In accordance with convention, the Business Committee has not allocated any time limit to the debate.
Members will be aware that a private Member's Bill on climate change is currently making its passage through the Assembly. While it is not unknown to have Bills on similar topics in the same mandate, this is the first time that a Bill with provisions that are mutually inconsistent with an existing Bill has been introduced to the Assembly. Should the Climate Change (No. 2) Bill pass Second Stage today, the issue of mutual inconsistencies will no doubt be a significant aspect of any debate at amending stages. Although this is a unique and challenging situation and is far from ideal, there is no procedural impairment whatsoever that prevents two such Bills from being considered by the Assembly and Committees at the same time.
The Minister is entitled to bring forward legislation on areas within his remit as he sees fit. Each Bill will be subject to the normal legislative processes, and the procedures for timings and activities within each stage will not be affected by the existence of another Bill. Members may decide to support the principles of one of the Bills, neither of them or both of them and should bear that in mind during today's debate. The Committee approach to scrutiny of the Bills is a matter for the Committee, and any queries can be referred to it for consideration. Ultimately, the progress of both Bills is in the hands of the Assembly, but, for today, the debate should focus on the principles of the Climate Change (No. 2) Bill.
First, I would like to thank my Executive colleagues for their support in bringing the Bill to the Assembly, and I look forward to working with Members and the Committee for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs in progressing it further.
Climate change is an issue that affects everyone in Northern Ireland — indeed, everyone on the planet — and it requires both a global and a local response. As politicians, we have a duty to take action to mitigate the impact of climate change and to move towards a more sustainable economic and environmental model where both can prosper.
Since my appointment as Minister of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs in 2020, I have made climate change top priority in my Department. There may be some in the Chamber who wish to contest that, but my actions speak for themselves. From the outset, I have committed additional resources in my Department to take forward work on climate change adaption and mitigation and in preparation for the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26). I have prioritised the development of a cross-cutting green growth strategy, which is being led by my Department on behalf of the entire Executive, and that strategy will map out the actions that we must take to meet sector-specific greenhouse gas emission reduction targets, which will deliver a cleaner environment, lead to more efficient use of our resources within a circular economy and provide more green jobs.
I engaged with the UK Climate Change Committee (CCC), within one month of taking office, to start the process of identifying what would be appropriate as long-term emission reduction targets for Northern Ireland. As part of the process of developing legislation to set out such targets, my Department undertook policy analysis work and issued a consultation on a potential Northern Ireland climate change Bill in December 2020. Since then, my officials have been working to analyse the responses to the consultation, agree the policy objectives and develop a draft Bill.
Bringing forward a cross-cutting Executive Bill on an issue of this importance in that timescale has been very challenging, but developing the right legislation cannot be rushed. I want to deliver on the commitments that the Executive made in the New Decade, New Approach agreement, and the Bill before the House will do so.
The Bill has a strong focus on greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets and puts in place a legal framework for Northern Ireland policymakers and decision makers to build on. The Bill includes ambitious and challenging targets that have been recommended by the UK Climate Change Committee; a committee that is the world-renowned, independent statutory advisory body to the UK and devolved Governments on climate change. The Climate Change Committee has been and is very demanding of the UK Government, and it will not be slow to criticise any lack of action on our part. It has also been clear that we must legislate for a credible, evidence-based target in Northern Ireland, and, in its view, a net zero target cannot be credibly set for Northern Ireland at this time.
I want to be clear: I would like Northern Ireland to achieve net zero emissions as soon as possible through a balanced pathway and a just transition; however, the available evidence indicates that that will not be possible by 2050, never mind 2045. My Bill sets a target of an at least 82% net reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, with interim targets for 2030 and 2040. Crucially, however, the Bill allows for those targets to be modified should updated advice recommend it or if it is appropriate to do so as a result of significant scientific, technological or legal developments relative to climate change. I am very hopeful that such developments will take place and that we will be in a position to make the targets more ambitious in the future. The Bill is, therefore, based on current evidence, but it is also future-proofed to allow us to react to what, I hope, will be positive developments.
I know that Members have expressed concerns about two climate change Bills passing through the Assembly at the same time. It can cause confusion, and it has significant resource implications for the AERA Committee and the Assembly. I recognise those concerns and met Clare Bailey, as the lead sponsor of the private Member's Bill, to discuss the matter. I then instructed my officials to work with Clare and her team to develop a compromise that would involve incorporating some elements of the private Member's Bill into the Executive Bill. The basis of a compromise has been agreed. I wrote to Clare to seek her agreement on the proposed way forward, and I await a response. I hope for a positive outcome and will update Members, as appropriate. However, I want to be clear: based on current evidence, I cannot support, nor will I agree to, a net zero target, as it is aspirational and, therefore, not real at this time.
The purpose of the debate today is to focus purely on the principles of the Bill that I introduced in July. I will now turn to the detail of that.
Part 1 of the Bill focuses on emissions reduction targets. It then outlines how we will measure our emissions and provides important powers to bring forward future legislation to cover a potential carbon accounting scheme and legislation on how emissions from international aviation and international shipping will contribute to our overall measurement of emissions. Those are fundamental building blocks of effective climate change legislation. Responsibility for meeting the targets in the Bill is placed on all Northern Ireland Departments, and those duties are further clarified in Part 5 of the Bill. That approach is essential because all Northern Ireland Departments can and must assist in efforts to tackle climate change. That transparent and clear approach is in contrast to the private Member's Bill on climate change, which places no duties on any Department to take action to achieve that target in the Bill.
Part 2 of the Bill covers carbon budgets. Those are important tools in limiting emissions over a defined period in order to keep us on a pathway of achieving the targets in the Bill. The approach adopted is in line with the UK approach, and the carbon budgets will be set based on advice provided by the Climate Change Committee, with the first period beginning in 2023.
Part 3 of the Bill covers reporting requirements against targets and budgets set by or under the Bill. A key requirement for my Department will be the production of reports that set out the proposals and policies for meeting the carbon budget for each period. Those reports will cover the areas that fall under the responsibility of each Northern Ireland Department, and all Departments will be required to provide the relevant input and support to assist in the development of the reports.
The Bill would require interim reports to set out what progress has been made on the implementation of proposals and policies. It would require final statements on carbon budgets, including assessments of the extent to which the proposals and policies for meeting the carbon budgets have been implemented. That would ensure a high level of scrutiny and assessment of progress through each carbon budget period.
Where a carbon budget has not been met, a further report would be required to be laid before the Assembly setting out the proposals and policies to compensate for excess emissions. Further statements would be required on each of the emission reduction targets, and those statements must include the reasons why a target has or has not been met. The Bill also includes enabling powers to bring forward future legislation on public bodies and their climate change reporting duties. That is important, because all public bodies need to focus on how they can adapt to and mitigate the effects of climate change.
Schedule 1 to the Bill covers the reporting duties that would be placed on the Climate Change Committee. I fully understand the importance of having robust independent scrutiny. Those on the Climate Change Committee are the independent experts in the assessment and scrutiny of the efforts and actions on climate change by the UK and devolved Governments. They already have that statutory role under the UK Climate Change Act 2008. My Bill would place further duties on them in relation to such actions being taken in Northern Ireland; thus, they would act as independent scrutinisers of the progress being made to deliver on the Bill's commitments.
The approach to scrutiny in my Bill would mirror the approach taken in the rest of the UK and, indeed, in the Republic of Ireland, where there is only one advisory body with a clear role. The Climate Change Committee would have to produce reports after each budgetary period, providing a scrutiny view of the actions that have been taken to reduce the emissions in the period as well as a scrutiny view on the progress that has been made towards meeting future carbon budgets and targets by Northern Ireland.
The committee would also have to produce reports after the interim emissions reductions targets in 2030 and 2040 have passed. In those reports, the committee would have to provide its views on whether any future emissions reduction targets set by the Bill are the highest achievable targets for Northern Ireland and, if not, what the highest achievable targets would be and what further measurements would be required in order to meet such targets. The Climate Change Committee would also provide interim progress reports on Northern Ireland climate change adaption plans. Adaption is an important part of climate action.
My Department would be required to prepare a response incorporating input from other Northern Ireland Departments to each of the reports produced by the Climate Change Committee. All those reports would be laid in the Assembly, and, in that regard, the Assembly would be kept well informed of the progress being made to reduce emissions. I have purposely kept the Bill focused on elements that are essential for effective climate change legislation. The Bill does not specify that targets need to be put in place in order to address other environmental issues, such as water quality or biodiversity, because there are other statutory drivers for that. A number of strategies and plans are in place to deliver in such areas.
Moreover, the environment as a whole and, in particular, water, soil and biodiversity quality will benefit from the actions that are required to be delivered under the Bill to meet carbon budgets and emissions reduction targets. In addition, the green growth strategy, which I hope to launch for consultation in the coming weeks, will be one of the key delivery mechanisms for the Bill's aims. The strategy will address how we plan to ensure a just transition towards a low-emissions society.
I want to focus again on the targets in the Bill. It is vital that we include the right targets in our climate change legislation. The Climate Change Committee has identified that a net zero target for Northern Ireland would not be credible and that setting such a target would be morally wrong. As I have previously highlighted in the Chamber, the additional costs of meeting a 2050 net zero target compared with the target in my Bill could be up to £900 million per annum, according to the Climate Change Committee's estimates.
Let me put that phenomenal cost into a clear context by highlighting the findings of the draft regulatory impact assessment (RIA), which was carried out by my Department. The indicative net cost of the Executive Bill's provisions between 2022 and 2050, including the at least net 82% 2050 emissions reduction target, is estimated to be over £4 billion or, in yearly terms, approximately £140 million per annum.
In contrast, a similar Bill with a target of net zero by 2050, a whole five years later than 2045, is predicted to cost a staggering £30 billion-plus between 2022 and 2050. That is an approximate annual cost of over £1 billion per year. The budget of every Northern Ireland Department, including Health, would be affected by that. That is an extraordinarily high price for the public of Northern Ireland to pay, especially as, while it would decimate key parts of our economy, it would not actually reduce global emissions due to offshoring of our emissions to elsewhere to meet food demand.
Indeed, you may also have seen the recent independent report by KPMG on the impact of the 2045 net zero target in the private Member's Bill. The findings in the report are shocking and will reaffirm the scientific evidence that the Climate Change Committee and I have put into the public domain regarding the impact of the net zero target. The KPMG report shows that there could be a reduction in cattle and sheep numbers of up to 86%. Therefore, traditional grass-based family farming systems would be wiped out if net zero by 2045 was applied in Northern Ireland. Many thousands of jobs would be lost as a consequence, and there would be a huge loss to our economic output.
"Subsidies and grants were not included when calculating each farm’s income"?
The sector gets up to 86% of its income from public subsidies. If I were to do an economic impact assessment of my household income, it would find that removing 86% of my income would have pretty damaging effects.
It is a brave consultancy organisation that would predict that we will receive the same subsidies in 20 years' time as we do now. Essentially, we want to make the production of food a more profitable exercise and one that creates massive employment across Northern Ireland. There are many steps that we can take to ensure that farming responds to the needs around climate change, water quality and a better environment in general. In doing that, I am very hopeful that we will have other products to sell, such as methane, phosphates and even ammonia, and that we will be able to create circumstances in which farming can become more profitable and, at the same time, better for the environment.
I thank the Minister for giving way. He outlined some potential costs of moving towards reductions in greenhouse gases. Is he of the same view as he was in February 2021, when, in the foreword to his discussion document on a climate change Bill, he said that:
"tackling climate change should be viewed not just as an environmental challenge, but also as an economic opportunity"?
Is he of the view that that there are plenty of economic opportunities for businesses, agriculture and all sectors across the North?
Yes, there certainly is economic opportunity, particularly in hydrogen. Given that we have already achieved 45% renewable energy, and with the opportunities that are open to us for further renewable energy, I believe that Northern Ireland can lead the way in hydrogen. I raised that issue with Kwasi Kwarteng, the UK Secretary of State at the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), again this afternoon. There are tremendous opportunities, and I believe that not just the farming community but the community in general is up for the challenges. However, to meet those challenges, we do not close down farms here or stop folks on farms here — particularly those on marginalised farms and in less-favoured areas, such as hill farmers — producing food. Food still has to be produced, because consumption has not disappeared. That food will be produced somewhere that produces even more emissions and carbon. You will have taken that somewhere else. It may be good to salve the conscience, but it is not good for the economy, nor is it good for the environment. That is the challenge facing all of us, including the folks on the other side of the Chamber. We need to produce climate change legislation that takes account of the reality in Northern Ireland — the fact that we are a significant food-producing region — and looks at how we can continue to produce large quantities of food. The population of the world is going to rise; it is expected to put on another 2 billion by 2050. We continue to produce good-quality food, but we do it in a way that has minimum impact on the environment.
I thank the Minister for giving way. His analysis of perceived difficulties, problems and costs with moving towards greenhouse gas reductions is very detailed. Is he equally as expert on the potential benefits? The CCC said that net zero:
"can provide a significant economic boost in the coming years and support ... economic recovery."
I have quoted what the Minister said in his own document. The CCC also said:
"We are not therefore able precisely to calculate the costs" to the North in terms of "reaching Net Zero". You seem to be an expert when it comes to all of the difficulties. Why did you not engage the same kind of expertise to try to produce the benefits economically, societally and environmentally for moving towards net zero?
I am very grateful to the Member for elevating me to being an expert. I have to burst that bubble: I am not an expert, but I listen to expert advice. When we pay for and employ expert advice, we do well to pay attention to it. The Climate Change Committee gave very powerful evidence to the Executive on Thursday. People had the opportunity to pose questions. There were no questions asked that the Climate Change Committee did not effectively deal with. I encourage others, including the AERA Committee, to engage with the Climate Change Committee. The Member will have the opportunity to speak to real experts: the scientists who are involved there. I trust that he will give respect to the science on the issue and accept it.
Thank you very much indeed. It was quite interesting that you mentioned the CCC's report. Will the Minister lay that report, which was put before the Executive, in the Library? I understand that there is a considerable amount of information in it that we have not seen yet. It might be useful for all Members to see that when we are making up our minds about the Bill.
I will be very happy to. I will clarify whether everybody else is happy with that, and, if that is the case, I will do that. The more things are in the open, the better — where possible.
For Northern Ireland to reach a net emissions reductions target of at least 82% requires a percentage reduction greater than is required in the rest of the UK to reach net zero. By way of example, Scotland is almost halfway to net zero emissions, having achieved a 45% reduction by 2018. Unfortunately, Northern Ireland is only a quarter of the way to reaching an at least 82% reduction; it had achieved only 20% by 2018. We are starting behind, and we need to recognise that and reflect it. An at least 82% emissions reduction is in no way lacking ambition; we actually have to do a lot more than others across the UK to do that.
I recognise that the AERA Committee will play a key role in scrutinising the Bill. My officials have already been constructively engaging with the Committee. That engagement will increase. I appreciate that, at this stage in the mandate, the Committee is under a lot of pressure to perform its crucial scrutiny role efficiently and effectively, but I know how important climate change is for the Committee, and I look forward to further engagement during the Committee Stage. My officials and I will be happy to provide any support that the Committee needs as it conducts its business in respect of the Bill.
I hope that Members will recognise that this Bill — the Executive Bill — will deliver on the New Decade, New Approach agreement commitments; will help to deliver net zero for the UK and across these islands; and will set Northern Ireland on a balanced pathway towards a sustainable low-carbon economy in which key sectors can prosper and grow through a just transition. The Bill is supported by the key sectors that will have the most important part to play in reducing our emissions, and it will help us to protect and support those sectors. It is based on the evidence and advice from the experts. It is an effective piece of legislation that places clear duties on all Northern Ireland Departments and includes robust scrutiny and reporting requirements. We, as an Executive and Assembly, need to tackle climate change head-on. My Bill is the right vehicle to do that.
I welcome the opportunity to speak as the Chairperson of the Committee for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs on the Climate Change (No. 2) Bill that the Minister has introduced.
Climate change is one of the most profound challenges facing our society. In recent months, we have seen the devastating impact that global warming has caused to our natural environment, with intense flooding in central Europe, unprecedented heatwaves in Canada and extensive wildfires in California. In August, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reported that progress to mitigate climate change had not gone far enough. It is more likely than not that the Paris pledge to limit warming to less than 1·5°C by the middle of the century will be missed. In advance of COP26 in November, countries across the world are being asked to do more to meet the global challenge to reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions and change how we live, work and travel in order to be more environmentally friendly. There is a collective responsibility, and we all have a duty to play our part. It is in that context that the Committee welcomes the introduction of the Climate Change Bill sponsored by the Minister.
Members are aware that the Committee has engaged in extensive activities in recent weeks to gather evidence and information to help inform its deliberations and scrutiny of the climate change legislation. It stands ready to accept the Minister's Bill for scrutiny. The Committee received a briefing from departmental officials in March on the principles and policy aims of the intended Bill, following the completion of the Department's consultation. Members received a written briefing to update it on the progress of the Bill in May, and it was formally introduced in the Assembly on 5 July 2021. The Committee looks forward to hearing further oral evidence from departmental officials on the Bill on 14 October, should it pass its Second Stage today.
The Bill has 41 clauses, divided into five Parts, and would provide a legal framework for climate change mitigation locally through the following aims: setting targets for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions for 2030, 2040 and 2050; establishing a system of carbon budgeting and independent reporting on the attainment of those budgets; providing for a duty to be applied to public bodies in respect of climate change reporting; and creating a process to receive advice and independent reports from the UK Climate Change Committee.
Part 1 of the Bill covers emissions targets and outlines how global greenhouse gas emissions will be at least 80% lower than baseline levels by 2050. It also sets interim targets for 2030 and 2040. Those targets are in line with advice provided to the Department and the Committee by the UK CCC on what is deemed to be currently achievable on local greenhouse gas mitigation. Part 1 also gives the Department the power to amend the emissions target years and baselines, subject to certain justifications. Any proposed change must be in line with the CCC's recommendations and will have to be ratified by the Assembly.
The Committee is acutely aware of the potential and profound implications for different sectors of the economy associated with any greenhouse gas emissions target. We know that many stakeholders, particularly representatives of the agri-food sector, welcome the advice and recommendations of the CCC in that regard and that many others feel that we should be more ambitious and legislate for a net zero emissions position. It is a complex and significant decision, and it is therefore only right and proper that the Committee have adequate time and space to consider the implications and detail in order for it to come to an informed position on what the greenhouse emissions targets should be and what flexibility should be afforded.
Part 2 sets out proposals for the Department to establish carbon budgets that will set the maximum permissible greenhouse gas emissions on a five-yearly basis. The Committee understands that all local government departments will be jointly responsible for achieving the carbon budgets and providing the Department with information on the strategies and policies that will be taken forward to achieve the emissions limits. The process for developing, laying and reviewing carbon budgets is an essential component of the Bill, and the Committee looks forward to engaging with that in detail as part of its scrutiny, should the Bill pass today.
Part 3 establishes a mechanism for progress reporting and sets out a timetable for how frequently the Department will lay progress reports in the Assembly that will document the achievement of the carbon budgets and recommend measures to address non-compliance. The Committee is conscious of the need to ensure that a robust accountability framework is in place to hold government to account for delivery against climate change, and effective reporting is central to that. A key message arising from the work of the Committee in recent weeks is this: individuals and organisations want to be able to see clearly what progress has been made, what the direction of travel is and whether we are on course to meet targets. It is therefore important that the Committee review the proposed reporting framework to ensure that it will facilitate transparency and accountability.
Part 3 also confers on the Department powers to impose climate change reporting duties on specific public bodies following consultation. That is an interesting aspect of the Bill and one that the Committee will consider carefully. In other jurisdictions, such as Scotland, climate change legislation places an automatic duty on public entities, including Departments, councils and arm's-length bodies, to report on their climate change mitigation and adaptation activities. In recent weeks, the Committee has heard the strong message that members of the public and, indeed, public authorities are keen to see more responsibilities placed on local institutions with respect to their climate change actions. A crucial aspect of climate change legislation is how it caters for the independent oversight and scrutiny of government action. That is essential to assure citizens and organisations that performance against emissions targets is being objectively assessed and that recommendations can be made by an independent entity to stimulate improvement.
Part 4 sets it out that the UK CCC will be the primary responsible body for reporting on local progress in meeting the climate change goals by sending reports to the Department following the completion of each carbon budget period and each of the interim target years. The Department will be compelled to lay with the Assembly a response to any CCC independent report. The proposed method of obtaining independent oversight is one that the Committee intends to consider carefully as part of its scrutiny. Whilst the UK CCC is considered to be a world-leading and credible source of expertise on climate change policy, there are other organisations that could provide useful oversight of and advice on local climate change action.
There is also a need to consider the most appropriate mechanism for independent oversight, given the unique circumstances of sharing a land mass with a different jurisdiction that could have different policies on climate change. Climate change does not recognise borders. The Committee understands the importance of local organisations working with entities in other jurisdictions so that actions taken here accord with those of our neighbours. The Committee welcomes the proposal in Part 4 that stipulates that the UK CCC will provide a report to DAERA on its consideration of progress made and any relevant recommendations against climate change adaptation programmes laid by the Department with the Assembly under section 60 of the Climate Change Act 2008. That should help to ensure greater oversight and independent accountability of such programmes introduced through the House.
In summary, on the face of it, the Committee broadly welcomes and supports the principles of the Bill in relation to facilitating greenhouse gas reductions; introducing a system to monitor progress; reporting on climate change; and obtaining independent advice on and scrutiny of local measures. However, as is so often the case, the devil is in the detail. Therefore, should the Bill pass today, the Committee looks forward to the opportunity to consider those issues as part of its scrutiny and to engaging with members of the public and organisations on those matters.
Members will be aware that, in August, the Committee launched a public call for evidence on the Bill. It was not undertaken to pre-empt the outcome of today's debate; it was simply a method of gaining views from stakeholders on the salient aspects and issues in the context of the Committee's wider workload and programme going forward. Members will also be aware that, should the Bill pass today, the Committee will be in the unique position of scrutinising two pieces of legislation that ostensibly cover the same policy area. I assure the House that the Committee is committed to addressing that potentially complex challenge and to considering the Bill before us today on the basis of its individual merits and potential consequences
The scale of the climate change challenge is enormous and affects us all. How we live, work, travel and do everyday things will have to change if we are to mitigate the harmful impact to our environment. Not only that, but we have a duty to younger and future generations to put in place mechanisms to avoid further damage from climate change and to ensure that they do not have to deal with an even worse situation. That is why it is incredibly important that the Committee has the opportunity to scrutinise the Bill and to ensure that any climate change legislation that is introduced is effective for our local public institutions, economy and society. That said, the Committee welcomes the Bill and looks forward to scrutinising it, should Members pass it today.
I very much welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate. I speak as someone who has a lifelong interest in agriculture. That said, I also have a great interest in our environment. The Bill is important for many reasons, not least because it represents a much more achievable and less destructive path to a reduction in emissions. The Bill can be compared and contrasted with the private Member's Bill, which has been referred to as highly damaging to one of Northern Ireland's mainstay industries. While the Bill tabled by the Minister and his Department is by no means a walk in the park, it is, crucially, a Bill tabled with important input and expertise from across a range of areas, including departmental officials and UK Climate Change Committee experts. I have made many comments on the issue in Committee and publicly. For any Bill to succeed, it must be reasonable and reflective of the facts about Northern Ireland's contribution to global emissions, which currently stands at 0·04%.
Among farmer representative organisations and bodies, the overwhelming view is a recognition that climate change is a real and present challenge. However, they also believe that the Bill represents the best way forward to tackle change locally when considered in the global context. Make no mistake: the legislation is a huge challenge, with a reduction of 82% by 2050. It will require a significant effort across every sector of life in Northern Ireland, in all sectors of business, across the transportation sphere and in the home. The challenge is considerable and must, crucially, be viewed in the UK context and overall UK effort on emissions targets. The Climate Change Committee has recognised that important issue and has suggested a benchmark for Northern Ireland on a UK-wide basis. Playing to strengths is a key part of the joined-up approach.
Today, major countries account for a significant portion of global emissions. We must be not only clear in our ambitions but realistic about what we can achieve. I have consistently argued that it would be foolish to impose legislation that creates a drastic downward trend in our domestic productivity, only for the demand to be met by countries with extremely poor records on emissions; indeed, at this time, such countries are increasing emissions as part of an expansive, deliberate economic domination-driven policy. China, for example, does not plan to reach its peak emissions until 2030, and it currently emits 27% of global emissions.
I resent the fact that we have two Bills on the table. Again, I urge the Green Party to get behind the Department's efforts. I understand that discussions between the Department and the sponsor of the private Member's Bill are ongoing. It is important to arrive at a sensible outcome, and it is incumbent on all parties to recognise that.
I support the Minister and the Department in their efforts. As was said, the targets are a real challenge and will take significant effort. It is vital that the House gets behind that effort and embraces actions that are sustainable and achievable. To do otherwise will obliterate Northern Ireland's agri-food sector. The expertise at the Department's disposal from the Climate Change Committee will be vital in going forward, and the legislation cannot be looked at in isolation. The efforts to reduce emissions are UK-wide, and Northern Ireland will play its full part. There is merit in the Ministry setting up a forum or committee facility to assist with the transition. Important work will have to be done to manage this course of action. It will be vital to ensure that our farming community and rural dwellers can raise their views and concerns about these matters. I would welcome the Minister's thoughts on that suggestion.
I thank the Minister for his efforts on this huge issue. I am interested to see the Bill's progress. I urge the House to play its part in assisting with those efforts. I support the motion.
The SDLP welcomes the Second Stage of the Minister's Bill. I thank the Minister for it. We are behind the curve in legislating for our responsibility to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It is over 10 years since the UK Climate Change Act was passed, and we still do not have any Northern Ireland-specific climate legislation. It is over six years since my party colleague from Foyle, when he was Environment Minister, proposed a radical climate action Bill to limit the average global temperature increase to 1·5°C above pre-industrial levels.
With the addition of the Minister's Bill, there are now two climate change Bills before the Assembly. As a member of the AERA Committee, I can safely promise the Assembly that we will be equally rigorous in our examination of both.
That we have reached this point now is timely, given the imminent 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow. At the UN assembly last week, many countries across the world, including China and the US, announced renewed commitments and further investments towards meeting the aims of the Paris agreement. The Climate Change Conference of the Parties may well result in a new declaration that recommits Governments to net zero emissions by 2050, as well as big reductions by 2030. There may also be specific pledges on ending coal, petrol cars, and further protections for the natural world. Developing countries will hope to see a significant financial package in the short term to help them to adapt to rising temperatures. That is often left out of the debate here. Those measures are expected because Governments have woken up to the realisation of just how serious the global situation has become. They have been helped in that awakening by the effect of more people's seeing the devastating impact of human-driven climate change on the environment and by the efforts of a younger generation who are justifiably angry at the damage that is being done now to the world around them.
To date, there have been successful efforts to cut emissions in some sectors such as electricity generation — what has been described as the "low-hanging fruit" — but the most recent NI greenhouse gas inventory estimates for 2018 show only a 20% decrease in emissions compared with the figures for 1990. Current projections estimate that there will be a 39% reduction by 2030. Agriculture remained the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions for Northern Ireland in 2018, at 27%. That share is expected to increase to 35% in 2030 due to a combination of the effect of the improved performance of other sectors and an only 3% reduction in agricultural emissions. That is not sustainable, whichever target the Assembly sets.
Given where we are, it would be irresponsible for any Member to suggest that any sector of society would be able to carry on as it has been doing. To reach even the Minister's target will require support and incentives to ensure that the necessary changes are made to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in agriculture and other sectors. The aim must be to maintain the profitability of farms while encouraging the use of less-environmentally damaging methods and practices. That is where science comes into it.
At the Committee, we have been discussing the measures that could be introduced via transitional support. Indeed, I championed the fact that that would not just be for farming but for some of the other subsidiary industries that are so dependent on farming — the linked industries of agri-food and other supply chains that are affected by it. That would include building social benefits into reduction efforts so that communities could see that working for them. Bringing communities with us as we reduce greenhouse gas emissions across all sectors, including energy, transport, business and agriculture, is key. We would need to shape policy in order to meet the targets that are set and put in place support and incentives to help all sectors, particularly agriculture and the agri-food sector, to make those changes.
There will also need to be greater cooperation across the island of Ireland in areas where we have already agreed to work together. Even after Brexit, the agri-food industry continues to operate on an all-island basis. The latest figures on North/South trade show a 66% increase in trade that comes north and a 146% increase in trade that goes south in the first six months of 2021 when compared with the same period in 2018. That increase in economic activity obviously means more vehicles on the roads. The move away from petrol-driven vehicles will require additional investment in the single electricity market to ensure that the network can sustain the increased pressure of having more charging points on all routes.
On vehicles, roads, infrastructure, air quality and water quality, we need harmonisation of standards to help to drive down those emissions. The North/South Ministerial Council exists to facilitate that cooperation, which we will need. That is unquestionable. It is definite: we need that cooperation to see what we can do to ensure that we achieve those targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
I thank the Member for giving way. The Member talks about cooperation, and that is certainly key to all this. Will he agree with me that we also need internal cooperation so that, when there are opportunities for renewable energy projects, we all ensure that we get those projects over the line? The benefit of renewable energy projects is that we in Northern Ireland will be able to go down the route of producing hydrogen, so that the vehicles that the Member talks about travelling between North and South can run on a non-fossil fuel, which is critical. If we resist renewable energy projects, however, it will be hard to achieve carbon neutrality.
I hear some of what the Minister says; I am not sure what specifically he refers to. There have been some contentious areas that have not fitted well around communities. I made the point earlier that we have to bring communities with us. I welcome the fact that the Minister's Department, with the Department for Infrastructure, has carried out useful collaborative work on all this. I know that both Ministers have been working very positively on that.
Passing legislation on climate change is only the first step. We have a long way to go and difficult decisions to take if we are to meet our obligations under the global commitment on the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Sin é.
The Ulster Unionist Party supports the Climate Change (No. 2) Bill. We also support the Climate Change Bill. It is clear to our party, having taken a wide range of soundings, that there is a need for climate emergency legislation. Northern Ireland must not be the only part of our nation or, indeed, of these islands and beyond not to have specific legislation. We do not have it, and we are way behind.
Not to have legislation will impede our economy, prevent future-proofing of our planning and strategic development and considerably undermine our people as they deal with the existential threat posed by the climate emergency. Doing nothing is not an option. Denying the climate emergency is not an option. Somehow discounting the science and scientific advice is not an option. Creating an effective legislative framework with realistic and achievable targets, backed up by an independent commissioner with the necessary ability to oversee and shape our responses, is the only option.
We believe — I say this now — that the Minister and Ms Clare Bailey, of whose Bill we are co-sponsors, need to work together to merge their Bills in order to achieve goals that we as a party will seek to advance by amending both Bills if the Bill sponsors cannot agree on the practicalities of combining their efforts. Many in the House would like to see that agreement happen.
First, there has to be a clear and unambiguous statement that there is a climate emergency and that the Executive and their Departments will use the best peer-reviewed scientific advice to deliver solutions to adapt to and mitigate the real challenges that are ahead.
Secondly, we must have an independent climate emergency commissioner with responsibility for monitoring the climate action plans, reviewing the implementation of the Bill and making recommendations to the Executive. The Executive Office must be mandated to address the issues that are raised by the commissioner. It must be an all-Executive responsibility.
Thirdly, in reporting against targets, we must have independent verification in order to build trust in the delivery of measures to ameliorate CO2 and methane emissions and other activities that contribute to the rise in temperature. That can only be achieved by the establishment of an independent climate commissioner and monitoring organisation — ideas that I encourage the Minister to take from the Climate Change Bill and incorporate in his Bill, if he and Ms Bailey will not reach an accommodation, which we encourage them to do.
Finally, we have the vexed issue of targets for greenhouse gas emissions that are achievable without undermining critical sectors of our economy. Northern Ireland is a significant net exporter of agri-food products, with nearly 50% of such products that are produced in Northern Ireland being consumed in the rest of the UK. That will not change. The independent Climate Change Committee has said that, for the UK to reach the net zero target, a fair contribution from Northern Ireland would be an 82% reduction in greenhouse gases by 2020 compared with the 1990 levels. The Ulster Unionist Party welcomes that intervention from the independent committee, has accepted its recommendation and will target an 82% or better reduction in greenhouse gases for Northern Ireland as part of the ongoing climate action plan. Adding those amendments to both the Climate Change Bill and the Climate Change (No. 2) Bill would bring them into alignment but, more importantly, would actually begin to deliver what is required.
However, finally, we hope that, rather than proceeding with the two Bills, we can merge them to make an effective, durable and practical piece of legislation. I think that is what the Assembly wishes, and I think that is what the people of Northern Ireland want. I believe that, given the goodwill of the Minister and, indeed, of Clare, it is very achievable. We in the Ulster Unionist Party will give our best endeavours to make that happen.
I share with many others the frustration at the incredible delay in progressing vital legislation on climate action. This is a point that has been made before here, including by me, but it is worth repeating that the crisis is no longer a looming threat but is here and is happening now, yet we prevaricate. The refusal to act at the pace the science demands is, quite frankly, deadly. We have learned many lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic, but its central lesson has been that high-impact threats must be acted upon in a timely fashion and that delay is costly.
We need a green recovery, with huge investment and urgent, radical changes to our economy. That radical change is not only sensible but now critical. As the only jurisdiction in the UK and Ireland without an independent environmental protection agency, a climate change Act or a specific net zero emissions target, Northern Ireland is in urgent need of policies that will address the climate emergency and economic and social transformation.
I will focus my comments on legal frameworks for environmental governance in the departmental Bill, and I understand that my colleague Kellie Armstrong will up pick some other points on behalf of Alliance later in the debate. I will start by drawing attention to the fact that our exit from the EU and subsequent legislative reassessment and realignment will have substantial implications for climate action in Northern Ireland. The Department's Bill, I have to say, goes some way towards addressing the governance gaps that Brexit has exposed; however, in its current state, it does not offer the same level of protection and accountability as the European courts did. As a result, there is a greater ongoing requirement for Northern Ireland to remain aligned to previous EU standards. As I said last week, we are told that we can do better and that we are going to do better. I hope we do, and I, with my colleagues, am ready to support the doing better when we see it coming forward.
In the absence of the independent environmental protection agency, which, as we know, is an outstanding New Decade, New Approach commitment, or an office of environmental protection based in Northern Ireland, it is necessary to incorporate a mechanism to independently scrutinise progress on delivering the provisions of such an Act. Unlike the private Member's Bill, of which I am a co-sponsor, the departmental Bill would not make provisions for such an independent oversight body. The private Member's Bill would establish a climate change commissioner, whose duties would involve holding the Executive and the Northern Ireland Departments to account in relation to their duties. However, governance needs to be considered separately from policy. It should go without saying that independence in holding the Executive to account on climate action is critical, but that is not the case. It appears that it still needs to be said. The new powers under the proposed legislation appear to have the effect of allocating the AERA Minister and, indeed, the Minister in DEFRA a central role in shaping guidelines administered by the oversight body, thereby, I suggest, constraining the role of the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) and its ability to act totally independently.
As we seek to recover from COVID-19, I hope that all Departments and sectors work together to protect the environment. As well being committed to existing jobs and bringing forward new green jobs, Alliance is committed to a green and just recovery and an urgent and radical overhaul of the policies and practices that have hindered our progress to date. On behalf of Alliance, I do, however, pledge support to the Department's Bill at this stage in the hope that sufficient consideration can be given to and progress made on points raised today in order to ensure support at future stages. These are urgent matters, and they must be addressed for the good of our people and our future. I hope the Minister can address some of the concerns.
I welcome the opportunity to speak in the debate. If we are to tackle climate change effectively, it will require clear, decisive legislation. Even the CCC admitted that the advantage of a net zero target was that it removed uncertainty and the temptation of sectors to lobby for a larger share of the remaining 18% of emissions. It stated that the clarity of a net zero goal, coupled with good policy design, could help stimulate innovation across all sectors and cut the cost of capital, thereby bringing down the overall cost of mitigation.
Following the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and climate change risk assessment (CCRA) reports on climate change, it is clear that now is not the time for half measures or piecemeal approaches. That is why my colleagues and I have been working on a number of environmental PMBs that will make quick and practical differences to our environment. In particular, I have been working on a fracking prohibition Bill, which will outlaw fracking in the North and, as a result of similar legislation in the South, right across the country. Fracking is a profoundly dangerous practice that presents a threat to the health of the environment and the population. Nobody in my constituency, where the fear of fracking is perhaps felt more greatly than elsewhere, would appreciate legislation offering an 82% reduction in the practice. Nobody wants to deal with 18% of the effects that it produces. That is why my private Member's Bill would outlaw the practice entirely. Similarly, climate change presents an absolute threat to the planet, and we must address it. Net zero should be the minimum that any climate legislation aims for.
I welcome the opportunity to speak at the Second Stage of the Climate Change (No. 2) Bill. We are all aware of the need to address the issue of climate change legislatively and, in so doing, ensure 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 enjoy. As I, and others, have previously outlined in the House, tackling climate change is a commitment of the NDNA agreement. As such, I am pleased to see Minister Poots bringing this legislation forward. I look forward to the engagement at Committee Stage on the finer detail. In the meantime, as the Bill continues its passage through the House, I will make a number of general points.
As we consider the Bill, the most fundamental issue is that of striking the correct balance. There is a need for legislation on environmental targets that is ambitious but which does not require us to bankrupt our businesses. We have been warned by representatives from many sectors, including Manufacturing NI, to strike the right balance and not to destroy jobs. It is imperative that that is at the forefront of our deliberations.
It goes without saying that our efforts on the issue will have greatest impact on our agriculture community. If the legislation is to be of any success in years to come, it is vital that the agriculture community has ownership of it and that we work collectively to make progress. It is worth remembering that our agri-food sector represents £5·2 billion a year to the local economy and provides employment for around 113,000 people. There is often a tendency to pitch the farming community against progress on climate change. That narrative needs to be challenged. In my engagement with farmers, it has been evident that there are few sectors more clued-in on the need to tackle climate change. Farming is on the front line of its impact. It is particularly vulnerable to extreme weather events that directly hamper business. The sector has already been engaged in efforts to combat greenhouse gas emissions since 2008 through the implementation of the greenhouse gas programme. In 2019, the UK Government put us on the front foot as the first major economy to have a net zero target in law: the only country in the world to have developed a pathway to net zero. With the professional support of the UK Climate Change Committee, we are in a good position to do our bit.
The Paris agreement set ambitious targets but also recognised the importance of safeguarding food security. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has shown the importance of local food supplies, and we must ensure that they are protected. Although Northern Ireland must reduce its impact on the climate, we should not reduce our capacity to produce high-quality and affordable food to high environmental and animal health and welfare standards. We must ensure that we reduce our local greenhouse gas emissions and not merely export our problem to some other country through carbon leakage. If we set unachievable targets and time frames, we will only move the problem elsewhere. If all we achieve is carbon leakage, we will have achieved nothing.
The target of 82% by 2050 for Northern Ireland is ambitious, so much so that it asks more of our farmers and of this region than we are asking of the rest of the UK or that is being asked of our counterparts in the Republic of Ireland. Lord Deben of the UK Climate Change Committee recently gave evidence to the AERA Committee, stating that a target any higher would not be achievable, would not be scientifically possible and would be "morally wrong". I agree with that position, and I believe that this Bill is best placed to address climate change in an ambitious yet realistic manner. Various elements of the Bill will need consideration, such as the accountability mechanisms outlined and whether they can be bolstered. However, following wide consultation and input from the UK CCC and other devolved Governments, I am content that the key elements of the Bill are well grounded. The Bill has my support.
I have sat and listened with interest to the debate, although I suspect that when the general public listen to some of these debates, the acronyms and terminology can be quite confusing. All of a sudden, everyone has to turn into a climate scientist or become an expert in carbon, carbon leakage and all those terms that are floating around. Is it any wonder that those who are at the centre of the debate — often, the farming community — are scratching their heads, saying, "How can we deal with all this?" and "Why should this all be our responsibility?" There, they have a fair argument to make.
Among the terminology, the accusations back and forth and the scientific reports, the reality is that we have only one planet and we have two climate change Bills before us. We have two very important questions to answer: how do we arrest climate change and how do we support and protect our farming and rural communities? Those are the real questions at stake in my mind today. A farmer who is rearing a few head of cattle in my constituency or a few sheep up in the Sperrins will quite understandably ask, "How are our actions responsible for climate change or to the detriment of the climate?" Urban dwellers have responsibilities as well in their consumption of goods and how they go about our daily life.
I too am out and about talking to farmers and concerned citizens, and I have not met a farmer yet who is not concerned about the climate and about climate change. I have met many farmers who have questions about the Bill before us today and about subsequent Bills, but there is a mistrust in all of this. I do not want to personalise that around the Minister, but his record on international standards of environmental protection is not a good one. I am not saying that the Minister does not care about the environment or the climate, but he has a different view on it to many leading experts around the globe. He will quote other experts back at me: it is almost like the COVID debate, with experts coming back and forth at you. There is a recognition, however, that, unless we reach net zero within an acceptable time frame, we are in for a climate disaster: a disaster that is already being faced in many parts of the world. We talk about the impact of climate change, but many parts of the world are already experiencing it.
The question for you, Minister, is this: are you serious about protecting the climate? Thus far, you have not lived up to your obligations under NDNA on independent environmental protection. Down through the years in the Chamber, we have heard you and several of your colleagues resisting independent environmental protection. The question that therefore needs to be satisfied, Minister, is this: are you serious about playing your part on climate change and not using the farming community as a battering ram against it? I do not believe that that is where the farming community wants to be. I believe that the farming community, like urban dwellers, understands that it has a significant role to play in tackling climate change.
I thank the Member for giving way, and, rather than challenge him immediately, I allowed him to develop that point. I am not easily offended, so do not worry about it, Mr O'Dowd.
I was previously the Environment Minister. During that time, I faced the challenge of what to do about renewable energy. I put forward proposals for dealing with renewable energy that enabled us to achieve 45% renewable energy by 2020. That left Britain trailing behind, as it has not reached its 20% target. At that time, I also set a target of 50% for recycling, which I was told was too high. That was for 2020. When I came back into office, we achieved that. I have set new targets for recycling, which, I believe, we will again achieve. In doing all these things, we need to study the science and then set targets that are achievable, and, indeed, if we find that we are over-delivering, we will up those targets to ensure that we maximise what we have. To set a target that is not achievable is to set an aspiration.
The Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone indicated that we need to achieve net zero. Net zero in Fermanagh and South Tyrone, where there are a lot of sheep farmers, for example, would lead to a 60% reduction in the keeping of sheep. It would lead to a 98% reduction in farms in less-favoured areas (LFAs), from 15,137 down to 348. Fermanagh and South Tyrone, Mid Ulster, and Newry, Mourne and Down account for 43% of less-favoured area farms. I assume that when she goes canvassing in April next year, she will not be telling those farmers that it is her desire to put them out of business, but that is the reality that we are talking about. It is not me who is using the farmers as a battering ram. Others are imposing a battering ram on the farmers.
I thank the Minister for letting me back into my speech.
Minister, it comes down to setting targets that are achievable. The private Member's Bill that is sponsored by Clare Bailey — my colleague is involved with it as well — has set ambitious targets that are achievable.
I will move on, because you mentioned renewable energy. Tomorrow, my Small-Scale Green Energy Bill is before the Assembly, because small-scale renewable energy, which helps farmers and rural communities to be sustainable, has ground to a halt, and there needs to be legislative intervention there. That is as much about renewable energy as it is about climate change, just as my colleague's Bill about banning fracking is about ending that practice but also protecting the environment and the climate. Although there quite clearly needs to be an overarching climate change Bill with achievable targets that arrest climate change and protect the farming and rural community, there needs to be other legislation brought to the House and supported as well.
The urgent need for a climate change Bill has been well established. The extensive body of research demands that we act immediately — globally, locally and as individuals — in response to the emergency. Climate change is arguably the most serious threat that we face, not just to the environment but to our health and our economic and global security.
The overwhelming scientific consensus is that the impacts of climate change are accelerating and that they are largely driven by greenhouse gas emissions that result from human activity. If we are to combat the devastating impact of climate change, we have a responsibility to act. We owe it to ourselves and especially to future generations to face up to that uncomfortable reality. No longer can it be swept under a carpet or buried in a hole in the ground to be dealt with at a later date. It remains a blot on our collective record that it has taken so long to implement specific legislation to prevent climate breakdown through emission reduction targets, working towards carbon neutrality or preparing industry for tomorrow's economy.
While the COVID pandemic may have played some part in the delay in implementing climate change legislation here, the collapse of the Assembly and the shameful three-year stalemate have left Northern Ireland lagging even further behind on the single biggest issue facing this Executive and those beyond. However, I appreciate that steps are being taken to rectify that. As the old adage goes, you wait ages for a bus, and then two come along at once. We need to make sure that we get on the right one: the one that will take us where we need to go. We cannot afford to dither and end up missing both, nor do we want a collision between the two. Very much in the spirit of this legislation, and perhaps echoing some of the Member opposite's sentiment, we should at least explore vehicle sharing options in order to improve efficiency.
In discussing the Bill that Minister Poots has introduced, we cannot neglect to mention the private Member's Bill that is progressing through the Assembly and to which I have referred. Although it shares a similar aim, I argue that it is much more robust than the legislation before us today. Minister Poots outlined his commitment to tackling climate change and laid out some positive actions that he has taken in his role as Minister. That is to be acknowledged and welcomed. He outlined the complexity of legislating on the issue, which I do not doubt for a second. I wonder whether that complexity has been compounded by the establishment of DAERA: the amalgamation of the Department with responsibility for environmental protection with the Department with responsibility for agriculture. We are where we are, however.
In our view, the Bill as it stands lacks ambition. In some ways, it is remarkable for what it fails to include rather than what it includes. Put simply, it falls a bit short. It is not as radical as it needs to be, nor does it treat climate change with the urgency required. Since we last debated the issue in the Chamber, the situation has deteriorated even further, as per the IPCC sixth assessment report, which the UN Secretary-General called a "code red for humanity." How many more wake-up calls will it take? We cannot continue to push the snooze button on the climate emergency.
I thank the Member for giving way. I appreciate the thoughts of a former Environment Minister on the issue. I recall that, as Minister, Mr Durkan brought in the single-use plastic bag levy. That was far-reaching legislation, and I congratulate him on bringing it in. I am looking at that legislation with a view to amending it and making it tougher. We have done it, and we have demonstrated what is achievable, so we can take a further step. Similarly, with climate change, it is better to set out something that is achievable; if, in five, 10 or 15 years' time, we discover that we can achieve much more, we will be standing ready and willing to do so. His action in bringing forward that legislation and my action in improving on it, having the benefit of hindsight all these years later, is a demonstration of what we can also do in this Bill.
I thank the Minister for his intervention. I do not doubt the benefits of an incremental approach to issues where necessary. He gives me more credit than I deserve. It was my predecessor and party colleague Alex Attwood in the ministerial role who did all the heavy lifting. I came along in time to get the headlines. I look forward to seeing the Minister's proposals for strengthening the single-use carrier bag levy, and I hope to see something forthcoming from him on the bottle deposit return scheme as well.
You are a bit of a mind reader. It is worth noting that there was opposition to the plastic bag levy in the Chamber for a variety of reasons. I think that even some of the Minister's colleagues were opposed to it at the start. It shows that, when you take a bold move, you can progress legislation and make change when necessary.
In our view, the Bill's most significant shortcoming is the absence of a net zero target for the North. Scientific evidence makes it clear that Northern Ireland needs to meet net zero carbon emissions by 2045. To deviate from that policy would see the North at odds with the direction of travel being pursued elsewhere.
We cannot accept anything less than net zero. What we have here is a dilution of that target. It is a bit of a hokey-cokey piece of legislation, if you will — half in and half out. As such, we have significant concerns also about clauses 4 and 5, which will give powers to the Department to change emissions targets' years and baselines. To do so could not only make for a weaker piece of work but add another layer of confusion that we cannot afford when there is already so much confusion out there, particularly in some sectors, on such a vital matter.
The vision of net zero emissions can be achieved only through collaborative working, declaring a climate emergency and establishing a mandate for climate change mitigation and adaptation. The roles of a Northern Ireland climate office and climate commissioner as overseers will be integral in accomplishing those goals. This is a necessary incorporation to any climate legislation, and it is crucial that any mechanism of scrutiny is independent.
The targets are ambitious, but they are ambitious because they need to be. For too long, the Executive have sat on their hands when it comes to legislation on climate change — I say that as a former Minister — not to mention the three years of complete inaction that we suffered collectively across the North to the detriment of its denizens and climate. The dither and delay mean that Northern Ireland remains the only jurisdiction in these islands without greenhouse gas reduction targets enshrined in law.
The focus on green recovery and the creation of a sustainable society are of even greater significance as we emerge from the fog of COVID. If we have learned anything from this horrific year it is that we must do things differently. The pandemic has served as a reminder of the delicate and unpredictable balance between humans and the natural world. It has also given many the opportunity to reconnect with our natural environment and realise the importance of protecting it.
We now need to witness a sea change in behaviours within the powers that be. I pay tribute to the Climate Coalition Northern Ireland and the many groups and individuals who have not let up in that regard. They have been an invaluable resource who have worked tirelessly in their mission to put climate action firmly on the agenda.
However, I cannot pretend — it has become obvious this afternoon — that there is or has been consensus on the issue. Reservations — in some cases, outright opposition — about the targets in the private Member's Climate Change Bill have come from certain quarters in industry and agriculture. There has also been opposition from environmentalists to this Bill based on its perceived lack of ambition. Any climate change Bill must focus on working with, not against, the agriculture sector to ensure that it is supported and to enable it to establish sustainable practices; for example, by incentivising farmers to sequester more carbon in their land, as we move forward together.
We have moved, or at least are moving, beyond the old-world view that environmental requirements must constrain economic performance and productivity. It is possible to create a better environment and a stronger economy — a sentiment, as Mr McGuigan reminded us, that is shared by Mr Poots, who is on record as affirming that environmental challenges present economic opportunities.
Climate change will affect all sectors, not just agriculture. The possibilities that enacting climate action legislation can bring should be embraced rather than be seen as something negative. It is undoubtedly a vehicle for prosperity and should be grasped with both hands, but regardless of economic losses or gains, tackling climate change and hitting net zero carbon targets can no longer be put off. Delivering a real, tangible change requires difficult conversations and very difficult decisions. The alternative — inaction by the Assembly here and now — does not bear thinking about.
The climate crisis has caused, and is causing, devastation to people and communities across the world. The language being used by climate experts leaves no room for ambiguity. As has been referred to, we are looking at a "code red for humanity". The inclusion of a just transition, set out in law, is a necessity, not a pipe dream. The Minister's Bill and its silence on that key component is as conspicuous as it is disappointing. We need to set out a framework for net zero carbon investment, create work that is fair and sustainable and reduce inequality as far as possible.
(Mr Deputy Speaker [Mr Beggs] in the Chair)
We live in an interconnected climate in which an ecological emergency has been driven by human activities. Therefore, ambitious action is critical. How we live our lives is placing pressure on biodiversity. We must learn to do things differently and to do better. The Bill neglects, in our view, to place sufficient attention on nature, nature-based solutions or biodiversity. It must be strengthened in that regard. The Climate Coalition points to the Scottish Climate Change Act as an example of good practice, which establishes a duty on Ministers when setting targets with regard to environmental impacts, particularly on biodiversity. Legislation here should mirror that approach, given our similar geographical make-up.
Looking toward a greener future is not about restricting certain sectors but about maximising opportunities. We cannot afford to do the bare minimum when it comes to a matter that will define not just this Executive but this generation. Failure to act now will have severe repercussions, so we are glad that we potentially have two Acts, but we have to act to ensure that we get a good Act. There is no planet B.
Commitment to advancing this legislation is an important cornerstone of New Decade, New Approach. I am glad that it seems to be being addressed now because, for a while, there was a suspicion that there was some back-pedalling on that. We cannot afford a piecemeal approach, because the time for climate justice is now.
In conclusion, we support the sentiments and broad principles of the Bill but would very much like to see action taken and amendments made so that it is strengthened significantly. I look forward to the progress of the Bill. We certainly will not be obstructing its passage.
Thank you very much, Mr Deputy Speaker, for the opportunity to speak this evening to the Climate Change (No. 2) Bill, which is the second of two climate Bills that are making their way through the legislative process in the Assembly at the moment.
It is recognised and accepted that Northern Ireland is not immune to the climate emergency that is trundling towards us very quickly. After years of no climate change legislation, work must proceed to address the climate change emergency with haste. Doing nothing is not an option.
Both Bills set targets and carbon budgets, with the aim of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. One of the major differences is that the Climate Change Bill includes a net zero target for Northern Ireland by 2050, while the Climate Change (No. 2) Bill includes emissions targets for 2030, 2040 and 2050, with 48%, 69% and at least 82% reductions in greenhouse gases respectively. Those targets in the Climate Change (No. 2) Bill are based on advice that was provided by the UK Climate Change Committee, and they are considered fair and equitable for the different Departments.
It is acknowledged that achieving the required targets will present the agriculture and food sector and many aspects of infrastructure with considerable challenges and that there will need to be plans to improve housing standards and waste management. As the years progress, with technological advances being introduced, together with support from scientific evidence, DAERA, if the need arises, will have the opportunity to change the targets for emissions and introduce newer, more ambitious ones through regulations that must be approved by the Assembly. To meet the targets set, the Assembly must be prepared to carry out economic appraisals of the potential costs of the Climate Change (No. 2) Bill and to support those who will have greater economic challenges in reaching those targets.
The agricultural targets are based on the CCC modelling on changes in consumption patterns, which result in lower demand, and the introduction of low-carbon farming practices, including changes to the diets of animals, the increased use of anaerobic digestion and a move to low-carbon fuels in machinery. There is also recognition of the higher environmental, animal health and welfare standards of locally produced meat and dairy products. There is further recognition that Northern Ireland should continue to fulfil the demand in Great Britain for Northern Ireland-based products. It is expected that nearly 46% of land will have to be freed up through changes in output and more efficient farming methods. Land may have to be released for forestry, restored peatlands and energy crops. However, it is important that targets are realistic and achievable.
We all accept the need to reduce carbon emissions, but that must be put in context. Northern Ireland produces 0·04% of global emissions. China is responsible for 27% of world emissions and continues to build more coal-fired power stations in a bid to meet its internal demand, while Brazil has significant plans to increase its cattle production by millions. Is it not ironic that Brazil is potentially a country that Northern Ireland could import food from if our production does not meet demand due to the impact of climate legislation? Coupled with the added food miles that it would take to bring the food to Northern Ireland, that would certainly not do anything positive for global climate change.
Let us not put all of the climate emergency down to agriculture or agri-economy businesses. Of course, questions must be asked of what we, as members of the community and public, will do to improve climate change. It is estimated that daily water consumption in Northern Ireland is an average of 145 litres per person. For 1·5 million people in Northern Ireland, that is a daily water consumption of 217·5 million litres. That is an enormous figure. As individuals, can we reduce that daily usage? Can we reduce our energy usage from electricity, gas, oil and other sources?
In conclusion, after years of having no climate legislation, we now have two Bills to consider. While the UUP will support the Climate Change (No. 2) Bill, it is imperative that the best advice and evidence are taken in order to inform decisions. In due course, appropriate amendments will be tabled. As scientific data and evidence emerge, it must be more desirable to work towards a single climate change Bill that will be acceptable to all.
As I was listening to everybody else, I was conscious that this is the fifth debate on climate change I have participated in since the Assembly resumed. I am also conscious that it probably took the previous four debates to bring the Minister to the position of bringing this legislation forward. I pay tribute to the activists, particularly the young people, and to the Climate Coalition, which has kept the issue in the headlines and forced the position where we now have two Bills before the House.
I was going to interject when you, Minister, and Mark H were having the discussion about the plastic bag levy. The Minister will be aware that I had my own private Member's Bill on single-use plastics. Given that I sit on the AERA Committee and we have two climate Bills as well as other legislation, I am not a glory hunter: if the Minister wants to interject to tell me that he will introduce something on the merits of single-use plastics before the end of the mandate, I will certainly give way to allow him to do that.
I am certainly happy to respond to that. We have a series of things on single-use plastics. It is my desire, certainly in government circles, to lead the way on that and to demonstrate that we can remove single-use plastic from the government estate. We need to pursue that agenda, and I am fully supportive of any efforts any other Member wishes to bring to the table on reducing single-use plastics. It is an area we really need to move on.
The Minister will be aware that, prior to being taken out of the EU against our will, we would have been included in the single-use plastics directives. That is the kind of ambition, with regard to that legislation, that I would like to see brought forward.
In 2016, 197 countries signed the Paris agreement to limit global warming to 1·5°C and to reach net zero emissions by 2050. I am conscious that my colleague mentioned using acronyms on this subject, but it is very difficult not to do so. In August 2021, just a month or so ago, the IPCC released its sixth assessment report and revealed that we are already on track to miss the Paris target. The 234 scientists from the 66 countries that compiled that report from more than 14,000 scientific papers were unanimous in their assessment that the world's governments are not doing enough and are not doing it fast enough. If I am wrong, I will stand corrected, but it is striking that, given the seriousness of that recent report, the Minister who is responsible for the environment in this jurisdiction, as far as I am aware, has not made any comment about that very serious report, which he certainly should have.
At our present rate of emissions, we will reach 1·5°C global temperature increases by 2040. That is the trajectory we are on. As has been said on numerous occasions in the Chamber, that will have catastrophic consequences for the planet: floods, fires, droughts and extreme weather will all become more prevalent. As somebody else said, the UN Secretary General has described it as "a code red for humanity." That is a worry not just for some far-off distant land; it is a worry for people, businesses, groups and organisations who live and work here in the North. It should be a worry for all of us because its impacts are going to be felt here.
The third climate change risk assessment report was released in June this year, and it identified 61 specific threats to the North that are caused by climate change. More than half were categorised as being in the most immediate level of urgency, while all but 11 have increased in urgency since the last report. Those were things including but not limited to wildfires, flooding, coastal erosion, saltwater intrusion, threats to natural carbon sinks and an increase in pests, pathogens and invasive species. Those things will impact on all of us in our everyday life if they are not addressed, particularly those of us in rural and agricultural communities.
There is a very small window of opportunity to avert all of that. A piecemeal 82% reduction in emissions will just not cut it. Net zero should be the absolute bare minimum that we, in the Chamber, aim for. The Minister's Bill sets an overall target of 82% reduction in greenhouse gases by 2050. Far from being unique just in these islands as an environmental laggard, that would leave the North as the only corner of Europe that is not even attempting to reach net zero. Not only would we be the only jurisdiction on these islands not trying to reach at least net zero by 2050, we would be the only corner of the EU not doing that. As a result, we will have worse air quality, worse water quality, worse soil quality and greater biodiversity loss than the entire continent of Europe. If our produce is coming from a region with lower environmental standards, what effect will that have on our ability to trade with not just the rest of Ireland but the rest of Europe?
Our agri-food industry is inextricably linked, North and South. It is also a reality that we are on the same island and have the same agricultural practices. Legislation in the South states that it can achieve net zero by 2050 at the very least. The Minister's Bill has zero all-Ireland elements. That is ludicrous, given what we have talked about regarding environment and climate change on our small island. Air, soil, water, flora and fauna are not limited by political boundaries. The North and South of Ireland not only share the same unique environment; our economies, particularly agri-food production, are inextricably linked. This Bill makes no mention of biodiversity or the scientific community's unanimous assertion that climate change and biodiversity are interconnected and that neither domain can be addressed without effectively addressing the other.
As others said, the Bill lacks any kind of independent oversight. It is not enough to legislate for these targets. There needs to be independent oversight to assist with meeting the targets. I know that the Minister mentioned a just transition, but the Bill has no mention of a just transition. Major changes to all sectors are required to help us tackle the climate crisis, but those changes will be effective only if they are made in partnership with industries and communities. A just transition is necessary for that and for protecting livelihoods, and if we are to take advantage of the many economic opportunities that are offered by moving to a net zero society.
In conclusion, as others have outlined, this Bill is lacking. It does not contain a net zero target for greenhouse gas emissions, a requirement for climate action plans or a mechanism for independent scrutiny, and there is no provision for a just transition, which would help and is vital to support sectors to move to net zero.
As others have said, we will not obstruct this Bill, as it is vital that the Assembly produces a climate Act prior to the conclusion of this mandate. However, the Minister needs to realise that that is not to say that this Bill is not weak, nor is it to say that it is ambitious; it is both weak and unambitious. The Bill is flawed. Many changes will be required to ensure that we can consider supporting it at a later stage.
Although the need for legislation on this issue is very clear, the Assembly Bills process means that we will be debating two Bills on the very same issue within months of each other. That will take up this Assembly's valuable time and resources so, where there are opportunities for the Bills to come together, I would be absolutely delighted to see that happen. I am interested in what the Minister said earlier about there having been a discussion about the Climate Change Bill and the Climate Change (No. 2) Bill. I look forward to seeing what the potential amendments to, or coming together of, those Bills will be.
Earlier in this discussion, many others, including Mr O'Dowd, Mr Durkan and Mr Hamilton, mentioned that this is not an issue just for farmers. It is not. We all need to take actions to reduce emissions. The farming community is certainly one of the communities that can help to guide us towards better land management and in how to improve things in Northern Ireland without damaging their industry.
If we are to tackle the climate crisis, departmental priorities and budgets will need to change. Difficult decisions will need to be faced, and challenging questions will need to be asked.
I welcome the requirement on Departments to develop and implement appropriate policies and actions to tackle the climate crisis. The Alliance Party has called for the creation of a Northern Ireland Department for energy and climate change. In order to make an impactful change across these islands, we must prioritise close cooperation between the Northern Ireland Executive and the Irish Government in an all-island context. It is also vital that those in Westminster place a green new deal at the heart of government. Many different actions will need to be taken to target the climate crisis. It is disappointing that more have not been included in the Bill, such as a separate oversight body and a specific net zero emissions target. However, as I said, I look forward to seeing what discussions have happened between those involved in the Bills.
Just think about what those other Departments have to do. I am a member of the Committee for Communities, where we know that targets are needed to ensure that any investment to retrofit homes will meet effective standards. New homes must be planned with interconnectedness via public transport and internet access. We need to invest in innovative construction methods. Of course, as Mrs Barton mentioned, the use of energy is becoming more and more of a key factor. In my constituency, the Strangford Lough tidal energy project that has been worked through with Queen's University and others is something that I would love to see being further expanded.
Active travel and sustainable transport should form key elements of any climate change Bill. There is a need to rebalance the Department for Infrastructure's budget towards those areas. We should follow the commitment made by the Republic of Ireland to spend 20% of transport capital funding on active travel. The creation of an independent active travel commissioner with a specific ring-fenced budget to deliver strategies would also help to encourage people to consider greener modes of transport. Investment in new rural or city road improvements, such as footpath repair and lighting to include safe active travel options, should also be included in a meaningful climate change Bill. An example in my constituency, as Mr Hamilton will know, is Teal Rocks outside Newtownards, which is connected to Newtownards town by a footpath that, in parts, is no more than 1 metre wide. People drive at 60 mph along that road. Why would anyone walk on that footpath rather than getting safely into a car and driving into the town? We are not working together across Departments to ensure that all that can be done is being done to take the pressure off our farmers.
It is disappointing that there is not more of a focus on active travel in the Bill. Wales has seen the success of establishing a mutual company to provide water. The mutualisation of Northern Ireland Water, provided with sustainable and long-term funding, would be another commitment that could help us to better tackle the climate crisis. I absolutely support the Minister's view that we could lead the way on hydrogen. We have a unique situation in Northern Ireland: we have a water company that is in public ownership. We have the opportunity here to create hydrogen and oxygen, which is in shortage at the moment.
The Bill puts an onus on all Departments to report on the measures that they are taking to combat the climate crisis. In order to take proactive and meaningful steps, climate-proof budgets must be delivered. If each Department is to prepare and publish a report for each budgetary period setting out the policies and proposals for meeting the carbon budget for that period, the financial implications of that will need to be set out in departmental budgets.
It is disappointing that the Bill does not bring about the commitment in 'New Decade, New Approach' to establish an independent environmental protection agency. That body would increase cross-border cooperation on the protection of the natural environment and ensure good governance when tackling climate issues.
As I said, I look forward to seeing what changes appear to have been agreed between the two Bills The Bill that the Minister has tabled is lacking in some areas, but I welcome any opportunity to act on the climate crisis that we all face, and I will support the Bill at Second Stage.
I welcome the opportunity to speak as someone who is slowly edging out of the under-25 bracket and recognises how passionate young people are about the topic.
Climate change has an impact on each and every one of us. Decisions that we make today will impact not only on our lives but on those of future generations. The North is not immune to the severity of the impacts of a changing climate, and it is important that we play our role and our part in the global effort, and the effort across these islands, to tackle climate change.
Having a constituency surrounded by beautiful coastline, I am all too aware of the growing concern at climate change and the fears of coastal erosion in areas such as Portrush, Portstewart and Castlerock. I believe fundamentally that we have to make our laws for tackling the climate crisis as robust as possible so that we contribute to the protection and preservation of our land for future generations. Until now, I feel that we have failed them.
Although the Climate Change Act 2008 extends to Northern Ireland, specific greenhouse gas emission reduction targets for the North are not included in it, so I recognise, and welcome the fact, that those issues are highlighted in the Bill. As we look to the future, I feel that it is all about transformation in order to limit the damage to our environment in all aspects of our life. It is about the small steps that each of us can take at home, such as the materials that we use, what we recycle and, say, ethical buying. I also welcome the efforts of young activists across Ireland and those from the Climate Coalition to highlight the issue of fast fashion across these islands and the impact that it has on our environment.
Over-reliance on road use is a contributing factor to emissions in the North. I give my sincere thanks to Minister Mallon for her commitment to enhancing our public transport, which allows us to better connect our communities and also contributes to tackling the climate crisis. I also recognise the importance of the £20 million funding for blue-green infrastructure that will support transformation of our communities and play a key role in active travel.
In the North, disruption to businesses, services and people's daily lives will no doubt increase if adverse changes occur as a result of climate change. An increased risk of flooding and coastal wear will certainly put pressure on drainage, sewerage, roads, water and habitat. Increased temperature, increased pollution and poorer air quality will certainly bring discomfort to the vulnerable and, unfortunately, threaten our species and ecosystems.
In the SDLP, we are committed to doing all that we can to fight the climate crisis, protect our natural environment and prevent biodiversity loss. In Westminster, our leader, Colum Eastwood, has brought forward his climate emergency Bill, so we believe that we can make real change, both here and at Westminster. Any further delay will increase the problem and present more difficulty in how we deal with it.
Finally, and most importantly, I have significant concern about how reckless profiteers — companies that are driven by greed — continue to damage our environment, especially in the Sperrins and beyond. It is our moral duty as public representatives to continue to call that out where we see it, and not only continue to encourage but demand that businesses have legally binding, ethical, environmentally friendly policies to protect our environment and ecosystems for future generations.
I am glad to get the opportunity to speak on the Bill at Second Stage. I do not intend to speak for long, as others have covered a lot of detail already.
I will make a brief comment, as others have done at the start of their contribution. It is worth noting that, at this time last year, we had no climate Bill, and now this is the second in a matter of months to reach Second Stage in the House. It is good to see what can be done when there is a will. We do not need to kick cans further down the road or bury heads in the sand.
Moving on to the principles of the Bill, I wish to comment on two aspects: the target and the lack of a just transition.
Clause 1, as we know, includes a target of an "at least 82%" reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, using baselines from the 1990s, depending on the gas. Never mind the issues that many have already outlined in possibly not meeting 82%, we know that that is not enough.
The Bill also allows DAERA to establish carbon budgets, which outline the maximum greenhouse gas levels for Northern Ireland for time periods noted in clauses 2 and 3 . I note that each budget is designed with the allowance that the Department can amend and alter the targets in clause 4, which means that that clause gives the Department the power to change clauses 1, 2 and 3, either specifying a different year or a different percentage. That is linked to clause 31.
I take it that that flexibility will be used to amend targets only for the better, by which I mean that, if we are doing better than expected, we should get to net zero quicker.
Provision could be made only to allow targets to be revised upwards, and I do not see any reason why they would go downwards.
I also question the lack of oversight and accountability in the Bill. This will be a monumental challenge to everyone in society, so we need to have public buy-in and trust in the process. There needs to be independent oversight and democratic accountability in the Bill, giving the Assembly a stronger oversight and scrutiny role. Creating an independent Northern Ireland climate commissioner is a simple way of doing that. However, if the 82% reduction from baseline is not met, what protections are in place to ensure that targets are met? Most of us in the Assembly will not be sitting here in 2040, let alone 2050, to scrutinise the legislation. Hopefully, we will not be under water but living in retrofitted warm homes, of course.
Why does Northern Ireland not deserve to be net zero? Are we to continue to lag behind? Given that the Climate Bill for Northern Ireland at Committee Stage has a net zero target and this one does not, it begs this question: why the difference? What is the problem with the additional and much-needed 18%?
There is a lot lacking in the Bill, as many have noted, but most importantly for me is the absence of any principles, let alone mechanisms, for a just transition to net zero. Without those, it is fundamentally impossible to transition to net zero, which we must do, without leaving people behind. The Assembly has a unique chance, through legislation, to change the course that we are on to irreversible climate catastrophe and to build back better in the context of the pandemic. We need to rebuild with a transformative green new deal and with the foundations of a just transition. We need to end investment in fossil fuels. We need to implement the moratorium on hydraulic fracturing that the Assembly voted in favour of last year, and we need to put a final stop to Dalradian's gold mine in Tyrone, to name but a few things that we need to get on with.
The transition to a green economy must be underpinned by the values of social and environmental justice and the principle that nobody gets left behind. Again, we must question this and reflect the will of the Assembly, which has been shown many times in motions on a just transition. Why is it absent from the Minister's Bill? Perhaps the Minister can outline in his summing up why just transition is not in the Bill. Perhaps it was an oversight to leave out fairness in all of this.
Maybe some Members need reminded that this is a "Code red" for humanity. This is an emergency. It is not a case of, "Keep calm and carry on". Low ambition is not good enough. We cannot wait around any longer. I have said before and will say again that there are siren voices that urge us not to do anything too radical: "Why spend money on cutting emissions when we are only a tiny part of a huge global economy? Let the others do the harder work, and we can follow later". That argument is completely morally bankrupt. If we do not invest in a zero-carbon economy and society now, we will be left in pretty short order. Even the explanatory and financial memorandum admits that Northern Ireland is not immune to the severity of the impacts of a changing climate and that it is important that it plays its part in the global effort. However, with no targets and shabby environmental regulation, our businesses will wake up one morning and realise that they cannot compete, and it will not be their fault; it will be the fault of the House for not providing the much-needed leadership.
On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I apologise for the interruption, but I have been asked to leave the Chamber briefly for a vote in the Executive Committee. It is in your hands, Mr Deputy Speaker, as to whether you wish to adjourn for 10 minutes while I do that or whether you wish to carry on in my absence.
Members, I appreciate that you will want to hear a response from the Minister. It is in your hands. I can ask, by leave of the Assembly, for a brief adjournment. Shall I say 15 minutes? Then you will stand over it. I do not want to say a time and it not be held to.
I propose, by leave of the Assembly, to suspend the sitting for 15 minutes.
The sitting was suspended at 7.29 pm and resumed at 7.45 pm.
The anticipation for my closing remarks is real. I have two sentences left, so I will conclude by saying that we are the first generation to truly feel the effects of climate breakdown and that we are the very last to be able to do anything about it. We can and must do better, for there is a lot of work to be getting on with. We need strong, ambitious climate legislation to deliver a true just transition for every person in Northern Ireland and not just a carbon Bill.
It has been over 10 years since the UK Climate Change Act was introduced, yet the North of Ireland is the only jurisdiction in these islands not to have introduced its own climate change law. We can no longer afford not to act. We are in a climate and ecological emergency, yet this seriously deficient Climate Change (No. 2) Bill and the inaction of the Stormont Executive on many environmental fronts is typical of how successive Executives have treated our environment here. The Stormont Executive have done too little too late, colluding with corporations and continuing the exploitation of workers and the planet. We have had decades of a systemic failure to take environmental protection seriously. There are serious deficiencies both in how arrangements for environmental governance have been designed and how environmental regulation has been delivered, with penalties for breaking regulations merely a slap on the wrist compared with similar offences elsewhere.
As Members have said, we are without an independent EPA, which would have enhanced the protections of our natural resources and biodiversity. Instead, we have had to rely on ordinary people and communities who have acted as independent environmental protection agents in their own right in the battle to save our planet. The Executive should be indebted to those environmental campaigners, without whom our environment here would be in a much poorer state. They have managed to stop the drill in Woodburn forest and to stop incinerators being built outside Derry, instead pushing for zero-waste solutions. They have halted fracking in Fermanagh and have campaigned to keep railway lines open, knowing that is the future for travel. They are fighting against Goliath-like gold-mining companies in the Sperrins with no help from DFE in that endeavour. They are fighting to save our last remaining ancient woodland, of which we have only 0·04%, and they are fighting for rights for nature in law, to name some examples. Also, they are taking part in highlighting the petroleum licence in and around Lough Neagh, petroleum licence application PLA1/16, and the landfill site at Mullaghglass, which forces residents in west Belfast and Lisburn to endure terrible odours daily.
We also have a growing youth climate movement that is calling on the Stormont Executive to take urgent, radical climate action, because the decisions that we make here today will affect the lives of those young people and of future generations. I, alongside some other Members from across the House, stood with them last Friday as they restarted their campaign.
The science is clear: the latest IPCC report is "a code red for humanity". The effects of climate breakdown are already being felt. Just this year around the world and locally, we have had floods, droughts, wildfires and storms on a scale that we have never seen before, and they will only get more frequent and more extreme. Scientists are hopeful that, if we can cut global emissions in half by 2030 and reach net zero by the middle of the century, we can halt and possibly reverse the rise in temperatures. Right now, the North's per capita emissions are higher than the UK average, accounting for 4% of the UK's total emissions. In addition, the North's emissions are falling significantly lower than the UK average, achieving just an 18% reduction compared with the UK's 44%. If we are to do our fair share in tackling climate change, there is simply no room in the carbon budget for new fossil fuel infrastructure or exploitation, and we must make a rapid transition to a zero-carbon society as soon as possible.
The Bill will not deliver the climate action that we need to address this global emergency. The specific targets included in the Bill are inadequate. The Bill does not include a science-based net zero target. A net zero target has significant political power. It would establish a clear, unambiguous intent to transition to a climate-resilient society. We cannot be the only part of these islands without a net zero target because of inaction.
Net zero by 2045 is achievable, despite the Minister's comments; with more ambitious measures, it is possible earlier than 2045. The Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research has demonstrated that we could have a net zero carbon energy system by 2042 if the will was there. Scotland, Wales and the Republic of Ireland have not only had climate legislation in place for a number of years, but recently amended that legislation to show more ambition in reflecting the urgency of the climate crisis and the need to do more.
The net zero by 2045 target is rooted in the overwhelming scientific evidence that we are living in a climate and ecological emergency and that ambitious action is needed to limit global temperature increases. It is unlikely that a weak, caveated target of at least 82% will encourage the adoption of the technologies, policies and behaviours that are necessary to ensure that there is a just transition to a climate-proofed society. The "at least" terminology sets the bar incredibly low. A more ambitious target is possible. For example, there is no technical reason why the North could not invest in the electric grid to facilitate a rapid wholesale shift to electric heat. There is no technical reason why a programme of public works to increase energy efficiency in homes and public buildings could not be implemented quickly.
Clauses 4 and 5 give substantial power to the Department to change the emissions targets' years and baseline. I share people's concerns about that. DAERA should not be given the power to dilute what are already very weak targets. We see no valid reason why the Department should be allowed to revise targets down in the future. Provision should be made only to allow targets to be revised upwards and become more ambitious.
Carbon budgets are a key indicator of the extent to which we are meeting targets. However, there are other indicators that should be included in similar budgeting mechanisms. For instance, nitrogen budgets should be included. Biodiversity decline is also a key indicator of climate change. Any climate change legislation for the North should reflect the importance of biodiversity as a key performance indicator in the battle against climate change. Carbon budgets should specify the limits to carbon emissions within the period of the commitment and align with the dates of the internal targets. Those should be reviewed on a five-yearly basis to reflect the most up-to-date science and any changes in global agreements on climate mitigation.
However, carbon budgets alone do not provide enough detail. We need climate action plans to provide the details that are necessary to set sectoral emissions targets. Without the guidance set by climate action plans, there is a real risk that the North's response to the climate emergency will remain unfocused, contradictory and inadequate. A climate action plan should set out the Minister's proposals and policies for meeting the emissions reduction targets during the planned period and cover such areas as nature-based solutions, agriculture, food, energy, transport, waste, land use, land use change, forestry and residential and public buildings, to name a few.
Certain sectors should not be given de facto immunity from greenhouse gas reduction requirements while others are forced to carry an unreasonably disproportionate burden. Policies and plans may offer transitionary support to some sectors that are less able than others to make early cuts, but it would be wholly unjust to allow some sectors to continue to grow and produce increasing emissions while others have to make dramatic and drastic cuts.
Rather than relying on advice from the CCC alone, it is necessary to incorporate a mechanism for independently scrutinising progress on delivering the provisions of the Act. A climate office should be established, with a commissioner based here. The commissioner should review the adequacy and effectiveness of the Act, and prepare and review progress reports on the working of the Act for the Assembly. The commissioner should propose recommendations for amendments to the Act that are considered necessary and desirable in order to achieve the overriding climate objective. That would keep us on track to do the most that we could in the quickest time and in a way that is fair to all. Without the scrutiny of a commissioner, it is likely that we will continue to lag behind. It is important that the climate commissioner is independent of government and free to be critical of departmental plans and policies. The commissioner must be able to speak freely without fear of funding cuts, ministerial gags or political interference.
There is too much reliance on the Climate Change Committee as the sole advisory body, and if we are to ensure that the best evidence-based information is drawn upon when devising policy, amending targets and assessing overall compliance with the legislation, advice should be sought from multiple sources such as the IPCC and the South's Climate Change Advisory Council. That is particularly important given the fact that we are on a partitioned island and the Bill does not address transboundary issues sufficiently. Obviously, climate change knows no borders. However, the CCC has confirmed that it does not concern itself with the Republic of Ireland's efforts.
The lack of mention of nature, nature-based solutions and biodiversity in the Bill is, as people have said, a major oversight. The IPCC and the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services — that does not roll off the tongue — are united in their view that climate change and biodiversity are interconnected and that neither domain can be addressed without effectively addressing the other. Given the growing awareness of the vital role of nature-based solutions to climate change, specific provisions have been incorporated into the Republic of Ireland's Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Act 2021. Given the importance of harnessing the power of nature to help tackle the climate emergency, climate change legislation here should, but does not, include specific provision for nature-based solutions.
As others have said — this is very important — there is no provision in the Bill for a just transition. It could be implied from that that the AERA Minister does not support sustainable jobs and job growth, net zero carbon investment and infrastructure, the creation of work that is of high value, fair and sustainable, and reducing, with a view to eliminating, inequality, poverty and social deprivation. The absence of the provision for a just transition from the Minister's Bill makes the case for all sectors, including the agriculture sector, to support the other Bill, as it safeguards workers as we transition to the net zero target.
The CCC said in 2019 in its report, 'Net Zero: The UK’s contribution to stopping global warming', that the concept of a just transition is widely recognised as being a crucial element of a low-carbon transition, but it is not in this Bill. On page 257 of that report, the CCC says:
"HM Treasury should undertake a review of how the transition will be funded and where the costs will fall. It should develop a strategy to ensure this is, and is perceived to be, fair. A broader strategy will also be needed to ensure a just transition across society, with vulnerable workers and consumers protected."
In its report, 'Policies for the Sixth Carbon Budget and Net Zero', the CCC states:
"Fairness is fundamental to public support and must be embedded throughout policy. Only a transition that is perceived as fair, and where people, places and communities are well-supported, will succeed. UK Government policy, including on skills and jobs, must join up with local, regional and devolved policy on the just transition. Vulnerable people must be protected from the costs of the transition and benefits should be shared broadly."
To implement that — in my view; this is not in the report — you need a corporate wealth tax to cover the costs. How can this Bill have no provision for a just transition, despite the AERA Minister saying on 23 September:
"The scientific evidence presented to me by the CCC has been absolutely front and centre in shaping my Climate Change Bill"?
The Scottish Government established the Scottish Just Transition Commission in 2019 to advise on a net zero economy that is fair for all. The Scottish principles for a just transition state that action to reduce net greenhouse gas emissions should support environmentally and socially sustainable jobs, support low-carbon investment and infrastructure and create decent, fair and high-value work in a way that does not negatively affect the current workforce and overall economy, and contribute to resource-efficient and sustainable economic approaches that help to address inequality and poverty. That is an approach that is worth considering for here.
There is a historic duty on the House and the Executive to introduce ambitious climate change legislation. A climate change Act needs to be robust and challenging and have a clear and undiluted net zero target that reflects the severity of the situation. However, having a net zero and effective climate Bill is only one step in addressing the climate crisis; we also need to transform the economic system, which is at war with life on earth itself. The IPCC report calls for transformative systemic change. The dominant capitalist system is no longer sustainable. A healthy capitalist system prioritises the needs of the market for infinite growth above all else, creating greater wealth inequality and greater health inequalities and extracting resources from the earth and from workers in ways that exploit and destroy.
The change needed to our economic system and the full transition to renewable and non-carbon energy is a threat to an elite minority who have a stranglehold over our economy, our political processes and the major media outlets.
We either let capitalism change everything that we know and love about the planet or we change the system itself. We need to transform our economic system in such a way that production is based on need, not profit, and on cooperative and democratic systems of worker and community control. The climate crisis is a social justice crisis issue as well, with those who have done least to cause the crisis being the most vulnerable to its effects. It is the poorest and most vulnerable in our society who feel the greatest impacts of climate change, but, whether it is the end of the world with the climate crisis or the end of the month with our wages, it is the same fight at the end of the day. The change needed to avert catastrophic climate change has the potential to improve the quality of life for the vast majority of people on the planet, if that opportunity is grasped.
It is impossible to look at the Bill without also looking at the state of us in Northern Ireland. We have had carbon reductions of 18% since 1990, when every other region is reducing by an average of up to 40%. Why is that? We have been pursuing the Going for Growth strategy with no regard to the environmental, climate or human health consequences. Our habitats and communities are choking on ammonia. An ineffective environment agency is upholding knowingly unlawful policies. There is no independent environmental protection agency. We have power-sharing institutions that are constantly beset by crisis after crisis, under a system that is not fit for any future governance purposes, and we have siloed departmental working that cannot develop the sustainability that we need.
The arguing about the costs needs to stop. We cannot continue to uphold an economic system that has done us wrong and claim it as a right. Every time that we set ambitious targets, we are told that we cannot achieve them. When we do set them, we overachieve and surpass them. Some railed at the renewable energy target of having 40% of our electricity come from renewable sources. We were told that it was going to cost the consumer too much, when, in fact, the very opposite was the reality. Again, recycling targets were challenged as being unachievable and costly, and here we go again with the "We can't do it" mantra from those who should just admit that they do not want to do it.
DAERA has been good at making promises, and we are looking at new ones coming in the green growth paper, but it seems too afraid to put those promises into law. People have had enough of undelivered strategies. Those will no longer suffice. How long have we waited for an ammonia strategy, a waste strategy, an air pollution strategy, an environment strategy and an agriculture strategy? I could go on and on, and yet the health and well-being of people continues to suffer year-on-year.
We have all heard about the inaction, the empty promises and the unachieved commitments from the New Decade, New Approach deal that have led us to this point. We have heard about the IPCC report, and we have seen for ourselves, even just this summer, how we have had extreme weather events all over the world. Everybody knows what needs to be done, whether they admit it or not. We continue to say, "Doing nothing is not an option", which is a nice, catchy line that is being widely used, but I want to stress that not doing enough is also not an option.
I turn to the Bill. It includes a target for an at least 82% reduction in GHG emissions by 2050. Before we get to the target, as Mr Carroll pointed out, Members need to be aware that DAERA is giving itself the power in the Bill to amend the target. There is, as Mr Carroll also rightly pointed out, no guarantee to prevent it from lowering that target. The CCC has termed the 82% a target that we cannot say that we cannot reach. Therefore, I see absolutely no reason to include in the Bill a provision that could lower the target. Neither can I see such a provision in climate legislation in any other jurisdiction. The 82% target is simply inadequate. Should the Bill be passed, that will reflect on Northern Ireland, and we will be in another embarrassing situation. The target is predicated on a business-as-usual model when business as usual is over. We need to start being open and honest with people about the drastic, deep and rapid change that needs to happen in order to deal with the increasingly urgent threat to humanity's existence that we are watching unfold due to our inaction and the very systems that we have created across the globe.
The 82% target is calculated solely on the basis that Northern Ireland will contribute to the UK net zero target, without any acknowledgement of Northern Ireland's political and geographical context as a devolved jurisdiction that has a unique relationship with the UK, the Republic of Ireland, the EU and the rest of the world. Many will cite and have cited our agri-food sector as a reason not to aim for net zero, but we know that the Republic of Ireland has forged ahead with a net zero target, even though its emissions profile is even more heavily influenced by its agriculture sector than ours is.
Minister, you sit on the North/South Ministerial Council. You should have that conversation with your ministerial colleagues in the South and bring that learning back to us.
Recently, I read about a project called Farm Zero C that has received funding in County Cork. It aims to make 5,000 dairy farms carbon neutral within the next five years. That is the kind of innovation that is being driven by a strong commitment to a net zero target. We need exactly that kind of ambition to enable our sector and our farmers here, at home, to achieve the same. I remind the Minister that, if he is concerned that setting a net zero target would negatively impact on the agri-food sector, his Department has the power to avoid that by introducing the necessary policies and the economic incentives to go with them. Policies need to be underpinned by ambitious targets. That legal underpinning will force us to embed what we know is happening in England, for example, with the public money for public good principle and the establishment of a Just Transition Fund for agriculture to help farmers to pay for new technologies. Those are just two examples of policies that the Minister may want to consider.
Just transition principles are noticeably absent from the Bill, as others mentioned. Such principles have the potential to significantly help many sectors to ensure fairness in the process. They are included in my Climate Change Bill and in the Scottish Act, so it is disappointing that they are missing from this Bill.
The Bill's inherent failure to consider Northern Ireland's unique geographical and political position, as I mentioned, means that we need an oversight body, such as the climate commissioner included in my Climate Change Bill, that is physically located here in Northern Ireland and can provide advice to us.
It is fair to say that Minister Poots has introduced a low-carbon Bill as opposed to a climate change Bill. It has no just transition, as others have said; no Northern Ireland climate commissioner or other independent monitoring body that is physically located here, at home; and no targets on soil, water quality or biodiversity, even though those are considered key climate change indicators. The IPCC concluded recently that neither biodiversity loss nor climate change will be resolved successfully unless tackled together, yet biodiversity is absent.
However, there are positive aspects to the Bill. It contains well-developed provisions on carbon budgeting, which appear to mirror those in the 2008 UK Act. However, it might be worth looking to our neighbours in Scotland to see how to enhance those because Scotland's carbon budgeting procedures are more up to date. Of course, it is deeply regrettable that, despite the UK Act being in place since 2008, the Northern Ireland Executive are only now, in 2021, applying that to specific Northern Ireland legislation.
The public-sector duty is very welcome. It would be worth expanding that duty beyond Departments to all public bodies. Councils, in particular, will have a huge role to play in adaptation measures, so it would be good to see them included in that duty.
I have listened to a lot of arguments over the past few weeks and months about the cost of taking action and the affordability of meeting a net zero target. The cost of meeting net zero in the UK is estimated to be 1% to 2% of GDP. Inaction, on the other hand, could lead to a fall in global GDP of up to 10% by 2050. Yet again, this shines a spotlight on the absolute need to be open, honest and transparent with people about the real cost as opposed to any scaremongering or political point-scoring that might be going on.
We need to bring people on board —
Will the Member accept that the Climate Change Committee made recommendations? Is she saying that it was political point-scoring? The CCC made recommendations for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. It made recommendations that we could reach 82% by 2050. Its report states that, in every scenario that it looked at, Northern Ireland could not reach net zero by 2050. Does the Member accept those recommendations?
I thank the Member for that. Mr Irwin, I have reams of stuff that I could come back to you with on that. I never said, by the way, that the CCC was politically point-scoring. It also states:
"A net-zero GHG target is not credible unless policy is ramped up significantly."
To say that a net zero target covering all GHGs cannot credibly be set for Northern Ireland would, therefore, appear to be a judgement of what is deemed politically feasible rather than what is scientifically or technically achievable. There are reams of it.
The time for talking and debating is over. We need action and to start moving on. That is the important part. We can sit here for another 10 years debating smaller points. What is really needed is action to begin the mitigations.
We heard claims that Northern Ireland is small and how little of a difference we in Northern Ireland can make on a global scale. There is no doubt that we are small. In other opinions, that makes us better primed to play our full part in mitigation measures. We make up 0·02% of the global population, yet we emit 0·04% of all global emissions. That is double our fair share on the grand scale.
As a developed country, we emit more, so we also have a duty to decarbonise faster. The worst impacts of climate change will be felt in less-developed countries. We need to take responsibility for that damage and for those local people and to start thinking globally while acting locally.
Last week, I was in conversation with an ex-president of the Marshall Islands, a set of islands set to be wiped out soon unless radical mitigation measures are imposed. She told me that, despite them not causing the problem, they are going above and beyond their capacity in mitigation because their population and land are at risk.
What will we do in the future with climate refugees? How will we mitigate the mass migration of people whose land is disappearing?
Those are the things, Mr Irwin, that we should be really getting stuck into, because we are at the tipping point. We are at the point of irreversible damage, and it is happening under our watch. This is the choice that we are making. We can afford to do it, and arguing that because we are little, we will not make a difference sends a message to every other small country in the world that there is no point in even trying, and that is not a message that the Green Party will ever support. If you add up the emissions of all the countries in the world that produce less than 1% of total global emissions — just like us — it adds up to more than the total emissions of the USA. Every player, big and small, must play its part and must do its fair share in bringing a secure and sustainable future in which no one in this world is left behind.
It is worth noting that there are quite high levels of environmental and climate ambition in many current and upcoming DAERA strategies, and the green growth strategy, which was mentioned, is only one example. Therefore, why can we not enshrine that ambition in law? There is one big main difference between law and policy, and that is that legal obligation must be met and is not negotiable. We can be held accountable, so why is accountability the fear factor? Why are we so afraid of being held accountable? If the ambition is there, enshrine it in law so that we know that it will be achieved and so that every Department will work towards enabling people and planet not just to survive but to thrive.
"Disney World Bill". — [Official Report (Hansard), 25 May 2021, p29, col 2].
Minister, we are all hoping that this second Bill is not to be the Mickey Mouse Bill. As it stands, the Green Party cannot support such unambitious legislation, because we know that Northern Ireland deserves better, and acknowledging that only as we begin the road to climate change mitigation and only as everything begins to change can we be ambitious really shows poor leadership. The Green Party will be focused on stepping up and doing all that it can to make this Bill fit for purpose. Are we not tired of constantly being the laggard and being told that we cannot achieve on ambition? It is not unreasonable to aspire to something better. The Climate Change Act (Northern Ireland) that will be delivered by the end of this mandate must reflect the fact that, yes, we can do better, that we can be ambitious and that we will achieve, because our very future depends on it.
During this debate, I received an email from one of our young climate activists, who was on strike in Cornmarket on Friday. As I spoke about a 2045 net zero target, she wanted to let me know:
"2045 is not ambitious at all. It is far too late. I will be 43 years old in 2045. Please, please realise that 2045 is not ambitious when you know what we are headed for — 1·5°C of warming by 2025. Even this is catastrophic for humanity. When you realise this, you will realise that aiming for 2045 is COMPLETELY crazy. The private Member's Bill needs to be better."
I concur with that young person, because it is her future that we hold the responsibility for.
I again apologise for the interruption to Miss Woods's contribution, and I appreciate you allowing the suspension, Mr Deputy Speaker. I thank all those Members who participated in the debate. It has been a reasonable and well-argued debate, and I want to respond to a number of the issues that were raised.
First, on climate, we cannot and will not deliver the decarbonisation of the world on our own. However, we can do that if we work together with the rest of the world. Together in the Assembly and in the Executive, who serve the Assembly and the people of Northern Ireland, we can do things that are really significant in reducing our carbon input across all sectors and, consequently, make a real and tangible difference. I hope that our recognition of the need to work together, to all put our shoulder to the wheel and to find an agreement on a way forward that is rational, sensible and based on science will become a common thread during the Bill's completion. We should not say, "We will take this on, and it does not matter how it will affect that person, that sector or that community". A genuine transition to net zero should not be at the cost of somebody else's livelihood. We need to take that into account.
I heard Mr McGuigan talk earlier. North Antrim has a lot of sheep farmers. Income for sheep farmers is generally between £10,000 and £40,000, but, far more commonly, it is in the £10,000 to £20,000 range. The proposals that were brought forward on achieving net zero by 2045 would lead to a 30%-plus reduction in incomes over those years. I am not sure how he is convinced that the sheep farmers in north Antrim who earn £10,000 or £20,000 could live with cuts of £3,000 or £6,000 respectively. That probably takes in most of the sheep farmers in north Antrim. Would he like to live on an income of £7,000 to £14,000? I know that I would not.
I thank the Minister for giving way. Like all colleagues in the Chamber, my engagements with farmers over the last while raised a lot of conversations. Some farmers, indeed, raised the climate Bill, but the majority, particularly in north Antrim, were more concerned about trade deals with Australia and the likely loss of their livelihoods because of trade deals that the British Government are doing as a result of Brexit.
I am really grateful to the Member for raising the trade deal with Australia. Remarkably, while we could be importing lamb and, indeed, beef from Australia, it has not set a net zero carbon target for that huge country. Therefore, it is exactly as I said: we could have carbon leakage and be importing materials that we can produce with a lower carbon footprint. Importing those materials while driving our people out of work is not the way forward. That is why I have been so resistant, and will continue to be, to aspirations that are not based on science. We can deliver net zero across these islands with targets that are meaningful, achievable and scientifically based.
Mr Durkan and Miss Woods raised clauses 4 and 5. The ability to increase our targets based on science is what those clauses are about. Miss Woods, you are correct to assume that those provisions are there only to increase targets, not to decrease them. I also assuage Mr Durkan's concerns about that.
Other Members mentioned what Scotland could achieve, and it has achieved a considerable amount in the past.
Some of that has involved taking bold decisions. For example, in the '70s and '80s, our people looked at using hydropower, which is taking water from reservoirs and using it to generate electricity where there is high consumption during the day and then pumping the water back into the reservoirs at night when consumption is lower. There was an opportunity to do that, but we did not take it. We are behind, and we need to recognise that we are behind. However, that does not mean we cannot play catch-up. We are playing catch-up, but we cannot do that in the time frame that some people are suggesting.
Mr McGuigan also talked about missing the target. I will mention consumption versus production to him. When you have consistent consumption, you need consistent production. If you do not reduce consumption, the production has to happen somewhere. Moving that production to importation, which is what would happen in the reality of the Climate Change Bill that he has initially supported, only exports the climate change problem. If Brazil goes ahead and increases its cattle herd by 24 million, do you, Mr McGuigan, think that will decrease or increase climate change? Do you think that if we imported beef into the UK from South America, the carbon footprint would be reduced or increased? The answer, very clearly, is that it will increase the carbon footprint and will do away with jobs here in Northern Ireland — some 13,000 jobs in the primary food sector and in agriculture and tens of thousands of jobs in the processing sector. That is not a route that we want to go down.
Mr McGuigan and Mr Carroll mentioned how we should work more closely with Ireland. Ireland's carbon footprint has increased by almost 10% since 1990, while we have reduced our carbon footprint by 18%. We have not reduced our carbon footprint by enough, but to suggest that we should tie ourselves to those who have increased their carbon footprint at the same time does not strike me as particularly rational.
Ms Bailey told us about the wonderful work that is being done in the Irish Republic, but we do not have any evidence of any actual work. They have an aspiration that they will deliver net zero, but we have no evidence whatsoever of how they are going to do it. Where is the science? Where have they demonstrated how they are going to deliver that? We need to get back to evidence-based policy.
Evidence of saying that something is achievable does not make it achievable. For example, I could aspire to be the heavyweight champion of the world in boxing by 2030. I can tell you that the heavyweight bit would be achievable, but being the boxing champion of the world would not be achievable. That would be an unrealistic aspiration. I know that Mr McGuigan is a very keen and proficient cyclist. He may want to be the Olympic champion in 2024, flying the flag for the United Kingdom and receiving his knighthood, following in Sir Chris Hoy's footsteps, but it is not realistic. We need to get back to doing things that are realistic.
The Climate Change (No. 2) Bill should not be delayed any further. Unfortunately, because the Assembly was not operational for three years, it has been delayed. I am pleased that we have got to this point. We were working on it this time last year, and it took that period of time to properly go through the evidence base to achieve it. However, while Ms Armstrong suggests that we should add things to the Climate Change (No. 2) Bill, I say to her that this is a Bill to address climate change. We will deal with biodiversity and other aspects of the environment, including independent protection, in other pieces of legislation. We did a course of work last week on the office for environmental protection, which will provide independent oversight of environmental policy. We are doing other courses of work on other aspects of the environment.
Mr O'Dowd suggested that I am not for real on the environment. Meanwhile, Ms Bailey suggested that the waste recycling that we have achieved and our achievement on renewables demonstrated how people could set realistic targets. I was the Minister who set those targets and brought those things forward to enable that to happen. I have also been involved in tackling plastic waste in government, the environmental farming scheme, the pollinator scheme and the environmental challenge fund. My speech to the Balmoral show breakfast last week was all about what we can achieve in environmental terms, how we can encapsulate and capture methane, how we can utilise that methane going into our gas pipe networks — we are working with companies such as Firmus and Phoenix to do that — how we can introduce hydrogen, how hydrogen vehicles can drive and power our farms and power the lorries that transport food and the buses that transport people. It is a very exciting area to be in, and I assure Mr O'Dowd that, unlike others, I have a real vision for the environment rather than an aspiration.
Miss Woods asked what was wrong with the additional 18%. Ms Bailey went on to talk of the figures, such as the 1% to 2% of GDP that is needed to reach net zero for the UK. She is right: that is what we are working on. We are working on achieving net zero for the UK. The Climate Change Committee's advice for achieving that is to follow the current figure of 82%. I believe that that will rise closer to 100%, although not quite to 100%.
I will in a moment, but let me conclude this. The Climate Change Committee has said that it will take 1% to 2% of GDP, including Northern Ireland's contribution, to achieve net zero for the UK. However, Ms Bailey wants to deviate from that and to apportion a bill of £1 billion per year, which is about 10% of our block grant, to achieve 100% net zero in Northern Ireland, which will have only a very marginal impact on the UK's net zero aspiration, target and delivery.
Back in 2016, before I became the Environment Minister, the former First Minister and deputy First Minister, on behalf of the Executive, appointed the CCC to provide advice. We pay that body and make our contribution to ensure that it provides us with that independent advice. Aside from that, I sought advice from our own Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI), which very much corresponds with what the Climate Change Committee has said. Those people have no particular agenda that Northern Ireland should not make a significant contribution to climate change. They are looking at the issues.
To be fair to Ms Bailey, she is fairly clear about the fact that we can export some of our food production to other places, such as New Zealand and Poland. Most of the rest of you have not come out publicly to say that. I wonder how those who represent rural communities would be received if they did. Ms Bailey has actually come out and said it, so, if you agree with Ms Bailey's Bill, perhaps you would like to join her in saying that you would be happy to see Northern Ireland's food production exported to New Zealand, Europe and other places. I do not agree with that. I fundamentally disagree with it.
Yes, I will.
I honestly believe that we can produce our food in a way that has a really small environmental footprint and that we can use our farms to produce not just the food but the renewable energy needed to drive our economy.
When Mr McAleer makes his intervention, he might reflect on the 16% of greenhouse gas emissions that come from homes. The fact that we have more rural homes means that it is more challenging. I have a vision of how we can resolve it, but I have not heard anybody else indicate how they would resolve it. I will come to that in a moment.
I thank the Minister for giving way. There are no parties in the Chamber that want to export our food production. We have seen during the course of the pandemic how important our local secure food supply is. Look to the South of Ireland and some of the work that Teagasc has been doing with its marginal abatement cost curve. It has been working with farmers to help them to reduce their emissions with on-farm solutions around the use of urea fertiliser, low-emission techniques, incorporating seaweed into cattle diets and reducing the crude protein in cattle diets. Those changes can happen on farm. Indeed, it is stated on the DAERA website that, rather than reducing cattle numbers, changes can be made on farm.
During the course of our evidence-gathering, and even from listening to the regional presidents of the Irish Farmers' Association, the case has been made that many farms in marginal areas are already carbon-neutral. The Minister is very quick to point to north Antrim, Fermanagh, west Tyrone and all that and say that the only solution to reduce emissions is to cut livestock. He needs to provide a proper carbon calculator for farmers to see where they currently are rather than just scaremongering and saying that the only solution to addressing emissions is to reduce livestock.
Again, I am extremely grateful to the Member for his intervention. Maybe he made the comments out of ignorance — I am sorry if that is the case — but we have already been working with Teagasc and AFBI to do that. I am absolutely clear that I want Teagasc and AFBI to develop a scheme for how we measure carbon and what carbon sequestration takes place. There is so much commonality. I have already cleared that so that that can happen. The working together already exists. I do not need any bells or whistles to do those things; I just need to see that, practically, it will work for us and for others. I will then get on with the job, like I did when I was Health Minister with the Altnagelvin cancer unit. I can very easily do those things, and I am very comfortable about doing that in conjunction with Teagasc. I am pleased to inform the Member that that course of work is under way. I am not sure how he knows that certain farms are net zero already. I would like to see that evidence base, because it is not really in the KPMG report. I am not sure what he thinks of that report. If he wants to criticise it, I look forward to that criticism in due course.
Mrs Barton and Ms Armstrong raised the issue of household usage. I want to get to that, because, although farming accounts for 27%, householders account for 16%, which is a very significant figure. I see how we can challenge the transport one with the use of hydrogen vehicles and electric vehicles. I hope that there will be more hydrogen vehicles than electric ones, to be perfectly honest, because a lot of minerals are used in the production of batteries, and there are issues with end-of-life disposal and all of that. Hydrogen will, ultimately, be a cleaner renewable energy to use, and it is better suited to Northern Ireland. How do we deal with the household issue, given our rural dispersion and our inability to connect a lot of people to the natural gas network? We could increase the amount of anaerobic digestion, for example. We would capture the methane that is produced by the cattle when they are housed in the wintertime. We would engage in a separation process after the anaerobic digestion. We would strip the phosphates and nitrogen out of it, and we would compress that nitrogen and apply it to the land through sprayers.
Those sprayers would be linked to GPS and be associated with the lidar and the soil sampling that we carry out. We would therefore have intelligent use of natural fertilisers, as opposed to chemical fertilisers.
Those are all means of reducing our carbon footprint and also of improving the water quality, biodiversity, soil management, soil nutrition and other environmental aspects.
I have a vision that the methane that we capture is cleaned on farms and either goes into the pipe network, mixed with hydrogen or, indeed, is collected by lorries that run on hydrogen and then delivered to those households dispersed around the country.
We can have a truly renewable energy revolution here in Northern Ireland. Ultimately, we can export that renewable energy but do it in conjunction with feeding the 10 million people whom we currently feed, not through a reduction in that number.
Members who participated in the debate may suggest that, in agriculture, we should go for regression to meet our climate change targets. I challenge that. The science does not say that. Rather, it says that we should go for a better, more environment-based agriculture so that we can achieve what is important, and that is feeding this world. The population is growing, and we cannot do anything to stop that. We can also ensure that we do not import gas from Russia, oil from the Middle East and other fossil fuels, all of which contribute to the damage to our environment.
That is what I call a proper vision for Northern Ireland. That is what the young person who is on climate strike needs to hear about, Ms Bailey, not about something that is going to destroy jobs. Mr Carroll and People Before Profit want to export our jobs. His illogical position will increase carbon leakage, and that position is shameful.
How are you going to create those green jobs? I have just given you the vision. Instead of closing down agriculture, we build on what we have and create those green jobs by creating green energy and exporting it, as well as by exporting meat, lamb, eggs, chicken, milk and other dairy products, and all that go with them. We are serious about keeping jobs for working people in Northern Ireland, not creating a circumstances in which tens of thousands of people are put out of their jobs and in which families who have been working on the land for years are no longer able to do so, because of a misplaced aspiration.
I will wind up by addressing Ms Bailey's comments. She talks about a just transition. I have to say that the Climate Change Bill pays lip service to a just transition, while the Climate Change (No. 2) Bill delivers on it. It is important —.
Where the just transition is delivered, Ms Woods, is where we deliver on carbon reduction. We meet the UK's commitment to net zero and, at the same time, retain the jobs and the livelihoods of people in Northern Ireland. That strikes me as being just. It strikes me as being pretty unjust to put tens of thousands of people out of work with an aspiration, as opposed to something that is based in science.
I commend the Bill to the House. It is based on the qualitative science that we have received.
One thing was clear during the debate: not one of those who said that they wanted to go further demonstrated how it could be done, where the science was coming from or what the science says about how it could be delivered. Therefore, until they get to the point where they have the science, they should back this Bill, with the aspiration to go far beyond 82% but recognising that that is an aspiration until the science allows us to achieve more.
Question put and agreed to. Resolved:
That the Second Stage of the Climate Change (No. 2) Bill [NIA 28/17-22] be agreed.