'Decarbonisation of Road Transport in Northern Ireland': Committee Report

Part of Committee Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3:30 pm on 29th November 2021.

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Photo of Cara Hunter Cara Hunter Social Democratic and Labour Party 3:30 pm, 29th November 2021

I rise today as a relatively new member of the Infrastructure Committee. I am also our climate champion in the SDLP as well as our infrastructure spokesperson, so it will be no surprise to colleagues to hear that I am pleased that the Committee has been able to focus its time on this important report on decarbonising our transport here. Before I begin, I pay tribute to my colleague Dolores Kelly, my predecessor on the Committee, who put a lot of hard work into the report. I know that she will join me today in offering the support of us in the SDLP for decarbonisation and our intentions to see the report as a partnership between the Committee, the Minister and the wider Executive for delivering change to our society, our people and our environment and its urgent needs.

I thank the Chairman for his detailed contribution on the report, and there are a few aspects of that that I would like to draw out. I am sure it is accepted across the House that tackling the climate crisis is not one Department or Minister's responsibility; the weight of responsibility to deliver this lasting change rests firmly on all our shoulders. That said, we all recognise that transport is a massive emitter, and I know that that is an issue that, since coming into office, our Minister Mallon has worked tirelessly to address. While I will not rehearse all the Minister's actions to date, as, I am sure, she will provide us with more detail, I applaud the Minister's leadership on the issue.

It is frustrating and, frankly, embarrassing that the North is still without legislation to tackle the climate crisis. We truly need to get a move on. We want to see change as quickly as possible in order to reach net zero. We are leading the way at Westminster and here in government. At Westminster next month, the SDLP leader, Colum Eastwood, will introduce radical legislation to demand the rapid response that we need to protect our planet and our future generations here and to tackle that aspect of generational injustice surrounding climate change. In government here, our SDLP Minister, Minister Mallon, has been leading from the front. At the Conference of the Parties (COP) 26, she announced a task force to deliver more EV charging infrastructure and more investment in zero-emission buses. She has been greening her departmental fleet, has been making planning changes and has been clear that she has worked to ensure that the Executive's energy strategy has a focus on decarbonising transport, including measures to support modal shift, the electrification of transport, the use of alternative fuels in transport and the future of mobility. That all comes on top of the £20 million blue-green infrastructure funding, showing that our Minister is truly putting money where her mouth is. The best thing about the blue-green money is that it empowers local communities to create a shared space. Even in the face of a global pandemic, with the restart of vast operational public services, our Minister has continued to press for change. Notable areas include the establishment of a transport decarbonisation branch tasked with delivering on the ground on modal shift.

I could truly go on all day, and there really is a positive abundance of activity and delivery that the Minister and her Department have been working on. That deserves not only recognition but our support as a Statutory Committee. I welcome what much of the report seeks to achieve, and I can see that aligning with the Minister's priorities and policy direction. However, I want to mention again the energy strategy. While that is not for Minister Mallon — I understand that it sits with the Economy Minister — does Minister Mallon today have any information from the DUP Minister on where the energy strategy is and what it will potentially look like?

I cannot stress it enough that, if we are to deliver the change that our society deserves, we need to work together and to deliver. Any continued dither and delay on the energy strategy is not acceptable. We know what the Economy Minister is proposing, and I accept today that, in relation to the decarbonisation of transport, Minister Mallon wants to see the energy strategy come to the Executive for scrutiny.