Debate resumed on motion:
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.
We can all agree that the past year, while being a terrible time, has been a wake-up call for us all. In being forced to do things differently, we learned that we must do things differently. The pandemic has upended society, but it has also allowed people to re-evaluate how they live and work, take stock of the natural environment and consider their consumption habits, and it has served to expedite the public desire for green recovery. That is where our focus needs to be.
Rebuilding in the wake of COVID-19 demands that we build back better, with green, sustainable principles at the heart of the decision-making process. The pandemic has instigated a gear shift in global consumption habits: people are shopping more mindfully and eco-consciously, and demand for local and sustainable products is on the rise. Attitudes have changed, and those changes are here to stay. We must respond and ensure that a green recovery not only shapes policy but defines our towns and cities for decades to come.
As I outlined during the recent debate on the Climate Change Bill, environmental challenges present economic opportunity; the two are not mutually exclusive. Research has shown that the cost savings of decarbonisation will bear fruit by 2050. As such, going green makes positive economic sense. While the green revolution is regarded with apprehension by some, it is undoubtedly a vehicle for prosperity.
Achieving the target of net zero emissions by 2050 demands action at all levels, but, perhaps most crucially, we need to see change in our industrial processes and in our energy sector. The energy sector must set its sights on a long-term collaborative plan. The North has exceeded renewable energy targets thus far, with almost half of our electricity being generated from renewable sources. However, we cannot fall into a trap of complacency. We must build on our relative success and look towards a viable long-term renewable energy plan that provides security of supply, ensures affordable renewable energy for all consumers and looks towards decarbonisation. The rapidly growing renewable sector has the potential to create thousands of jobs here, guaranteeing the improved health of our economy and environment.
The financial and practical benefits of a shift towards clean energies are clear. That is why governments everywhere are investing in renewable industries. There is no greater investment than the protection of our environment. We must act now to implement initiatives and energy strategies that guarantee that. We need a new vision if we hope to achieve climate action targets.
A collaborative cross-border approach is vital, as is a wider joined-up effort with Europe. It is important to remember that having a carbon-free energy sector will not happen overnight. It is a process that requires commitment and a change in attitude from our politicians, energy suppliers and businesses. While I welcome the Department for the Economy's ongoing work to develop an energy strategy for Northern Ireland, it is regrettable that Minister Dodds has failed to ride the wave of change, proposing just £20 million to stimulate green recovery in her economic recovery plan. In the wider scheme of things, particularly when we consider that Scotland has invested almost 10 times that amount, that is a drop in the ocean.
While Minister Dodds has reasserted her Department's commitment to achieve net zero emissions from energy by 2050, I am seriously concerned about whether the steps or time frames suggested are adequate to achieve that. A lot has been assumed about the role of hydrogen and biofuels in providing a revolution in energy systems, but, in our view, there is too little focus on energy sources such as geothermal, which is widely used elsewhere.
All Departments have a role. One key area is retrofitting homes in the social and private housing sectors. Experts have lauded the creation of energy-efficient homes as a necessity in tackling the climate emergency. Considering that 27% of emissions are from domestic sources, investment in that area cannot be an option; rather, it is a necessity. By retrofitting, not only will we make our homes more energy-efficient and cost-effective but we will create crucial well-paid, skilled jobs and tackle fuel poverty.
The transport sector, which has significant carbon emissions, has grasped that opportunity and has committed to transitioning to an entirely renewable energy fleet by 2050. The Infrastructure Minister, Nichola Mallon, has —.
Every facet of society must do things differently. Supported by the right strategy, we can deliver change in a manner that will not just help address the environmental challenges but bring about significant economic and societal benefit for all. We support the motion.
The Ulster Unionist Party supports the motion. How could anybody in the Assembly not support the motion and its sentiments? Plagiarism is the sincerest form of flattery, and I am glad to see so many of the Ulster Unionist Party's policies being brought into it.
There are some significant issues that we need to address, particularly in Northern Ireland. There are some decisions that we have to make, and those decisions have to be made now. In particular, when we move towards an all-electric economy, we need to sort out issues in our grid system and our electricity supply system. Over time, other Members have addressed this issue several times. My party has real concerns about the System Operator for Northern Ireland (SONI) and Northern Ireland Electricity Energy (NIE Energy), or should I say Eirgrid and the Electricity Supply Board (ESB), and their approach to supporting infrastructure in Northern Ireland. Indeed, there is also concern about whether the Department for the Economy is up for the task of transforming our electrical grid system and the market to allow us get to net zero carbon by 2050.
As we move towards the UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26), Northern Ireland needs to address some significant issues. We are pleased to see the issues around just transition. It is clear that our agribusiness, particularly agriculture and farmers, will need support as they move towards net zero carbon by 2050. Indeed, as pointed out by the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), many other areas of our economy, including small and medium enterprises, will need support to do that.
As other contributors said, this also represents a significant opportunity. In particular, we have the ability to transform our housing stock so that it not only gets closer to Passivhaus level but becomes self-generating to as large a degree as possible. We have seen what has happened across the rest of Europe, particularly the Netherlands and Denmark, which are models of what Northern Ireland should be looking to achieve. However, that requires significant changes to our planning processes. We have to ensure that we incentivise making housing much more efficient so that we make it easy to get to that point. We also need to be able to set incentives for Northern Ireland businesses, particularly those in the construction sector, to get involved in the major housing projects that the Northern Ireland Housing Executive will, I hope, be working on. Those projects will help us move towards net zero carbon.
We heard today from the Infrastructure Minister, and significant areas of infrastructure will need to be updated to secure net zero. We heard about transport, but one of the things about being on an island is that we also need to consider how we can incentivise offshore energy and offshore wind farms that meet the requirement in Northern Ireland. It is regrettable that, in the past, significant opportunities for offshore wind farms were not taken. If you look across the Irish Sea, you will see that everywhere in English, Welsh and Scottish waters seems to be festooned by offshore wind farms. In the waters off Northern Ireland and, indeed, the Republic of Ireland, there are very few. At the moment, it is beginning to look like we are being left behind. We must make sure that Northern Ireland is part of the all-islands renewable energy market, and that will have to involve a significant use of offshore wind.
We have talked a lot about the hydrogen economy and how it links in. However, to make it work, we have to incentivise it. One of the problems in Northern Ireland is the complete lack of joined-up government. We should be asking ourselves this question: are the Department for the Economy, the Department for Infrastructure and the Executive Office up to the challenges to make sure that we move towards a green recovery and net zero carbon by 2050?
Finally, as I draw my remarks to an end, this is also about how we get out of COVID-19. At this stage, we should all pay our greatest respects to the health workers of Northern Ireland, who have done such a fantastic job to get us to the point at which we now look positively to the future.
The message with which I want to end my remarks is that, if we are to achieve this, we must have a fully joined-up approach across the Government. It is down to all parties, and we must ask ourselves this fundamental question: are the Department for the Economy, the Department for Infrastructure and the Executive Office currently up to the task? We need to make sure that they are, and, as an Assembly, we need to hold them to account.
The opening part of the motion states:
"recovery from the pandemic and tackling the climate crisis go hand in hand".
I caution that, in the immediate term, for most people in the Province, given the massive pressures of the past year, the tragic deaths from COVID and the many hospitalisations, recovery from the pandemic is very much the most pressing and main priority at this time, and it should be the main priority for the House.
That said, Northern Ireland must do its fair share in response to climate change.
As I have said in the House previously, actions should be reflective of and, ultimately, proportionate to our 0·04% overall contribution to global emissions.
Plunging the people of Northern Ireland into further financial strain and upheaval with bad legislation on climate change will not make for any meaningful improvement. I refer, of course, to the private Member's Bill on climate change, and I use this further opportunity to urge Members instead to put their weight behind Minister Poots's departmental Bill.
Aspects of a green recovery that make common sense should, of course, be rapidly enacted. I see, for example, much room for improvement to the existing social housing stock and the need for those homes to receive much-needed energy-efficient upgrades. That should have an immediate cost-saving benefit to tenants and also benefit the climate. I have lost count of the calls that I have received from Housing Executive tenants who feel that their homes are not efficient, which has had a real and concerning impact on their finances. The House has a responsibility to deal with that issue in a meaningful way. It could be dealt with using the right intervention.
We can read the headlines on future energy sources and moves away from gas boilers, but we cannot ignore the reality of what that means for thousands of homeowners in Northern Ireland. Putting in new technology will be a massive expense for homeowners. To achieve that will require a clear and sensible pathway and will need a significant level of financial support for homeowners.
New forms of heating technology are expensive, and to install them requires a significant outlay. Take the RHI scheme, for example. Some participants spent many thousands of pounds on the installation costs of the new technology. Of course, currently, wood pellets remain an expensive source of heat. We have a situation now in which the tariff is nowhere near enough to subsidise either the massive outlay in installation costs or the cost of the fuel compared with fossil fuel alternatives. We need to get that issue right. Bad policy decisions will see millions of pounds returned to the Treasury that would otherwise be used to subsidise sources of green energy. It will not help our overall emissions-lowering agenda either. Businesses having to revert to using fossil fuels is not a good outcome for climate improvement.
The electric vehicle market requires much work. One only has to watch the television to see that many car manufacturers are vying for a slice of that market. There is no doubt, of course, that we are set to increase our use of electric vehicles over those that run on petrol or diesel. However, the charging network for electric vehicles remains abysmal in Northern Ireland. Despite many approaches to the Infrastructure Minister on that topic and, indeed, to many others in the House, there fails to be a clear, concise and meaningful strategy for creating and increasing the roll-out of such infrastructure. Indeed, it was disheartening when a constituent contacted me earlier in the year to say that 50% of the electric vehicle charging network in Newry was faulty. The effect of that was that the driver was nervous about using the electric vehicle for fear of being out of range of a working charging point.
Those are the physical aspects of the green recovery that need to be sorted out. We need to get them right, right now, if we are to make meaningful progress. For the vast majority of consumers out there, one of the most easily recognisable products of green energy is the electric car, yet, here in Northern Ireland, the network cannot possibly respond to the market. It is nowhere near where it needs to be. That must change immediately.
The green recovery must involve actions that are sound investments of public money and policy decisions that balance the need for a climate response but, crucially, do not throw our economic future over a cliff edge.
Like everyone, I welcome the motion and will vote in favour of it.
Indeed, as Dr Aiken said, who could argue against it? As we move out of the global pandemic, and as COVID, over time, hopefully plays a diminishing part in our daily lives, conversely, the climate emergency and dealing with it will play an ever-increasing part.
We have had enough debates in the Chamber over the past year to know that we all agree with the world's science community when it says that, as a global community, we have just over a decade to get carbon emissions under control before catastrophic climate change impacts become unavoidable. Again, through the various debates in the past year, it is clear that it is the settled will of the Assembly and of society as a whole for the North to play its part in the climate fightback through legislation, and to do so by setting ambitious net zero targets.
Speaking earlier today in the Chamber to another motion on the Climate Change Bill, on behalf of the Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee, I stated that we recognise the profound impact that climate change has on our environment but also understand that the Climate Change Bill will have implications for many sectors of our economy, including farming, agri-food, energy production, infrastructure and transport.
Given that, I welcome the fact that the AERA Committee on which I sit has launched its call for evidence on the Climate Change Bill. Over the coming months, the Committee will explore all the evidence and science from interested stakeholders and members of the public, and I appeal here today for everyone to use that opportunity to have their say on the Climate Change Bill.
If net zero targets are the destination, the green new deal must be seen as the transport network used to get there. Indeed, the ambition contained in any green new deal will determine how quickly we arrive at our destination. We need a green new deal that recognises that economic, social and climate justice are intertwined, and, as other Members have said, we need joined-up government, as it will affect all sections and all Departments.
I take the opportunity to welcome last week's Department for Infrastructure announcement of an e-transport scheme on Rathlin Island in my constituency and commend that island community on its ambition to become carbon-neutral.
As is the case for all MLAs' constituents, my constituents in North Antrim want to see action on climate change as part of the Executive's future economic policies. As an MLA representing my constituents, I want to ensure that, as my colleague Dr Archibald said earlier, those future policies and our recovery from COVID must be based on principles that support workers, families and young people and that support businesses to create, maintain and grow jobs. Those policies must be delivered through a fair and just transition and a sustainable economy.
I thank the Member for giving way. I am listening to claims about climate justice, whatever that is, and I have to say that justice seems to creep into every discussion. What justice is there for the farming community in North Antrim, which makes an invaluable contribution to the husbandry of our constituency and whose lives and livelihoods are now being put in jeopardy? In fact, as has been the case with some previous attempts, they are being blamed for the problem. For those families and for the future of their young people, can the Member therefore explain to me how he will support farming in our constituency of North Antrim and achieve his goal of saving the world?
Thank you, a Phríomh-LeasCheann Comhairle. As I have said on many occasions, and as I was saying in my speech, I represent a rural constituency that is heavily dependent on agriculture, the agri-food sector and tourism, and I do not think that any of what we are talking about today, or previously when we talked about the Climate Change Bill, will jeopardise that. I have said that the call for evidence has been opened. I encourage representatives from the agriculture and agri-food sectors in North Antrim and right across the North to have their voices heard. We will listen to them, just as we will listen to the science as we move forward. As I had stated before the Member interrupted me, key to that will be a just transition.
The Member may well be moving on to higher fields in the Executive and may well be able to play a key part in ensuring delivery, not just for his and my constituents in North Antrim but for constituents right across this island, on some of the important issues that we are talking about.
I thank the Member for giving way. Let us remember that the House said that RHI was a bad thing, was too costly, was a scandal, and was an awful thing that should not have happened. How will we pay for making that transition? Will we be put in the same position of having a scheme that is not fit for purpose and ends up with everybody crying foul and our having another disaster on our hands? How will we square that circle?
I heard the Member praise the Tory Government earlier. It is clear from the past year that even the Tory Government, which inflicted austerity on the people of the North for 10 years, can find the money when a crisis such as COVID comes along. I think that, if we are talking about providing a future for our citizens, businesses and young people, we will find the money.
People talk about climate and green recovery as if it is always a negative. This is a positive.
I will briefly add my support to a number of comments that have been made by party colleagues and some other Members across the Chamber during the debate. As a member of the AERA Committee, I know about some of what is already being achieved by the Department to drive growth within a green and sustainable framework. The launch of DAERA's green growth recovery road map from COVID-19 focuses heavily on ambitious change in every sector. The allocations of £23 million of assistance to local government aimed at further improvements to recycling services and £7·5 million to the farm business improvement scheme are two practical examples of green growth policies in action.
I have raised a note of caution previously in the House in relation to the setting of unachievable, or even damaging, targets for our businesses as we work to tackle climate change in particular. We cannot burden industry with unworkable quotas and then wonder why there is no economic growth. It is incumbent on us, as legislators, to work with our business communities to provide the tools and support needed to assist them to develop green and sustainable practices for the future. There is a need to take on board independent expert advice, including the clear findings of the Climate Change Committee in relation to net zero carbon emissions by 2050 and the impact on the agri-food sector in Northern Ireland in particular.
I fully support the need to ensure that the economic recovery is underpinned by initiatives that are sustainable and environmentally responsible and support decarbonisation. It will also be important to ensure that investment is inclusive of, and fair towards, all communities, households and industries. I agree that sustainable solutions can bring benefits to the standards of living that are enjoyed by people in Northern Ireland and help to tackle deprivation and isolation.
The Economy Minister has previously outlined her vision in relation to the development of Northern Ireland as a global leader in a future hydrogen economy. I welcome her commitments in relation to the hydrogen hub project thus far. It was encouraging to hear of the establishment this month of the Hydrogen NI group, which brings together key energy providers and business stakeholders to see that vision becoming a reality. It is evident that that initiative is already informing our economic drivers, and I look forward to seeing how it develops. Northern Ireland is, of course, well placed to use renewable electricity and produce green hydrogen. That would make use of the wind that is available when the demand for electricity is lower. Onshore wind currently provides more than 80% of Northern Ireland's renewables capacity. We need to exploit that.
Another key element of our recovery beyond COVID-19 is our tourism industry and our potential to attract foreign visitors. It is important that we ensure that the Executive give the travel industry clarity on the way ahead and that, when changes are made to the green list for travel, those are communicated clearly to the public and travel companies.
The task ahead is great, but, as we emerge from COVID-19, we are presented with a unique opportunity to effect change for the better in terms of how we live, work and do business. As our country embarks on its next century, I have every faith that we will do so and that the very best days are still to come.
In general, Members agree that action needs to be taken. There may be differences of opinion on what action has to be taken, the speed of that action, who pays for it and all those things. However, the one thing that, I think, we all agree on is this: climate action has to be taken. Therefore, we need a green new deal. I think that, among the public, there is huge support for or acknowledgement of the fact that climate action has to be taken. I suspect that the same debate is taking place: what action do we need to take, and who pays for it?
The action that we need to take will probably be the biggest change in production since the Industrial Revolution. That is the scale of the change that we need across the globe to change the damage that has already been done to the climate and to ensure that there is not further damage. Let us learn from the Industrial Revolution. The Industrial Revolution brought great things to many people across the globe; it also brought the damage to the environment that we live with now. It damaged, in many ways, not only the environment; workers paid a heavy price in the early and mid stages of the Industrial Revolution. Let us ensure, through the green new deal, that workers are not the ones who pay the price of the green new deal and that the tax burden is not placed on workers and families as we move to bring in the green new deal. When I talk about the tax burden, I am talking about direct taxation or indirect taxation. There is no point in giving the wealthy more tax breaks to buy greener houses, greener bigger cars and greener holidays. That is a waste of an opportunity. What we need is a fair and equitable transition to a just, new society. That has to include all of our society.
Many have rightly talked about the farming and rural community, where there are concerns about the debate and the discussion on climate change. There are concerns about the targets that have been set. People ask, "Well, how is it just for the farming community?". Significant parts of my constituency are rural and have a farming community, and I engage with them as much as anyone else. It is clear to me that, if you want to look at a sector that is familiar with transition, change and accepting that it has to adapt to the circumstances in front of it, it is the farming community. They have had to do it down through the years to survive. There is an acknowledgement as well that, if we do not tackle climate change and the adverse weather conditions that face us, the earlier introduction of the seasons, the loss of pollinating insects and all those other things that are happening now to the farming community, farming does not have a great future. Farmers want to see change. Rightly, however, they ask questions.
The consultation that the AERA Committee has launched gives all sections of society a huge opportunity to come forward and have their voices heard to help to shape the Climate Change Bill to ensure that it delivers climate action, delivers an opportunity for a green new deal and delivers for our economy, which, as I said, will be a new economy.
How do we ensure that workers do not pay the price for it? We create well-paid, meaningful jobs that are fit for the 21st century in the circumstances of a green new deal. We retrofit our homes. We build homes that use less energy, use no energy whatever in some circumstances or certainly use renewable energy. We ensure that the innovation that exists in our society is exploited to the maximum. There are many examples from around the world of where countries and societies have started to move to renewable energy, different forms of energy, different ways of production and different ways of doing a lot of things. We can copy those, but we can also, as we have shown time and time again, innovate and lead the world.
I will end on this point: saying to rural communities, "You will have to do without your car", is not a way forward. Rural communities do not have transport options. Are there different ways to support rural communities? Of course there are. I support the green new deal. There is a debate on how we move forward, but we have to move forward.
I thank the proposer of the motion and his colleagues for bringing it to the Assembly.
The COVID pandemic has resulted in an economic shutdown that has lasted longer than any of us would have wished, and with it has come human loss in many homes. It occurred at a time when the Assembly and its Executive, along with Governments across the world, should have been focusing their attention on the demands of tackling the climate crisis. As we seek to recover from that shutdown, we have an opportunity to re-evaluate our approach, to reset the economy and to build a future society that delivers on social and economic justice and decarbonises our economy to meet a net zero target for greenhouse gas emissions.
As well as recovery from the pandemic and the threats from the climate crisis, we face the additional problem of the impact of Brexit on our economy. As the DUP has realised, the free trade agreements that their former friends in the Tory Government are pursuing post Brexit will damage the Northern Ireland economy. Mr Irwin referred to his colleague's climate Bill, but we have yet to see the details of it in order to determine whether we can support it. I welcome that discourse happening and the Bill coming through the Committee.
Those who oppose the Ireland/Northern Ireland protocol should realise that, in the free trade area that is being introduced by the Tories in a race to the bottom, it is protecting the Northern Ireland market from food products imported from countries with less responsible environmental and food safety standards. It is the 50% of our agri-food that we export to Britain that will face competition from the exports of those countries as a result of the Tory Government's free trade deal approach. Each one of those deals brings with it a risk of compounding the damage done to our economy and to the climate as a consequence. We should use tariffs proactively, like the EU does, to prevent companies exploiting lower environmental standards, such as, for example, deforestation, and low labour costs — the way that they treat their labour forces — to produce cheaper foods. As well as that, there is the damage to the environment from the methods of transporting those goods long distances to GB or Northern Ireland. That undercuts the more responsible states that have more responsible approaches to the climate crisis. In effect, it is, in many ways, as I said, a race to the bottom.
The SDLP believes that there is support for an economic recovery plan that aligns with wider social, environmental and climate goals. The Executive parties have already committed to such a plan. It is in the 'New Decade, New Approach' commitment that:
"The Economic Strategy will support clean and inclusive growth and create jobs as part of a Green New Deal."
However, when the Economy Minister announced her economic vision for a decade of innovation on 11 May in a press release — not in the Assembly — that commitment had been watered down to "supporting a greener economy".
It is often the case with headline-grabbing lines that the further detail of supposedly green policies are worth paying attention to. Mr Irwin correctly referred to the infrastructure that is required for new electric vehicles as we strive to meet the priorities and commitments that we have made to end the use of diesel and petrol vehicles by, I think, 2035. However, further aspects of that have to be dealt with. I should add that Mr Irwin's party colleague at DAERA has been in dialogue with my party colleague at the Department for Infrastructure to work on that. We also need to involve his party colleague from the Department for the Economy.
Not everyone can afford a vehicle at £30,000, £40,000 or £50,000 straight off. There are further issues of poverty and accessibility in our rural areas, where people will simply not be able to afford those vehicles. Mobility in rural areas will be affected unless there is a policy of subsidisation that will, in some way, make those vehicles more accessible.
The difficulty I have when I come to the House is that we want to do everything. Here we go; here is another party that castigated my colleagues and the scandal of RHI, but now we are talking about another subsidy. When are we going to have an honest debate about subsidies and the amount of money that we pump across government? Yet, when it comes to reducing carbon emissions, we are closing down one of the very schemes that contributed to that.
The Member has an additional minute. Before I call the Member to take his minute, I remind all others that interventions should be brief. There is an additional space on the list for a DUP Member, so if Mr Storey wants to make a speech, he is more than welcome to do so. I do not know whether the House wills that, but he is more than welcome to.
As ever, I welcome Mr Storey's interventions here and outside, so I thank him for that.
One could argue that, in theory, RHI was a good scheme, but its outworkings, the inability to detect where it was going wrong and the oversight of it led to the chaos that it turned out to be. Yes, we need subsidies. We cannot have people in rural areas like the ones that you and I live in not having access to transport. As the changes emerge and the introduction of electric vehicles improves the process of evolution towards reducing the emissions that affect the climate, we will need support for people. People simply cannot be put in the position where only the rich are mobile. We have had enough of that.
We are, indeed, at what might be described as a pivot point in our history. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown how our economy is not working as it should. Too many people are in insecure and poorly paid jobs, with few opportunities to retrain. The economy inequality gap is growing. The pandemic has also shown us that things can be done fundamentally differently and that many of the old orthodoxies, such as the clear failure that is austerity, can and should be cast aside.
We need to change how we live and work in order to avoid another major crisis. However, another major crisis is facing us, and that is the climate emergency. We have to transition to a zero-carbon economy not only to save our planet but to secure and improve quality of life for us and, even more importantly, future generations. My Alliance Party colleague John Blair already set out that a green new deal is essential in order to move towards a better future for everyone in a just and inclusive manner. There are some parties in the Chamber that talk the talk, but they also need to walk the walk in a coherent and united manner.
Last month, we in the Alliance Party published our green new deal document to outline how we, as a society, can do just that for our economy and our environment. Building a green economy offers Northern Ireland major opportunities to lead the world and to attract major investment and tens of thousands of sustainable jobs into Northern Ireland. We have the resources to build that with our young, educated workforce, our abundant potential for clean energy and our strong telecommunications network. However, we need the right regulatory framework in place in order to prioritise investment in research and development and to market Northern Ireland chiefly through organisations like Invest NI. We should be striving to make Northern Ireland a green economy hub for the whole of Europe.
We need to take action to ensure that everyone benefits from the potential of the green economy and that we move away from carbon-intensive industries. It must not be like the deindustrialisation of the '70s and '80s, which crippled the community that I come from in Carrickfergus when we lost Courtaulds, immediately followed by ICI. We must break the pernicious cycle of underachievement in Northern Ireland with meaningful and comprehensive interventions in education and skills.
Lifelong learning and easy access to education must be a central plank in how we move forward. That includes tackling problems of affordability, flexible working and the lack of affordable childcare. The Alliance Party's green new deal would deliver a much-needed skills strategy to tackle the skills gap in Northern Ireland and ensure that everyone has a skill to take advantage of future opportunities. We want specific green apprenticeships. We urgently need these new skills.
A major task before us is to decarbonise our entire energy landscape. Homes and buildings across Northern Ireland will need to be retrofitted with high-quality insulation and new high-efficiency heating systems that deliver affordable warmth and eliminate the social ill of fuel poverty for ever, which is a key priority in the Alliance Party's green new deal. To ensure a stable and secure energy supply, new generation and transmission capacity will need to be developed, and major technical challenges will need to be overcome.
To thrive, people need secure and fair employment. The last year has shown us how the system of employment rights is not meeting the needs of today's society. Far too many people are being left without basic income security, many of them going to work when ill because they simply cannot afford to stay at home on the unacceptably low statutory sick pay provision. Discrimination in employment also continues to be a serious issue. Homeworking has taken off in a way that no one in January 2020 could have envisaged, yet, we see the pernicious use of fire and rehire tactics to worsen the terms and conditions and pay of employees.
I speak for all when I express my thanks to those working in the care sector for their compassion and tireless work during the pandemic. I did not stand up and clap for a 1% pay rise for our NHS workers. They deserve what they deserve. The Alliance Party's green deal will tackle these issues head-on by regulating the gig economy and instituting an employment rights framework for the 2020s, not the 1990s. This will include stronger reporting requirements for gender and ethnicity, and it will ensure that our labour market is inclusive and fair. Government must act now to invest in our people —.
I support the motion, obviously, and I thank the Member for tabling it. However, I do so mindful of the Green Party's track record of calling for a green new deal for over a decade. During the debate, I listened to some of the ideas about what can be done to roll it out in Northern Ireland. I point out that the green new deal is not a new concept but long-established work by the Green New Deal Group following the financial crisis of 2007. The membership of that group was drawn to reflect a wide range of expertise in economics and politics, as well as in the climate, nature and inequality crises. The views and recommendations of the group are set out in a series of reports that started as far back as 2008. Maybe it is no longer a green new deal but the only deal left in town. One of the founding members of the group, Caroline Lucas MP, is, along with Clive Lewis MP, bringing forward the Green New Deal Bill at Westminster. That will be game-changing legislation, and similar is needed in Northern Ireland.
I agree with the Green New Deal Group when it states:
"The global economy faces multiple, linked crises. It is a combination of accelerating climate breakdown driven by fossil fuel use, corrosive inequality and debt-fuelled over-consumption by a global minority pushing us beyond planetary ecological boundaries. These overlapping factors threaten to develop into a perfect storm making social collapse highly likely. To help prevent this from happening, and to lay the foundations of the economic systems of the future, we need a Green New Deal. There is still time. Act now and a positive course of action based on the framework set out in the Green New Deal can pull the world back from economic and environmental meltdown."
The green new deal is, in the loosest terms, a massive programme of investment in new technologies, community and business. The hard work has been done. All that is really needed is the political will to implement it.
Our response to the COVID-19 pandemic has proven how far and how fast we can create change and do things differently. Nothing short of similar efforts will be required to implement a green new deal and create a society that is sustainable and leaves no one behind. Re-engineering the economy will take much more than a few new policies and some slight shifts in spending priorities. The Green Party has known for a long time that we can afford the necessary action, and, more often than not, we have been derided and ridiculed for championing them. I remember that, during the 2011 Assembly election campaign, many parties supported and endorsed a green new deal, yet we have seen no implementation and no delivery from Ministers since they secured their seat.
While it is encouraging that there is consensus across the House on the motion, I want to be clear: political inaction has brought us to the brink of irreparable damage being done. Political inaction alone must take responsibility for the seismic, radical shift and the rapid changes that must now be urgently rolled out if our children are to survive and thrive. A green new deal is the only plausible way forward. It will take much more than words and consensus; it will take action and implementation. The Green Party will be watching how that is done and what is prioritised within it, because failure is no longer an option.
I support the call today for a green new deal and for economic and social justice as we rapidly decarbonise our economy. I thank the Members who tabled the motion.
I believe that, to achieve a sustainable and eco-friendly society, we need a just transition away from the causes of the climate crisis, and that must extend far beyond our borders. Those in countries that are at the greatest risk from the climate crisis are also at the greatest risk of being left behind. The COVID pandemic is a perfect example of how the capitalist system blocks those at the bottom of society from accessing the support necessary to survive and live. That is as true of vaccine patents and the profit-driven production of medical aid as it of adapting to and mitigating the effects of the climate crisis.
The very wealthy who can afford to adapt to newer climates will do so without so much as an afterthought for those who cannot. They will continue to create profit, no matter the cost to our planet. Indeed, it is the wealthiest multinational corporations and their profit motive that are responsible for the greatest emissions and the greatest damage to our planet and the pillaging of our natural resources. The world's richest 1% have caused double the amount of CO2 emissions than the poorest 50% from 1990 until 2015. That is not according to me; it is according to Oxfam. They have not only squandered our global carbon budget and brought us to the brink of climate catastrophe but made worse the lives of working-class people and the very poor across the world. Bottom wages, poor working conditions, pollution of the air, water reserves and the earth — just to name a few — destruction of habitats and even homes — all that has been driven by the insatiable need for more profits to be concentrated in fewer and fewer hands.
That context should underscore everything that we do when we plan for a more sustainable future. Tinkering around the edges of the system will not work. Taking half measures that green our appearance but do not drastically reduce our emissions will not cut it. We need to see tangible, transformative change in society that challenges the root cause of the crisis: capitalism. That means being a global leader in banning fossil fuel exploration. It means standing up to the multinationals that want access to local reserves by saying — pardon the pun — "Not on our turf". It means acknowledging that we have a problem with production and agriculture and doing what needs to be done to ensure that sustainability does not leave ordinary farmers behind but instead gives them the skills and assistance needed to produce sustainably, based on the needs of our communities rather than on the profit that it provides.
There is a disappointing reluctance from the Executive to take action in that arena and to talk about how we can incentivise ordinary farmers and improve their lot while reducing our methane outputs. That reluctance spreads to their failure to recognise the damage done by underfunding public transport. There is also a reluctance to break with the fossil fuel industry or stand up to those who want to have their way with our local environment. There can be no place for such reluctance in the fight for climate justice, and it is a fight for justice.
I will speak briefly about workers' rights. Any move to a so-called green economy must be accompanied by the implementation of a proper living wage, the recognition of trade unions across new sectors, and the banning of precarious working conditions and zero-hours contracts. Quickly, I want to pay tribute to the Hovis food production workers, who have fought an incredible fight and had an improved pay offer from management today. I also want to mention the workers in the meat production plants, who have had to face unsafe working conditions and exposure to COVID-19 clusters. Those are the same workers who are underpaid and underappreciated, and the issues are not unconnected.
We have an opportunity here not just to green our economy a bit but to make a monumental shift that would better in one fell swoop the lives of so many workers and those who are most vulnerable to the climate crisis. That will require a challenge to the normal order here and globally. I do not know whether Mr Muir and the other Members who tabled the motion would go as far as to agree with what I am suggesting here, but things such as workers' control, proper democracy in planning and production, and a break with the status quo are what is required.
I urge those in the Chamber and those watching to check out articles and publications by eco-socialists, whose ideas could rescue our future and the future of generations to come. If that is not important to some people in the House, look at the young demonstrators on our streets and recognise why it is important for them and many, many others.
Thank you very much. In winding on the debate, I will make a few remarks and then summarise some of the contributions that were made. From the Alliance Party's perspective and from my perspective, emerging from the pandemic, we have an opportunity to tackle the climate emergency whilst also creating new jobs and building a just and inclusive society. In summing up some of the contributions that have been made today, I will later touch on the need for a just transition, a matter that a number of Members raised.
As many Members said, the situation demands a bold vision and strong leadership. The Alliance Party feels that we need to grasp that chance for change and look at the examples throughout history of societies emerging from times of crisis with bold initiatives to tackle the major issues of the day, such as the original New Deal after the Great Depression or the establishment of the NHS after World War II. This time last year, none of us had fully grasped the enormity of the change that would arise as a result of COVID-19. Coming out of it now, hopefully, we will be able to turn our back on the pandemic eventually. It is about understanding the nature of the change and the impact that it has had on society, and there is a need for the response from government to be bold and show great leadership.
The Executive cannot tackle the climate emergency alone, but they have it within their power to make a start in the right direction here in Northern Ireland. My portfolio is infrastructure, and we need to supercharge the electric vehicle charging market, as was touched on today during Question Time. We need to rebalance our priorities towards active travel and support our public transport network in adapting and thriving in a post-pandemic environment.
As I have been on the record as saying today and previously, the electric vehicle charging network that we have at the moment is a shambles. We need one Minister to drive forward and champion change. It is a perfect example of silo departmental working and the buck being passed from one Department to another. Someone needs to grasp the issue and drive it forward. One of the issues is that the current network of chargers is falling apart. Fixing that would be welcomed, but, essentially, that is bringing us back to the future. We need to take on board the feedback that has been given from the Electric Vehicle Association Northern Ireland, the electric vehicles owners' group, which has a six-point plan for tackling the matter. There are clear issues on which the group has outlined the problems but also the solutions. If there is anything that this place needs to do in the last year of its existence in this current mandate, it is to tackle the electric vehicle charging network.
Beyond that, I welcome the Minister's passion for and commitment to active travel, but that needs to be matched with funding. The commitment to and the leadership shown on electric vehicles, active travel and the use of public transport is welcome, but we need to put our money where our mouth is, and we need to support them.
The current investment in active travel is woeful.
I thank the Member for giving way. Is he also concerned about the discrepancy in the likes of cycling infrastructure? Places in my West Belfast constituency and North Belfast have much less cycling infrastructure than, say, South or East Belfast. We need to do a lot more to put in infrastructure in those areas.
I entirely agree with Mr Carroll. I got injured from running about three months ago so I have not been out doing much running. I have been using the bicycle much more often. The cycling network is diabolical. It is scary for people to go out unless it is on a cycle path — a properly segregated cycle path, not a shared footway. Road surfaces are not maintained correctly, and only in certain parts of Northern Ireland are we lucky enough to have a greenway network. If we are to encourage more people to take up active travel, we must put in place safe routes. So many parts of Northern Ireland, particularly rural areas, are just forgotten about in that respect. It is not good enough to say, "It is for councils to bring forward initiatives, and we will consider funding them". Councils are not given any funding or resource to run feasibility studies and take this forward. That is a key issue.
As we come out of COVID-19, we need to have good service options in public transport. There is no point in encouraging people to use public transport when the level of bus and rail services could eventually be cut if we do not sustain funding for them. We must also encourage young people to use public transport by extending concessionary fares to the age of 22. People with entitlement to half fare currently have to pay half the adult single fare: that is not fair or right. Free fares should be extended to people with disability. We have all talked about Glider phase 2 and the need to deliver on that. I agree with that, but the approval process for bus lanes is far too cumbersome and long-winded. We need to find ways to streamline that process and to realise the commitments that have been made to high-speed rail.
Before another Member intervenes, this key question has to be faced: how do we fund this? We can bring motions to the Chamber and call for initiatives, but we need to find ways to fund those. We need to face up to the cost of division in Northern Ireland. The figures have been cited year after year, but we are not prepared to take the difficult decisions. We need to be able to utilise our borrowing powers to a greater extent and reform our public services. COVID-19 has shown us how we can change things. We need to continue in that vein with respect to our public services. We also need multi-year budgets — we will talk about that in tomorrow's Budget debate — to allow for long-term planning. The fiscal council will play a key role in the scrutiny of our finances.
I thank the Member for giving way. He talks about reform of public services. I first came to the House in 2003, and we have always talked about the 60:40 split and how we should turn that around. Does the Member accept that, if we do that, people will lose their jobs? The voluntary exit scheme cost us millions and we have not changed the 60:40 split, so it really was not a success.
If we are to reform, we need to bring people with us. We need to look at innovative ways to deliver services, such as online. In the past year, an awful lot of services that, we were told, could never be delivered online have been. We need to continue in that vein.
We also need to take into account the level of stimulus that has been given by the UK Government. Whilst that is welcome, compared with the stimuli that have been given in other parts of the world, particularly the United States of America, our level of stimulus does not cut the mustard. We need to invest in a green new deal, particularly in relation to infrastructure. The Chancellor's announcement earlier this year was disappointing in respect of the lack of investment in infrastructure.
As I said in my opening remarks, a number of the comments during the debate were about the need for a just transition. Tackling climate change and the climate emergency that we declared at the beginning of last year has to be done with people. We have to do it together and bring people with us in partnership. It cannot be done to people and communities. It has to be a just transition that is about creating new jobs and supporting communities and the livelihoods that they need to sustain them.
In opening the debate, John Blair rightly touched on the threats of climate change. Gary Middleton talked about the need for a just transition and about hydrogen. It is one of the fuels of the future, and we need to adapt to that. The sources from which to obtain hydrogen, particularly green hydrogen, are limited. We need to invest in that in Northern Ireland and be ahead of the game.
Mark Durkan joined us on the screens virtually from Derry/Londonderry and talked about how going green would mean economic success. The economics and finances of a green new deal make sense. We need to make that clear.
Philip McGuigan talked about the need for joined-up government. We have a Programme for Government, whether in draft or final form, but it needs to be much better in tackling siloed departmental working, such as with the e-car network.
John O'Dowd spoke about the need for change and new jobs. Change is difficult, but we should not run away from it. It brings opportunities as well as challenges.
Patsy McGlone talked about the impact that Brexit is having on our ability to tackle the issues. He rightly spoke on those matters.
Towards the end of the debate, Clare Bailey talked about the need for a green new deal and said that it had been long awaited: I agree. We need to invest in our future.
Gerry Carroll talked about the need for radical action. He also said that workers' rights needed to be protected and enhanced. That point has been acutely transparent during the COVID-19 pandemic, and we need to be conscious of it.
The Climate Change Bill that was brought forward as a multi-party Bill was debated in the Chamber a few weeks ago. If we back the motion, it is important that we also back the Climate Change Bill. I urge all Members to back the Bill, including all Members from every party that says that it supports it.
Question put and agreed to. Resolved:
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.
Adjourned at 4.36 pm.