support a just transition to the UK target.
When briefing the AERA Committee, the sponsor of the Bill indicated that the Bill would compensate farmers and agri-industry. I see nothing in the Bill that would specifically and effectively deliver on that. Yet another bland and blank promise with no evidence to support it. In recent evidence to the AERA Committee, the Bill's sponsor indicated that the Bill does not set specific targets for sectors or dates and deadlines. She said that it is a framework Bill and:
"there is nothing in the Bill that will harm the agriculture sector."
Motherhood and apple pie.
While the Bill contains elements that set out a framework for developing plans and the scrutiny of them, the inclusion of the net zero target effectively means that all sectors, including the agriculture sector, will have to aim for close to net zero emissions by 2045. That will obviously have a significant impact on all sectors, and, as I have stated before, the agriculture sector in particular. This is clearly not just a framework Bill, but some are trying to say it does not really mean what all the agriculture bodies say it means. Let us call it for what it is.
The suggestion that the Bill will not harm the agriculture sector is plainly wrong. It is not backed by evidence and advice from the CCC and is not a view shared by the companies and people who work in the agriculture sector, many of whom have been writing to me and, indeed, other Members to express concerns about the impact of the Bill. The Bill sponsor, in evidence to the Committee, indicated that she hoped that, when the first climate action plan under the Bill was being implemented in several years' time:
"we can start to create baselines and get the real information on the full extent of what we need to be grappling with in Northern Ireland."
That further highlights that the target in the Bill is based on blind ambition rather than any actual evidence.
I share the desire to strive for environmental excellence and sustainability and to tackle the issue of climate change head on, but targets should be ambitious and realistic and based on the most relevant high-quality and independent advice that takes account of the specific factors relevant to Northern Ireland. There is also a restriction in the Bill that prevents the headline 2045 zero emissions target being amended to a date beyond 2045. That does not allow for flexibility to take on board the emerging issues that Mr McAleer referred to or a changing understanding of the evidence and the science, and it is not consistent with climate change legislation elsewhere.
The proposals in the private Member's Bill contrast with the proposals that I have made to my Executive colleagues, which they are considering. They would result in legislation that sets ambitious and evidence-based targets, is forward-thinking and provides flexibility and scope to amend those targets as a result of emerging evidence and understanding, new advice, new technology and other advancements. Eighty-two per cent is a minimum; it is not a target. It is achievable, unlike what is being put to us at the minute.
Despite previous claims by the sponsors of the Bill regarding consultation, there has not been credible evidence presented of a proper consultation having been undertaken on the Bill. While that is permissible, it is a serious oversight. On the basis of what has been provided and communicated, it appears that views were limited only to members and supporters of the organisations responsible for developing and bringing the Bill forward. That is not a substitute for proper consultation and giving everyone, including those who will be heavily impacted, the right to comment on proposals before legislation is tabled, debated and rushed through. It is highly unacceptable. Climate change affects everyone, and everyone in Northern Ireland should have their say on what climate change legislation should look like.
It is clear to me that, despite what the Bill sponsor indicated to the AERA Committee, there is little or no support for the Bill in the agriculture sector. The agri-food sector is fully behind the need to address global warming and reduce emissions and is already making serious advances. However, it cannot support a Bill for net zero by 2045 because it is not evidence-based. It has not been properly consulted on or assessed for its impact. It does not recognise the importance of our agri-food sector or the people who work in it as a net producer of high-quality food. Many companies and people who work in the agriculture sector have written to me and other MLAs expressing their concerns about the impact of the Bill. They have also written to my Executive colleagues urging them to support the Bill that I have proposed, which awaits approval.
The sponsors and drafters of the Bill have indicated that they have plans to advance their consultation activities as the Bill progresses and hope that the consultation process for the Bill can take place during Committee Stage. That is not an acceptable or appropriate way to legislate. The approach of early and inclusive consultation is more likely to lead to better outcomes and greater acceptance in the community — Mr Wells asked me about that — particularly amongst stakeholders who may be adversely affected by the policy.
The handling of the Bill before us today has not afforded everyone a fair opportunity to have their say in a timely manner, and, as I said, rushed legislation is generally poor legislation. I would go so far as to say confidently that, on the basis of the information and evidence that I have received, the Bill before us today does not consider real-world impacts. I question whether the sponsor Member and the co-sponsors of the Bill even know or understand the real-world impacts of the Bill that they have brought before us today. That is on the basis of their complete disregard of the UK CCC's expert independent advice on an effective, appropriate and achievable emissions reduction target for Northern Ireland. Also, I base the assertion on their lack of proper consultation and their failure to produce or attempt to produce any sort of impact assessments, whether regulatory, economic, rural or human rights.
Put simply and in summary, the 2045 net zero target before us today is not based on any evidence, analysis or feasibility. It goes against the principles of making good, sound legislation. We have independent scientific advice that delivers ambitious targets, yet we disregard the evidence. Given the lack of detail and evidence in the Bill, I feel that it is very much style over substance, but, to be fair, the Bill has neither. I am supportive of climate change action. I have a Bill that is awaiting Executive approval. This private Member's Bill will have negative impacts on all Northern Ireland businesses, but, as I have highlighted, agriculture is disproportionately impacted. In contrast, my Department consulted on policy options for climate change legislation for Northern Ireland and has been using this and the expert advice provided to strike the right balance between ambition and realism.
I want to raise another concern about the Bill, which is the duties and functions placed on Departments and other bodies in the Bill. For example, the role envisaged in the Bill for the Executive Office does not appear to fall within its current functions. It is also not clear whether there are adequate resources in the Department to undertake the range of functions envisaged or whether any consultation has taken place with the Executive Office on the potential role that it will have. I ask the Member whether she or her co-sponsors have engaged TEO on that. Have they asked whether those duties can be fulfilled under the current structures? Are there adequate resources and expertise? Does the Bill not place any duties on my Department or any other Northern Ireland Department to provide input to the Executive Office to enable it to fulfil its duties? What engagement has the Bill sponsor had with CCC in respect of the new functions that the Bill places on it? Can it be resourced to carry those out?
The CCC's advice is considered to be an essential element by the Bill's sponsors, yet they completely ignore the advice from the CCC —
— on its key aspect, which is the long-term greenhouse gas emissions target. Is the spirit of the Bill just to cherry-pick the advice and evidence that suits and to disregard any sound or impartial evidence?
I could say more, Mr Speaker, but I respect your call. I oppose the Bill as it is currently proposed.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I thank the Members for their engagement on the Climate Change Bill. Many interesting issues were raised. I hope that, as the Bill moves through its legislative stages in the Assembly, that engagement will continue to be constructive so that we can strengthen and enhance the Bill, as many said. I am also more than willing to continue to work across the House in order to get the Bill passed. The pantomime of plenary politics is of much less interest to me than getting the actual work done.
Some common themes arose in the debate. I am pleased that there is general consensus on the need for sustainable decarbonisation for Northern Ireland and for continued democratic oversight and robust independent auditing of that process. The Bill provides that. While some of the discussion naturally veered into areas of policy, I restate that the Bill is a framework that will mandate action across all sectors and Departments. It is not prescriptive and does not dictate policy. All future policy will be for Ministers and the Executive to bring forward in climate action plans. That would be the perfect place for an economic stability policy for our hill farmers, for example, to be produced. That was one example that was raised by the Minister.
The target of net zero by 2045 reflects the general legislative trend towards stronger climate legislation, with the proven context that we are living in an interconnected climate and ecological emergency. Urgent action is needed in order to limit global temperature increases and prevent runaway climate change. At the UK and international levels, we need strong targets to allow us to keep pace with constantly moving goalposts. Northern Ireland cannot afford to be a laggard in the UK. If and when the UK decides to accelerate its targets and ambition, just as we saw last month when Prime Minister Boris Johnson increased the UK's emissions reduction target to 78% by 2035 — that is almost in line with the UUP manifesto — we will be on the wrong path to adapt to that.
I have heard many quotes from the CCC's letter to Minister Poots on the setting of net zero targets. The letter also states:
"As new evidence on climate science, behaviours or low-carbon technologies (particularly in low-carbon farming measures) emerges and/or the UK's international climate commitments change, it may be prudent to tighten a 2050 target in Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland's climate legislation should allow emissions reductions to go beyond our current assessment by requiring at least an 82% reduction, and should contain clear provisions to tighten the target if there is evidence to support such a decision."
I am still quoting the CCC; these are not my words. It continues:
"We have already seen similar provisions used to increase climate targets for the UK, Scotland and Wales since 2019."
In recent communications with the Minister on the economic implications of setting and delivering a 2050 emissions target for Northern Ireland, the CCC was abundantly clear when it stated:
"Business models that are not compatible with a Net Zero future are increasingly risky."
The CCC's report also acknowledges the 50% reduction in herd size, which is not in our Bill, and recommends that it is based on available evidence. However, there are ways to reduce emissions without reducing herd sizes, and that is what we want to explore.
Watching the rest of the UK and our neighbours in the Republic forge ahead with net zero climate targets, hoping that we can just opt out and keep our heads down, is not a viable strategy for Northern Ireland, and it will cause us problems in future. The EU, the Republic of Ireland and even the US will set net zero targets. Most developed countries in the world have set a net zero target. A recent court ruling in Germany saw it increase its ambition from 2050 to 2045. Wales has set a net zero target that goes beyond the CCC's recommendation of 95% by 2050. Is Northern Ireland really the only place that cannot do it?
If we are to set ourselves a limit and a lower bar, who are we requiring to do even more than their fair share in order for the UK to be net zero? Are we asking England to pick up our missing slack? Are we asking Scotland or Wales? What have they said in response? Can they do it? If the Republic works to a net zero target and we do not, what will the transboundary impacts be? Will there be legal implications?
The Climate Change Committee is a respected committee of experts, and we look forward to working closely with it on the Bill. When it gave the Minister the 82% target, it was based on current economic models, not as a stopping point but as an absolute target that we can no longer argue that we cannot achieve. It continues to encourage us to go that little bit further and be that little bit more ambitious.
There are questions about the CCC's proposed modelling for agriculture and concerns that it has not explored many pathways for low-carbon farming. Its sixth carbon budget acknowledges that the greenhouse gas impacts of less-intensive farming, or agroecology methods, are not included in its scenarios. Its states that that is:
"due to the lack of robust evidence".
That was mentioned by Philip McGuigan earlier in the debate. How would any credible expert predict pathways without robust evidence? There is evidence, though, to show that less-intensive farming has the potential to be extremely beneficial to the achievement of our target without the large-scale output cuts modelled by the CCC.
I look forward to Committee Stage as an opportunity to explore those issues in more detail. The Committee has already heard from nature-friendly farmers on the matter, and they have identified the lack of finance currently available to them for their wider sustainability measures. There are other issues to explore further.
I thank the Member for giving way. Will she note that Unite and others who represent farmers and food producers have raised concerns that the scrapping of the Agricultural Wages Board would place people who are already in precarious situations in further danger of low pay? The Minister has proposed to do that while claiming fake and faux concern about people in that sector. Does the Member agree with that?
I thank the Member for the intervention. Indeed, I have met the union on that issue and will continue to engage with it. Yes, it does cause alarm.
Mr Wells, for one, was very eloquent in outlining that the lobbying that, no doubt, we have all had over the past few days has been in UFU emails. Of course we are listening and will continue to listen to it. I reiterate that there is nothing in the Bill that will harm agriculture. Agriculture is listed, along with all other sectors, as an area that needs to see reductions in emissions. It is not the Bill saying that. Rather, it is the world in which we live. Nothing in the Bill mandates any immediate changes to the sector. The way in which the climate action plans are designed, with a carbon budget over five years but with no specific reduction targets given to individual sectors, means that those sectors that are ready to move immediately can do the heavy lifting over the first few years, with a more gradual transition for other sectors. Members should note that support for the Bill has been received from many sectors. Indeed, we have also been criticised by some for not being ambitious enough.
As we begin to roll out climate action plans and learn how to measure and collect robust evidence, and as that is overseen by independent outside commissioners and offices and is reported on to the Assembly for debate and scrutiny, I cannot see how we will be in the same place in five years' time, never mind 25 years' time, when we get to 2045. The Bill ensures that fairness will be built into any measures that are introduced. Sectoral plans will have to create high-value, fair work and reduce poverty and inequality, so job creation strategies will also be an essential component of any climate action plans.
We do, however, need to look at the social and environmental sustainability of farming in Northern Ireland. Not all farmers are opposed to the Bill. It is surprising that any MLA would cite climate action as the biggest threat to farmers when, in fact, departmental policies that are in place right now have seen farm numbers fall year-on-year, bargaining power given over to supermarkets and the position of farmers in the value chain constantly eroded. I have to wonder whether the concerns are about farming families or agri-corporations. We need a new deal for Northern Ireland farmers that encourages young people to take up farming and ensures a profitable and sustainable industry for them in the decades ahead in which they are paid for sustainable and climate-friendly practice. It is not our position that we want to see fewer farmers. We would like to see all sizes of farms — small, medium and large — survive and thrive. It is not the Bill that is a threat to farmers. Business as usual under current departmental policy is the real threat. It is therefore time for a green new deal and to build back better for everyone.
When we look at the costs associated with the Bill, we see that the immediate costs are for setting up the Northern Ireland climate office, including the climate commissioner and staff, and will be mainly for salaries and pensions.
The climate commissioner's powers and remit are modelled on those of the Public Services Ombudsman, including clause 6(8) that Mr Allister was speaking to. In my opinion, the ombudsman and that office are working pretty well. I have a meeting with them pretty soon, and I am looking forward to that.
Many Members were taken by the evidence given by Mr Allister on the pay and status of the commissioner and on the lack of accountability, given that the commissioner is to be appointed by the Assembly Commission rather than by any particular Department. Is the Member prepared to meet those concerns halfway during Committee Stage or is she wedded to the structure that she has articulated?
I thank the Member for his intervention. I am wedding —. Sorry. I will never be wedding. I am wedded to full independence for the commissioner and for the office, and I am happy to continue talking and looking at other models. We looked at the provisions and at how the Public Services Ombudsman in particular was established, and we have modelled what is contained in this Bill on that. I am more than happy, however, to keep talking to the Member about it if he has anything more that we wants to bring to me.
We have also sought the Finance Minister's recommendation for setting up the commissioner's office, and we are engaging with him on that issue. It is important that the funding for it come out of the Consolidated Fund, as the climate commissioner role is intended to be a permanent position. We thank the Minister for his engagement thus far.
More broadly, the climate action plans will have financial implications, but they go beyond the immediate remit of the Bill. Achieving net zero will involve significant investment, and it is foolish to consider that even an 82% reduction, as is preferred by the Minister, would not also require significant investment and significant change. There are huge economic opportunities involved in unlocking green investment and green jobs. For example, the National Grid has said the UK will need to recruit over 400,000 people to jobs to build the net zero energy workforce, and almost 14,000 of those jobs will be here in Northern Ireland. I refer again to the CCC's letter to the Minister, in which it stresses in its response:
"The greatest risks are associated with failing to act quickly enough. Delays to action are likely to increase global climate risk, increase uncertainty for businesses and households, lead to unnecessary costs in future, and could lead to Northern Ireland missing out on the benefits of climate investment that takes place elsewhere in the UK."
We must also consider the cost of inaction. Damages avoided, such as through climate action, must be compared with the cost of meeting targets. The cost of action has been estimated at 1% to 2% of GDP. Inaction, on the other hand, could lead to a reduction in global GDP of 10% by 2050 and of 25% by the end of the century.
I will now deal with the issue of consultation, which some Members raised. I hope that Members are aware of the legislative process for private Members' Bills, where there is no requirement to consult at this stage. I also remind Members, perhaps those opposing this Bill, that, had the Minister introduced legislation, as he was supposed to, it would not be have been necessary to introduce climate change legislation as a private Member's Bill. This Bill has adhered to exactly the same process as all other private Members' Bills that have been brought through the House and all other private Members' Bills that are currently awaiting introduction.
To reinforce my point on the issue of consultation, the majority of respondents to the recent DAERA consultation were in favour of a net zero target by 2045, as Philip McGuigan said. Those numbers were discounted in the Department's response. Maybe that would be an advisable approach that we should all employ. Maybe all the co-sponsors of the Bill should employ that approach, with the email campaigns and lobbying that we are getting. However, I cannot imagine that any one of us would agree that that would be a fair way forward.
I look forward to the Committee Stage as an opportunity to gather further evidence and to engage with a wide range of stakeholders so that the Bill can be strengthened as it advances. We are determined that this will be a collaborative process, and we have met groups from many sectors, including energy, transport, infrastructure, agriculture, rural communities. Most, though not all, have been broadly supportive. We will continue to engage.
By way of reassurance, I point out that every climate action plan will have a rural needs impact assessment carried out, as provided for under the Rural Needs Act 2016. What rural communities tell me they need now is clean air, for example, instead of the ammonia-laden air that they have been breathing for years. They want clean waterways and an end to constant, repeated pollution. They want jobs, transport and sustainable futures.
Let me quote from an email that I received today from an organisation in a rural area:
"Climate change represents the most complex challenge of our time."
They want their:
"children and grandchildren to have the opportunity to live their lives in vibrant, sustainable, rural communities."
"The responsibility is on us all now to take action."
The last line of their email reads:
"There is nothing to fear from being ambitious and proactively building a better future."
I am pleased that there is a majority consensus in the Chamber for the principles of the Bill and also for the need for urgent climate action.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change states that global warming is likely to reach 1·5°C between 2030 and 2052. If we continue to emit greenhouse gases at the current rate, we will reach the point of catastrophic change by 2070. The multi-organisation report, 'United in Science', stresses that current emission trends are not compatible with limiting temperature increases to 1·5°C, and certainly not to anything well below 2°C.
The last decade of political failure and inaction on climate change has cost us dear, shrinking the window for action by two thirds. Those 10 years are key. Wherever you stand on targets or approaches, one thing is undeniable: we must start now.
Mr Speaker, I want to thank the co-sponsors of the Bill. I am aware that co-sponsors are not recognised in Assembly processes, but the fact that they are here and signed up shows that efforts have been made to do things differently with the Bill. I thank Philip McGuigan, Mark Durkan, Steve Aiken, John Blair, Gerry Carroll, Claire Sugden and Trevor Lunn. I thank you all for stepping up, for being brave, and for your support.
I know that Jim Wells engaged with the Climate Coalition also. Thank you for that, Mr Wells.
I hope that we can vote through the Second Stage of the Climate Change Bill for Northern Ireland, 2021.
Before I put the Question, I remind Members that, in the event of a Division, they should be mindful of their social-distancing obligations while voting.
Question put. The Assembly divided:
Dr Aiken, Mr Allen, Ms Anderson, Dr Archibald, Ms Armstrong, Ms Bailey, Mr Beattie, Mr Blair, Mr Boylan, Ms S Bradley, Ms Bradshaw, Ms Brogan, Mr Butler, Mr Carroll, Mr Catney, Mr Chambers, Mr Dickson, Ms Dillon, Ms Dolan, Mr Durkan, Ms Ennis, Ms Flynn, Mr Gildernew, Ms Hargey, Ms Hunter, Mr Kearney, Mrs D Kelly, Mr G Kelly, Ms Kimmins, Mrs Long, Mr Lunn, Mr Lynch, Mr Lyttle, Mr McAleer, Mr McCann, Mr McCrossan, Mr McGlone, Mr McGrath, Mr McGuigan, Mr McHugh, Ms McLaughlin, Mr McNulty, Ms Mallon, Mr Muir, Ms Mullan, Mr Murphy, Mr Nesbitt, Ms Ní Chuilín, Mr O'Dowd, Mrs O'Neill, Mr O'Toole, Ms Rogan, Mr Sheehan, Ms Sheerin, Mr Stewart, Ms Sugden, Mr Wells, Miss Woods
Tellers for the Ayes: Mr Carroll, Miss Woods
Mr Allister, Mrs Barton, Mr Beggs, Mr M Bradley, Ms P Bradley, Mr K Buchanan, Mr T Buchanan, Mr Buckley, Ms Bunting, Mrs Cameron, Mr Clarke, Mrs Dodds, Mr Dunne, Mr Easton, Mrs Foster, Mr Frew, Mr Givan, Mr Harvey, Mr Hilditch, Mr Humphrey, Mr Irwin, Mr Lyons, Miss McIlveen, Mr Middleton, Mr Newton, Mr Poots, Mr Robinson, Mr Storey, Mr Weir
Tellers for the Noes: Mr Givan, Mr Harvey
Question accordingly agreed to. Resolved: