Green New Deal

Private Members' Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 1:30 pm on 24th May 2021.

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Photo of John Blair John Blair Alliance 1:30 pm, 24th May 2021

I beg to move

That this Assembly recognises that recovery from the pandemic and tackling the climate crisis go hand in hand, requiring an investment-led, green recovery that delivers on social and economic justice and rapidly decarbonises our economy; and calls on the Executive to deliver a green new deal that will create an equitable, sustainable economy filled with well-paid, secure, low-carbon jobs in care, education and health as well as in industry and infrastructure, and to ensure well-being and inclusion are at the centre of government decision-making.

Photo of Christopher Stalford Christopher Stalford DUP

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

Photo of John Blair John Blair Alliance

In the wake of the catastrophic coronavirus crisis, our immediate priority must now be to avoid further disasters. The world faces a climate emergency with potentially disastrous consequences. Average global temperatures have risen by about 1°C. A report by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (UNIPCC) on the impacts of global warming of 1·5°C warned that the effects of climate change are already irreversible and that we have only about one decade to act before it is too late. The report found that human activity is the dominant cause of observed climate change over the past century and that a changing climate is causing sea levels to rise and an increase in damaging fires, severe storms, droughts and other extreme weather events. Global warming at or above 2°C will cause famine, disease, mass migration, climate-driven floods and heat waves and will cost the UK billions of pounds. Current trajectories show a global warming increase of 3°C by 2100. We are on track to take the planet to an unprecedented climate.

The motion calls for the creation of a green new deal. The Assembly must make radical changes and it must act now, not because it is convenient but because it is the right thing to do. The motion also addresses the need for Northern Ireland to play its part in global challenges.

The past decade of rising inequality has shown us that austerity is not the answer to a crisis. Under the existing economy, we will never overcome climate change. Throughout history, periods of great upheaval have sparked incredible change. Look at the creation of the welfare state and the NHS after World War II, for example. Those changes were indeed radical and perhaps previously unimaginable, yet they remain absolutely critical to our lives generations later. The pandemic provides us with a similar historic chance for change; real change that could provide better opportunities, protect our planet and better protect us from future crises so that we never again need to face what we have faced during the past year. We are not alone in our demands either. Climate and economic experts are clear that we need a green recovery, with huge investment and urgent radical changes to our economy. To be frank, while we have felt that our lives have been at a standstill during the last year, climate change has continued to accelerate. Radical change is not just sensible, it is critical.

Industrialised nations such as the UK bear disproportionate responsibility for climate change. Just like in the pandemic, all of us will feel the impact of climate change but we will feel it disproportionately. Millions of people across the globe are already immediately threatened. Climate change is destroying livelihoods, infrastructure and communities and forcing people from their homes, towns and countries. That is neither just nor fair. 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, chronically underfunded public services and flawed short-term and self-serving decisions. We simply cannot make those same mistakes when tackling the climate crisis. In Northern Ireland, we need a new deal: a green new deal that recognises that tackling the climate emergency goes hand in hand with economic and social justice. A green new deal is about rapidly decarbonising our economy and, in doing so, creating an equitable, sustainable economy filled with well-paid, secure green jobs in existing and emerging industries.

The Alliance Party recently brought forward its own green new deal. The policies in that document show how we can simultaneously combat the climate emergency and inequality through investment and radical change and by breaking down the barriers of division. We have seen, from recent discussions in the Chamber, that movement towards a sustainable future has been divided by the false notion that we have to choose between our planet and our economy. The Alliance Party's green new deal not only rejects that notion but brings forward proposals to create 50,000 secure green new jobs by stimulating our economy and reskilling workers. It is about preserving our planet for future generations, achieving the greenhouse gas and toxic emission reductions that are needed to stay under 1·5°C, restoring critical infrastructure, the repurposing of housing, expanding access to transport and having an all-encompassing approach to ensure that no community is left behind in the process towards aggressive climate goals that will transform the economy.

We need a vision for a united community: an inclusive, dynamic, prosperous and sustainable Northern Ireland, where we can all thrive, enjoy living freely and securely, and be treated with dignity in a region that is rich with opportunities and biodiversity. We have a chance for change: change for the good of our people and our planet. We have an opportunity to deliver a recovery plan that better protects us in the future. There is historical precedent that fiscal stimulus measures are sound prescriptions in a crisis. We need serious investment to mitigate and adapt to climate change, but it will cost us more both financially and existentially in the long term if we do not act now.

Experts are increasingly stressing the need for a major investment-led green recovery, because addressing the climate emergency goes hand in hand with economic and social transformation. The fight against the climate emergency requires more than environmental policy tweaks. The gravity of the situation requires the green new deal to demand urgent, radical change on how we make policy in the longer term for our security and collective prosperity. That should be our vision for an urgent, radical overhaul of the policies and practices that hinder our progress and exploit our people and planet. Going forward, we must grasp the enormous opportunities for a sustainable green economy with a bespoke green new deal for a better future. Investing in infrastructure and industry, securing clean air and water, climate and community resilience, healthy food, access to nature and a sustainable environment for all are vital components and required actions.

We know that developing countries have a limited capacity to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. We can and must contribute our fair share to enable mitigation and adaptation activities that uphold environmental justice across the globe. Developed countries can help developing countries in that regard. Developing countries are on the front line of climate change the most, though they have contributed the least to the causes. A green new deal will recognise that we need to build resilience in the face of worsening and more frequent climate-related disasters that marginalise the communities that often bear the brunt of those disasters.

We need serious investment in our infrastructure and transportation systems. We need to invest in green roof technology and innovative urban architecture to address not just the carbon emissions of the agricultural and architectural fields but the intersectional issues of food security and climate change. Any green new deal is not sector-specific. All sectors have a major part to play in tackling our carbon emissions.

As we seek to recover from COVID-19, I hope that all Departments and sectors will work together to protect the environment and existing jobs and to bring forward new green jobs. The Alliance Party is committed to having a just, green recovery and an urgent and radical overhaul of the policies and practices that have hindered our progress to date.

Alliance Party colleagues, who will speak later in the debate, will give further detail on the departmental responsibilities. In tabling the motion, our intention is to highlight the urgent need for a green new deal that epitomises environmental justice for front-line communities, especially under-resourced groups, and calls for a just transition to a clean economy.

We have learned many lessons from the pandemic, but distressing lessons have been that high-impact threats must be acted upon in a timely fashion and that delay is costly. We must act now. The decisions that we make in our response to the global health pandemic, and the actions that we take to rebuild our economies, will determine whether humanity succeeds or fails. It is vital that we work together to reduce, urgently, our carbon emissions, and mitigate the impact of climate change. I commend the motion.

Photo of Gary Middleton Gary Middleton DUP 1:45 pm, 24th May 2021

I thank the Members for tabling the motion. It is timely to recognise that today marks a positive step forward in the recovery. It is good to see many of Northern Ireland's cafes, pubs and restaurants open. That is a good step forward.

Obviously, the Democratic Unionist Party fully supports the need to ensure that the economic recovery is underpinned by initiatives that are not only sustainable but environmentally responsible and support decarbonisation. It will also be important that investment is inclusive of, and fair towards, all communities, households and industries across Northern Ireland. We agree that sustainable solutions can benefit standards of living for people across Northern Ireland and help tackle deprivation and isolation. There is no doubt that the motion cuts across all Departments. I will speak about that shortly.

Democratic Unionist Party Ministers continue to champion the green recovery and the need to address climate change around the Executive table. The inter-ministerial group on green growth has been established by Edwin Poots, the AERA Minister. The Executive's overarching, multi-decade, green growth strategy and delivery framework for Northern Ireland aims to transform our society towards net zero by 2050, protect and enhance our environment and deliver sustainable economic growth.

We recognise that the desire expressed in the motion is to decarbonise our economy rapidly. Of course, at the same time, we have to ensure that the transition is fair and just, and that it does not place a disproportionate burden on certain industries, particularly our agri-food sector. There is a need to take on board independent, expert advice, including the clear finding by the Climate Change Committee that even the reduction of meat and dairy production to 50% and the increase of tree planting would not be enough to allow us to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

There are other departmental initiatives within our remit. In recent weeks, the Economy Minister launched the 10X Economy plan. It is her vision for a decade of innovation in the regional economy. One of the guiding principles of that plan is around supporting a greener, sustainable economy. That links in with the economic recovery action plan, which the Department has also launched. That plan includes a number of headline commitments, such as delivering a net zero carbon energy transition, improving the energy efficiency of buildings and industry and encouraging green innovation in renewables and low-carbon technologies. Those are areas on which we need our Departments to be working.

There will also be massive opportunities to exploit emerging green technology across various sectors, including energy, transport and manufacturing. It is important that we have the right skills mix, and that we ensure that our skills strategies are aligned with that potential for growth, moving forward. Training and upskilling our young people must be at the heart of that. It is one thing to pledge to create thousands of green jobs, but there needs to be buy-in from private industry and education and training providers in order to ensure that the capacity and skills exist.

My final point relates to hydrogen technology. Northern Ireland is uniquely placed to use renewable electricity to produce green hydrogen. It would make use of the wind that is available when the demand for electricity is lower. Onshore wind provides more than 80% of Northern Ireland's renewable capacity, and we need to exploit that. There is real potential for Northern Ireland to become a global centre of excellence for the hydrogen economy. That would see local manufacturers rapidly growing in order to try to meet the worldwide demand.

In closing, I thank the Members for tabling the motion. We will support it.

Photo of Mervyn Storey Mervyn Storey DUP

I thank the Member for giving way. He raised a valid point about hydrogen and the use of wind. In some cases, there is an inherent contradiction in those who advocate a green new deal, new energy and so on. They are sometimes the ones who champion opposing planning applications for installing some of those facilities. How do we ensure that they appreciate that they cannot have it both ways if we are to move forward on the issue?

Photo of Christopher Stalford Christopher Stalford DUP

The Member has an additional minute.

Photo of Gary Middleton Gary Middleton DUP

I thank the Member for raising that point. When looking at planning issues, it is important that parties recognise that, in order to further a lot of the aims that I outlined, we need to make sure that planning is processed as quickly as possible.

That leads me on, finally, to the Department for Infrastructure. More needs to be done. For example, the Electric Vehicle Association Northern Ireland (EVANI) recently highlighted the number of broken chargers across Northern Ireland. Other Ministers very much need to step up. It is all fine and well to bring motions like these, and we will happily support them, but we need Ministers to take them seriously in order to ensure that we can deliver on the many objectives that we need to meet.

Photo of Caoimhe Archibald Caoimhe Archibald Sinn Féin

I am glad to have the opportunity to contribute to the debate, and I thank the Members for tabling the motion.

The recovery from COVID needs to deliver a more fair and equal society and economy. It has been said many times in the Chamber and beyond that we cannot just return to where we were previously but that we need to build back better, as the saying goes. The imperative of tackling the climate emergency is clear, but it has to be done on the basis of a fair and just transition to decarbonisation. Those who can afford it least must not pay the most. The transition to a decarbonised society must be planned with workers, trade unions and communities. Sinn Féin is committed to ensuring that ordinary people do not pay the price for the current crisis, and it will resist any attempts from the Tories to place the burden of the current crisis on the backs of ordinary, hard-working people.

Businesses, particularly our small businesses, need to be supported in order to sustain existing jobs and to create new jobs. We need to support workers and families. That means giving people opportunities to work in jobs that have decent pay and fair working conditions. Sinn Féin is committed to banning zero-hours contracts and to strengthening workers' protections in the workplace. We also need to remove barriers to work by ensuring that people have opportunities to gain skills, start their own businesses or have access to more affordable childcare. I welcomed Deirdre Hargey's announcement last week of the upfront childcare grant to help people to get back to work.

Our young people have been very badly impacted by the pandemic and will need particular support. Sinn Féin wants a youth guarantee that means that every young person aged 16 to 24 has the opportunity to be in education, training or a job. I am very glad that the Job Start scheme has now opened, and I know that businesses in my own constituency of East Derry have already taken it up.

Businesses need to be supported to rebuild and recover. As Gary said, with so many businesses reopening, today is a great day. Our recovery must focus on protecting jobs and livelihoods in the hardest-hit sectors as well as on creating new jobs in sectors that will help to meet our climate obligations, as outlined in the motion, and create a more resilient economy and society.

We need to have a greater focus on community wealth and the social economy in order to ensure that our communities benefit and develop in tandem with the economy. During the pandemic, lots of people have been working remotely. That has benefits for work-life balance as well as for their local areas. Supporting that to continue can help to promote greater regional balance. One way of doing that would be to expand the regional hubs, which were announced by Minister Murphy, into the private sector. We should look at that. Our economic recovery must also maximise our economic potential as part of the EU single market and an all-island economy, bringing jobs and investment to the North. Disappointingly, that has been lacking from any of the plans that have so far been brought forward by the Economy Minister.

In reference specifically to the motion, central to delivering a fair and just transition and recovery is a green new deal. A green new deal can bring together all the other aspects of economic recovery: creating jobs; providing skills and training opportunities; delivering better health and well-being outcomes through tackling fuel poverty, for example; more active transport; and more green spaces. It should be one of the key pillars of our economic recovery strategy, but, given the plans that we have seen to date from the Economy Minister, I am not convinced that it is. Green recovery is mentioned, but there is a lack of detail on what it means, and it has no coordinated green new deal element.

Photo of Mervyn Storey Mervyn Storey DUP

I thank the Member for giving way. Not for the first time, the party opposite takes every opportunity have a go at the Tories and the Economy Minister, but the Executive are never mentioned. Will the Member clarify for me whether the Economy Minister's deal was approved by the Executive, or is the Economy Minister on a solo run? Do the Executive pick and choose when they are in favour of something? That would have serious implications for what will happen over the next few months.

Photo of Christopher Stalford Christopher Stalford DUP

The Member has an additional minute.

Photo of Caoimhe Archibald Caoimhe Archibald Sinn Féin

I thank the Member for his intervention. Last week, when that question was put to the Economy Minister about her 10X plan, we heard that it had not been endorsed by the Executive. The motion calls on the Executive to deliver, and it is important that we develop strategies on a cross-departmental basis, because recovery will be delivered by all Departments.

My final point is that, in my opinion, well-being should not just be part of the decision-making process; it needs to be measured. We all know that what gets measured gets managed, and we certainly need to ensure that our society is measured by more than its economic output.

In conclusion, Sinn Féin will support the motion. I agree with its content, as I imagine that everyone here does, not least because a green new deal was a commitment in New Decade, New Approach.

Photo of Christopher Stalford Christopher Stalford DUP

Given that it is almost 1.57 pm, and Question Time is due to commence at 2.00 pm, I propose that the House take its ease until 2.00 pm. The debate will resume after Question Time, when the next Member to speak will be Mr Mark Durkan.

The debate stood suspended.

(Mr Speaker in the Chair)