Green Growth Strategy

Ministerial Statements – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 11:15 am on 9th November 2021.

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Photo of Alex Maskey Alex Maskey Sinn Féin 11:15 am, 9th November 2021

I have received notice from the Minister of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs that he wishes to make another statement.

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

Following Executive approval on 21 October, I am pleased that, as the Minister of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, I can stand here today to present to you the draft green growth strategy. My Department, on behalf of the Northern Ireland Executive, has been leading the development of the green growth strategy, which is an important milestone for Northern Ireland in the fight against climate change. There is widespread recognition that, by continuing to meet our consumption through traditional methods such as fossil fuels, we have a damaging impact on our environment. Green growth means using the move from a high- to a low-emissions society to improve people's quality of life through green jobs and a clean, resilient environment, and that is exactly what we intend to do with the green growth strategy. It is a multi-decade strategy that sets out the long-term vision and a solid framework for tackling the climate crisis in the right way and helping us to meet our targets to support the UK's goal of achieving net zero by 2050.

I am delighted that the strategy has been agreed by the Northern Ireland Executive. It is something on which we can all work together for a better future for us and for generations to come, and I thank ministerial colleagues for their support. I stress, however, that we, as an Executive, need to show leadership. We need to walk the walk and not just talk the talk, and the draft green growth strategy contains 10 commitments that will ensure that we do just that.

I also note that this is something that starts with each one of us: we can all make a difference. Across all sectors, businesses and organisations, and as individuals, we will have choices ahead of us where we must make the right decisions for the environment around us. Our natural environment is one of the most beautiful in the world. Our stunning scenery is world famous, and we must protect it. It is precious to us, and we must do everything that we can to preserve it for future generations: it is our responsibility. We are not starting from scratch: we have already come a long way in reducing our emissions in Northern Ireland, but we can and will do more. We now have an Executive-approved environment strategy, which will be key in setting out our environmental priorities and will help to deliver on the green growth strategy. That will be an important document in dealing with the environmental challenges that we face. I made a statement on the environment strategy this morning.

(Mr Deputy Speaker [Mr Beggs] in the Chair)

As I mentioned, the draft green growth strategy includes 10 commitments, which will set out how we balance climate action, clean environment and our economy, and it demonstrates how the Executive intend to approach those issues as part of our COVID recovery plan. For example, Ministers have agreed to lead by example through delivering a government estate and fleet with net zero operational carbon emissions and ensuring a green growth-aligned procurement strategy for all government spend. We also aim to embed green growth in all our decision-making. We have committed to ensuring that green growth is central to all our policy and budgetary decisions by introducing a green growth test and making green growth a budgetary priority. Those commitments represent our aspirations and ambition for the future of Northern Ireland and the impetus that we are placing on taking action now. We want to inspire, support and lead as we embrace new challenges and, indeed, new opportunities.

At this stage, we have not set specific targets. A detailed action plan is being developed, and that will set out what we need to do. It will identify sectors, establish emissions reductions targets and outline the actions that are required to deliver on the commitments in the green growth strategy. We recognise the need, through the green growth strategy, to coordinate planning and delivery across climate, environment and green jobs. By way of example, the energy strategy — an Executive strategy that is being led by the Department for the Economy — provides an ambitious pathway to decarbonising energy. The strategy covers almost 60% of our total emissions and forms an important part of Northern Ireland’s overall plan to address climate change. We simply must work together on those important issues, and I am pleased to say that we have been liaising closely with the team that is leading on the development of the energy strategy, as it has an important role to play in achieving our green growth goals.

The draft green growth strategy is underpinned by a set of principles, with the aim of integrating a new way of thinking into how we operate. We want everyone to apply those principles — individuals, businesses, communities and government alike. On implementing those commitments and principles, we must also ensure that the transition to a more sustainable economy is fair and just for everyone. We have a tremendous opportunity to be a part of something, where the journey from a high-emissions to a low-emissions society can bring real benefits and opportunities for everyone.

We can protect our precious environment. It provides the air that we breathe, the food that we eat, the water that we drink and the materials that we use for building. Our way of life is at threat if we do not take care of it. We will create green jobs that develop a whole new skill set and workforce that have a positive impact on the planet. That will bring incredible opportunities and create a stronger economy as we develop and adjust to new ways of working.

We must end our reliance on fossil fuels and find less harmful ways of heating our homes and businesses and fuelling our cars. That, in itself, presents huge opportunities for doing things differently, such as the exciting opportunities that hydrogen brings. We are already making great progress in that area through the likes of Wrightbus. We must provide opportunities through investment in innovation to help us to advance new ways of working; for example, the potential of using waste streams from agriculture to provide energy, which can also help to solve an environmental issue.

We launched the green growth strategy at Artemis Technologies in Lisburn. It is leading on a project to decarbonise the maritime sector by launching the world’s first high-speed, zero-emission passenger ferry. Artemis’s design makes high-speed and high-range electric propulsion a commercial viability for the first time. Through working with local universities and companies, comprising experts in the fields of aerospace, motor sport and yacht design, Artemis is creating highly skilled jobs and even has an apprenticeship programme, training people to achieve the skills that they need to work in Artemis. That is a great example of green jobs, and I look forward to seeing what comes next from that company as it continues to innovate in order to solve that issue for the maritime sector.

Through innovation, research and development, investment and the need to think differently, the technology is being developed here on our doorstep to turn problems into solutions. That can be the beginning of a green revolution — the next Industrial Revolution — which can help to rebuild our economy following the COVID-19 crisis. It will require significant long-term investment from the public and private sectors as we work together to adapt to our new and changing priorities.

I am preparing a significant bid to allow my Department to deliver on green growth. It will support the delivery of several major elements of the green growth strategy that DAERA plans to fund. The profile is structured around six themes: agri-food; forestry and nature; the blue economy; the circular economy and waste; public-sector decarbonisation; and rural decarbonisation. I encourage Ministers to consider areas for which they will require funding to deliver on the commitments in the strategy and how they plan to approach them.

This presents major opportunities to create a new skill set and green jobs through the more efficient use of our resources within a circular economy. As well as creating green jobs, we will seek to protect and repurpose existing jobs where possible. In addition to launching the green growth strategy, we have kick-started a period of consultation on the strategy. I encourage you all to respond, as we want to hear your views. They are important and will inform the final document. We are living the green growth ethos, and, to that effect, we have not printed copies of the draft strategy. It can be found on the DAERA website, where you can also respond to the consultation.

Having attended COP26 last week as part of the UK party delegation, I can only reiterate that the green growth strategy is a first step on our journey in Northern Ireland to addressing the conjoined climate and nature emergencies. As the strategy indicates, we can, will and must act now and make a significant difference. Innovation and collaboration will be critical on our journey to UK net zero and being nature positive. We cannot afford to wait and must act now.

Northern Ireland, as part of the UK, must lead by example in our actions as others look to us for leadership. I am hugely impressed by the innovation and leadership already shown by the private, public and voluntary sectors, and how, when we work together, we can achieve positive outcomes that benefit our climate, biodiversity and economy. We must continue to build on those successes.

Earlier this year, with the agreement of my Executive colleagues, Northern Ireland joined the Under2 Coalition, which brings together 260 Governments representing 1·75 billion people and over 50% of the global economy. The coalition provides a means for those regions and states that are not a signatory party to the COP to show their ambition globally to tackling climate change. From the discussions that I had at COP26 and with members of the Under2 Coalition and ministerial colleagues from other parts of the UK, the Executive must take forward actions to deliver on that ambition in support of the wider UK and global ambitions.

It is clear from my discussions at COP26 that we must tackle climate change and biodiversity loss together in order to secure our health and well-being and to deliver a truly green economy for Northern Ireland. I am encouraged by the examples that we have seen from Northern Ireland and across the UK that, with the right interventions and nature-based solutions, we can, will and must restore our natural capital assets and support a prosperous, low-carbon, high-nature future for all.

The green growth strategy is a big step forward for Northern Ireland as we move from a high- to low-emissions society. This decade — the 2020s — has to be a decade of urgent action. Today, we act. Tomorrow, we thrive.

Photo of Declan McAleer Declan McAleer Sinn Féin 11:30 am, 9th November 2021

I thank the Minister for his statement. Across the island of Ireland, we produce enough food each year for over 15 million people, with the North accounting for about 10 million of that figure. That is thanks to the hard work of farmers and the wider agri-food sector. Will the Minister give us an indication of how the green growth strategy will interact with his future agriculture policy?

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

The future agriculture policy that we are seeking to establish will recognise that we need to do things differently. Wetting peatlands, for example, will have a consequence. How do we deal with that consequence? Peatlands are critical to all the issues around carbon, because many of them, instead of being carbon stores, are carbon emitters, and we have to deal with that, which will have an impact on those who farm in those areas. Therefore, there is a course of work to do, but it will be tricky and difficult. We have to engage with farmers and deliver a means whereby they can still make a living off the land but, at the same time, we can deal with those carbon emissions. I recognise the challenges. I hope that others will join me in recognising those challenges and will assist me — I do not have all the answers — in finding a way to deliver the best possible outcome. It may not be one that will be universally acceptable to everybody, but we need to find the best possible outcome for as many people as possible.

Photo of Deborah Erskine Deborah Erskine DUP

I thank the Minister for his statement. He talked about a significant bid for the green growth strategy. Green growth is a very ambitious path to ensure that Northern Ireland reduces its emissions while continuing to grow the economy here. To deliver on that, we will need an ambitious capital investment programme across the public and private sector. Has the Minister had any discussions with the Finance Minister about that investment?

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

I have, and, as recently as yesterday, we were discussing those issues. Most of our bids will be capital-related. They will be bids that, in conjunction with the private sector, will introduce significant spend into the local economy and ensure that we start to realistically tackle these things. For example, we talk about the methane on farms. Instead of that methane being lost to the environment, it would be much better to capture it and use it for gas to heat people's homes, particularly rural homes. Sixteen per cent of our emissions come from households, so moving from natural gas boilers, oil boilers and coal fires to using methane and hydrogen will help us to tackle that 16% and, at the same time, help us to tackle the 27% that comes from farming. Many hundreds of millions of pounds need to be invested over the next number of years to make this happen. Therefore, if the Executive and the Assembly are for real, this Department will need to receive considerable finances to make these things happen.

Photo of Patsy McGlone Patsy McGlone Social Democratic and Labour Party

I thank the Minister for his commentary. I will pick up on the theme that was developed by the Member who asked the previous question. We see the problems that are being created right now by the heavy and almost total reliance on fossil fuels insofar as the cost of heating homes has increased by almost 70%. The consequent deep fuel poverty affects many homes.

I see in the statement that the Executive have agreed to lead by example through delivering change on the government estate. In relation to your bids, Minister, have there been further discussions not just about the government estate — we know of old buildings that are in government ownership — but about social housing, schools and hospitals? The cost of fossil fuels is causing a huge problem for budgets in those areas at the moment. However, if the correct investment is made now to decrease the reliance on fossil fuels, great opportunities for employment will come with that.

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

The Member asks a valid question. The commitment on the government estate has been made in the green growth strategy, and that is an Executive position, not a DAERA position. Therefore, it is for each Department to identify how best to do that in its area. The Department of Finance is responsible for the estate, and each Department has its own vehicles. Those will have to be changed to a new type of vehicle. That will provide particular challenges for Justice, Health and some other Departments, but we will get there.

The Member mentions housing. We need a significant investment in insulating our homes so that we require less fuel of any kind and have more ambient heat.

That is for the Department for Communities to bring forward.

The answers to all the questions about the environment and green growth lie in all of us working together and all Departments working together. I welcome the fact that there is Executive backing for the strategy.

I will give you an example of something that happened in my constituency some time ago. There was an anaerobic digester that produced methane, but it also produced hot water as a result. It offered that hot water to a local government facility, which turned it down, as it said that it could get hot water cheaper from elsewhere. I do not believe that it was getting it cheaper, but, even if it was, it was obtaining that hot water through the burning of fossil fuels. That is not a way forward. We need to have systems in place to garner all those materials that are currently seen as waste, whether methane, phosphates or nitrates, and turn them into opportunities. We need to look at a lot of the material that currently goes into our black bin and view it no longer as waste but as an opportunity to produce energy.

Photo of Rosemary Barton Rosemary Barton UUP 11:45 am, 9th November 2021

Thank you, Minister, for your statement. In it, you refer to the:

"tremendous opportunity to be a part of something, where the journey from a high emissions to a low emissions society can bring real benefits".

What engagement have you had with your research department to help reduce emissions, such as methane, that are produced on farms?

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

We have been doing a considerable amount of work with our science division. We are also working closely with the universities and the agri-food sector to create a diamond in that sector. That diamond is about ensuring that we are involved not only in qualitative food production but in getting qualitative environmental results.

In Northern Ireland, and, I have to say, in the Republic of Ireland, we produce really good food. When we go to market our product, and particularly when deals are done with the southern hemisphere — people are concerned about those deals, and rightly so — I want us to be competing not on the basis of selling a commodity but on the basis of selling produce that has provenance and traceability, that demonstrates good animal welfare, that is good for health and that meets good environmental standards. I want us to tick the gold-star box for all those things. When supermarkets, in the UK or elsewhere, look at our produce, I want them to say, "That is what our customer wants, and we will pay a premium for that product, because it is produced to the standards that we require".

Environmentally, we have a bit of work to do to get to the gold-star standard. In many other aspects, we are there, and we can get to that environmental gold-star standard relatively quickly. That will keep us ahead of the market.

Photo of John Blair John Blair Alliance

I thank the Minister for his statement. We should give it a broad welcome. I am pleased to hear that he is making a bid for funding for commitments made in the strategy. The Chancellor of the UK Government announced a fund of £640 million last year to fund the planting of over 40 million trees and the restoration of 35,000 hectares of peatland in England. The Scottish and Welsh Governments have made similar commitments. The Irish Government have approved an allocation of €108 million for bog rehabilitation plans. I ask the Minister whether his bid includes dedicated funding for peatland restoration.

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

My bid, which is almost complete, will probably be in the region of, or greater than, what the Member has just described, and it will be for Northern Ireland alone. It is not something that we view as requiring modest amounts to deal with. We have a major problem, and we need to address it. The Scots, for example, are investing some £250 million in peatlands. I think that their peatlands are probably more degraded than ours, however, we have a significant challenge in ensuring that our peatlands come up to the standard that we would like. We have set a period to do that, and there will be a funding envelope to go along with that.

Photo of Philip McGuigan Philip McGuigan Sinn Féin

Minister, "aspirations", "support", "ambition", "urgent", "vision", "inspire", "lead" and "leadership" are words that are dotted throughout your statement. You said that:

"We need to walk the walk and not just talk the talk".

It is as if you are trying to troll us, Minister. Given this statement and its fine words, do you feel embarrassed that, if you have your way, it will fit into an unambitious climate Bill with 82% targets that will allow the North to continue to be a climate laggard?

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

Probably in the very near future, I will share with people what the Climate Change Committee is anticipating will need to happen to achieve the 82% target and, indeed, the 100% target. The Member can then explain to the public, particularly the rural community, why he thinks that the 82% target should not be there. I think that it should be there and that we need to identify means of dealing with the problem, not closing down the rural economy. It may be Sinn Féin's policy to destroy the rural economy. It is not mine, and it is not one that I will support. The Member may want to get a quick headline, and he and his party may want to attach themselves to a wonderful headline to show that they are wonderful people. However, we have a world to feed and an environment to look after. If we cannot find a way to do both at one time, we are heading for disaster.

There is no point in replacing one disaster with another. If we cannot feed the world, and if we simply export that greenhouse gas production to another part of the world, and then import it and say, "Look at what wonderful people we are", you are not wonderful people; you are traitors to the people whom you are here to serve. As a Member who represents a rural constituency, I am surprised at just how little the Member appears to care for that rural constituency: for the sheep farmers in the glens of Antrim and the farmers around Dunloy, Loughguile and all those places. What he is proposing will give those people a real hammering and take away their livelihoods.

Photo of Trevor Clarke Trevor Clarke DUP

Minister, in your statement, you talked about:

"the need, through the green growth strategy, to coordinate planning".

My constituency colleague now seems to be coming onside for the incinerator plant, which I welcome, on the Hightown road. Given that there is a need for coordination of planning, surely part of that would be to prevent the continuation of landfill sites, the approval of landfill sites and the potential of landfill sites.

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

Again, that is a matter for the Infrastructure Minister. It is great that not all of the controversial decisions rest with me and that somebody else has to make some. I do not envy the Infrastructure Minister in dealing with those issues, but they need to be dealt with.

The truth is that we put all of this stuff in a bin, the lorry pulls up in the morning and away it goes. That is it gone; wonderful. However, what is our responsibility? We do our recycling. We have brown bins and green bins, and we have this other material that goes into another bin. What do people think happens with that? It currently goes to landfill, it is producing methane and it is not the best way to deal with that waste. We know that. Therefore, number one, we need to take more stuff out of that bin and, number two, the material that goes into the bin — the residue — needs to be dealt with in a better way than going to landfill.

We need to make that decision. Whatever it happens to be and whether it is an incinerator at Hightown or something else, we need to set out deliverables, and those things need to happen in this decade. If we do not do it within this decade, there will be no point talking about the environment and saying that we want to protect it, because we will be failing it.

Photo of John O'Dowd John O'Dowd Sinn Féin

Minister, if we are to have a rural and farming community in the future, as Mr McGuigan and I want, and as, I believe, you also want, the farming and rural community will require intensive support from you, as Agriculture Minister. Given your almost Damascus-style conversion to green politics, which must have happened somewhere on the road to Glasgow, how will you support a just transition for workers and families, whether they are on the land or somewhere else? In order to help that just transition and to protect rural communities and families, will you put in place a transition commission to oversee it and to ensure that everyone is treated fairly?

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

I have to make a wee confession to the Member. While in the early part of this millennium his party's former president was hugging trees, I was planting them. We will deal with conversions in due course.

The Member is right, however: we need a just transition. We need to find a means of providing a just transition for farmers who live close to peatlands and who will, therefore, be challenged. We need to find a just transition for people who own chicken and other poultry units. To me, that is about capturing the ammonia the units produce and reutilising it. It is not about closing down poultry houses. They are very efficient ways of producing proteins that humans consume. We need a just transition for people who are dairy farming so that they can not only continue to produce milk but be supported to capture methane. We need a just transition for people who produce beef.

I was with Al Gore on Saturday. I am sure lots of people think that Al Gore has done tremendous things on the environment, so they will give cognisance to what he has to say. If they do not listen to me, they may listen to him. He says that one of the greatest storages of carbon, second only to forests, is soil. I therefore posed this question to the former vice president: what is the best thing to grow on that soil? If we grow crops, we are continually ploughing and tilling the soil, which releases carbon, but growing grass captures carbon. The consequence of capturing that carbon provides sequestration. What do you then do with the grass? Do you just not use it, or do you populate it with animals, which will produce proteins that people will be able to eat in order to sustain themselves?

The logical outcome to all that is that we need to ensure that we can continue producing good food in Northern Ireland for a growing population in the world so that we can help to ensure that we feed that population for generations to come while doing so in as environmentally friendly a way as possible.

Photo of Cara Hunter Cara Hunter Social Democratic and Labour Party

I thank the Minister for his statement. We would all love to see more transitioning from fossil fuels to cleaner renewable initiatives for green growth and farming. How is his Department working with farmers and farmers' unions to assist our farmers with a just transition?

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

Just short of 10% of greenhouse gas emissions from farms comes from machinery. As we work with companies such as JCB, which is totally committed to hydrogen, we will see opportunities to move to vehicles that are powered mainly by hydrogen. Farmers will not be able to afford to buy new vehicles straight away, but, given the contracting that takes place, the shift will happen relatively quickly for the vast majority of the work that is done on farms.

There is that 10%. You can significantly tackle that.

Fertiliser also accounts for just short of 10%. If we anaerobically digest more materials and capture the methane that is one element of that, we will be able to use that digestate more appropriately on our land. We will, perhaps, need to separate it, but we can use it more appropriately, and that will reduce the amount of fertiliser that we need. You can make a significant reduction there, particularly by using less equipment to spread it.

Fifty-seven percent of the emissions come from the animals. By working with qualitative research in recent years — for example, there has already been significant success with reducing crude protein — we now produce two thirds of the carbon emissions from dairy products that were previously produced. There has been significant success there. It is clear to us that efficiency is important, but we are looking at how we can add other things, such as seaweed, to feed to ensure that we drive methane down further.

Research is also being done at the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI), whereby the cows have a hood applied to their nose so that, when they take the grass into the rumen and regurgitate it and burp, the gas is caught in the hood and filtered out. That takes out over half of the methane that is burped. At the other side, we capture the slurry and anaerobically digest it.

You can see where I am coming from: we can build a picture where we are not removing small percentages of methane from agri-food but removing substantial amounts of greenhouse gases and methane from the production of agri-food. That will enable us, on one hand, to sustain an industry and, on the other, to do that in an environmentally friendly way. That will take time, investment and an awful lot of common sense. I appeal to the House to demonstrate to the wider public in Northern Ireland that there is a little of that here.

Photo of Steve Aiken Steve Aiken UUP 12:00 pm, 9th November 2021

I thank the Minister for his statement. Of course, we will be supportive of the green growth strategy as it comes forward.

I note, with interest, that the Minister talked about the blue economy. When we were talking about issues to do with green hydrogen and methane, he rightly called out the very innovative approach taken by Artemis Technologies, looking towards the marine sector as well.

The Minister will be aware that the United Kingdom is pushing towards an increasing part of our GDP being spent on research and development to bring it up to 2·4%, but Northern Ireland is at the abysmally low level of 0·8%. Can the Minister outline his vision for bringing together all of the Executive and all the sectors across Northern Ireland to make sure that we capitalise on both the ammonia project and green hydrogen?

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

Well, as one of the Departments that probably have investment in science and research that is considerably higher than 0·8% — I will get the Member the figure — realistically, we can move forward on a really positive future for Northern Ireland only if we invest in research and development. With science, innovation and technology, we will develop answers to address the problems that we face. It is incumbent on us to invest in science, innovation and technology if we are to achieve that faster. I agree with the Member that we need to invest in all of the things he mentioned, as well as in research and development. Without doing that, we will quickly fall behind and will be leaning on others to do that work. I am much keener that AFBI, for example, sells its research to other parts of the world, having delivered for Northern Ireland.

Photo of Cathal Boylan Cathal Boylan Sinn Féin

I thank the Minister for his statement. Given the focus on producing clean, renewable energy and the cross-departmental nature of the strategy, as well as the fact that climate targets mean that we cannot use all of the petroleum reserves that we currently know of, will the Minister encourage the Department for the Economy to put a halt to all licensing for petroleum exploration? I hope that, after attending COP26, the Minister has finally copped on.

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

The Member represents a rural community. The energy strategy is an important element of the work that is being done by the Department for the Economy. As I indicated, the strategy accounts for around 60% of emissions, so it is important that the Department gets that energy strategy right. The Department is close to the end of it. Hopefully, in the near future, you will be able to question the Minister directly on his intentions.

Northern Ireland is uniquely placed to benefit from hydrogen. We have, I think, the capacity for over 50% renewables now, but we are not utilising all of that capacity because we do not have the ability to do that or to store it. How can we push that up? I pressed at COP26 the need for us to have green bank opportunities so that people who want to install solar panels but struggle to borrow money, for example, to do it will have the ability to do that. It pays itself back in about five years. The landowners who want to introduce further wind energy should be able to find that support and have the ability to do that without having to rely on large companies to come in and do it.

Of course, we need to develop offshore wind energy. That will be controversial. Some people will not like it, but, if we are to face the challenge of having renewable energy instead of using fossil fuels, it is absolutely necessary. We have to do it. That is not to say that we will just cover all of Northern Ireland's coastline with wind turbines. Applications will come in and will need to go through all of the processes to enable that to happen. On producing that renewable energy, we will electrolyse it and turn it into hydrogen, which we can run our buses, lorries and tractors on. I hope that, in future, we will run our cars on it. That is much more reliable and environmentally friendly than extracting lithium, cobalt and all sorts of minerals from Africa, using dodgy techniques in some places to do so. Northern Ireland is uniquely placed to do that. Our gas pipe network is capable of carrying hydrogen because it is a plastic network as opposed to being metal. We can provide biomethane to people's homes. We can switch from using fossil fuels to renewable fuels over a reasonable period, but that adjustment needs to start soon.

Photo of Kellie Armstrong Kellie Armstrong Alliance

Thank you, Minister. I am disappointed that the conversation with you today about the issue has become very dour. It is a strategy that we should celebrate. It is a cross-Executive strategy.

In February 2020, the Assembly declared a climate emergency. Thank you very much for bringing forward the green growth strategy as it is today. I hoped that you would have included a green growth impact assessment to hold all of our feet to the fire and make sure that we deliver on it.

You talked about cross-departmental working. One of the things that we can improve on, of course, is how our homes are heated. You mentioned that just now with regard to hydrogen. The Communities Committee is taking forward the Private Tenancies Bill. That needs to have some consideration of energy performance certificates. The Economy Department is working on that. Will you assure the House that, in the three-year Budget that will come forward, capital investment will be secured to enable all homes to have those energy performance certificates so that we can, at long last, be free of the hold of fossil fuels on our houses?

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

That is an issue for another Minister to deliver; I believe that that is the Minister for Communities. It demonstrates the importance of cross-departmental working. The Department of Finance, for example, is responsible for building regulations. The Department for Communities is responsible for housing. The Department for the Economy is responsible for energy, and we, of course, have an important role in all of this. The combination of all of those Departments working closely together will deliver the outcomes that the Member wants.

She is absolutely right: as I indicated, households account for 16% of emissions. We can get quick wins in that regard. Ultimately, my vision is to heat people's homes and run vehicles with hydrogen and biomethane. That will help to sustain an economy that already exists here, largely the agricultural economy, and to ensure that we have renewable energy. I hear people say, "Why not continue to burn cheap fossil fuels?". I am clear that we are not in control of whether they are cheap: Vladimir Putin and the sheikhs in Saudi Arabia and other places are in control of that. I would much prefer to have renewable energy that is produced in Northern Ireland, the cost of which we will know every year and will not be particularly variable. That will mean that we can give homes and people across Northern Ireland energy security, because the energy is produced here. We will also be able to give them security in the cost, because the adjustments will be modest, single-digit percentage changes as opposed to the massive changes that we have seen this winter.

Photo of Matthew O'Toole Matthew O'Toole Social Democratic and Labour Party

Minister, you mentioned two low-carbon manufacturers — Artemis and Wrightbus — and said that we were uniquely placed to benefit from hydrogen. Minister, it does not happen too often, but I agree with you: there are great low-carbon manufacturers here. I do not want to have an argument about this, but I ask you explore, in developing the green growth strategy, our potential from having access to two different markets in exporting low-carbon manufactured goods. The UK Government are developing the UK green industrial revolution, and the European Union has the green deal. We in this jurisdiction, because of our post-Brexit arrangements, have the unique opportunity to export low-carbon goods into the UK and European markets. Will you look at that unique potential as part of the green growth strategy? We can be a green industrial hub at the centre of two markets to all our benefit.

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

We need to look at every opportunity. I agree with the Member that we should take every advantage that exists for us. Northern Ireland was at the forefront of the industrial revolution, and Belfast was a hub. This place was thriving 120 years ago at the turn of the 20th century, and we can be a thriving hub once again through green technologies. Some people may deride that and say that it is wishful thinking. I named two companies — Wrightbus and Artemis — and there are lots more out there, so we should not focus entirely on two. However, I look at what they are doing and see that Artemis is projecting a £6 billion turnover for this project over the next 30 years and has received significant investment to achieve that.

The opportunities that exist are vast. Probably no one in the 1980s anticipated the opportunities that would come through tech, and therefore we need to grasp the opportunities. Irrespective of what Governments think, the big businesses in the world will want to acquire only the products that come from environmentally responsible producers. Therefore, those who want to lag behind will do themselves out of opportunities and will not have a future because large companies will not want to do business with them.

Photo of Jim Allister Jim Allister Traditional Unionist Voice

I am sure that, as was alluded to earlier, many of the poultry farmers in my constituency would, first and foremost, like to have heard about the long-awaited ammonia strategy. In respect of this strategy, of course one will look for significant private investment, but the Minister's vision will, of necessity, involve considerable public purse expenditure. Surely, there has been some scoping of that. I do not expect a precise figure, but can the Minister give us an indication of the demands on the public purse to deliver what he is talking about today?

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

Over the next five years, my Department will bid for somewhere in the region of £0·75 billion for investment.

Most of that will be capital. Much of it will create opportunities and jobs and, at the same time, tackle significant environmental problems here. That is the reality. That is why I have tried to spell out for people that this does not come without pain and investment. It will also require significant investment from the private sector and the wider public. So, when we get up and make fine statements, we need to recognise that there is no cheap or easy way to deliver on those fine statements.

Photo of Justin McNulty Justin McNulty Social Democratic and Labour Party 12:15 pm, 9th November 2021

I welcome the statement and any initiatives to help our biodiversity, environment and green economy. However, what I do not get from this statement or the previous one is a sense of urgency. We need a flashing green light on the roof of this place telling us that we are in a climate emergency.

There is no mention of the reintroduction of species or of species that are under threat. There is no mention of big picture items that will really make an impact. I do not see that ambition here, Minister. Forgive me if I am not getting it, but I do not sense that ambition. We need a flashing green light on the roof of this place telling us that there is a climate emergency.

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

The reintroduction of species will be dealt with in the biodiversity strategy. The green growth strategy is about ensuring that we take the right steps environmentally to address a range of issues and, at the same time, allow our economy to grow. Some people might think that you cannot do both. I am absolutely confident that not only can we do both but we will do both because we have innovative people out there who are working right across our country doing wonderful things. The more that we can hook up and connect to those people and facilitate and assist them in what they are doing, the more quickly we will get the necessary turnaround and change that the Member desires.

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

That concludes questions to the Minister on his statement. I ask Members to take their ease for a few moments before we move on to the next item of business.