Mr Deputy Speaker, thank you, once again, for your patience with all of this as we move the Final Stage of the Climate Change (No. 2) Bill. We have had many lengthy debates on the legislation at various points during its passage through the Assembly, and rightly so. It is an important piece of legislation that will impact on the work of the Assembly and the Executive for decades to come. Essentially, the key decisions on the legislation have been taken, and its passing should be a formality.
I am pleased that my Climate Change (No. 2) Bill has reached its Final Stage. It has been a great challenge to get to this point, given the work that was required to develop the legislation at pace and to complete all the necessary processes and stages in its passage. Anyone who has taken significant, complicated and cross-cutting Executive legislation such as this forward will appreciate the amount of work that is involved, not just for me but for my officials, the AERA Committee — I give my thanks to it — the Bill Office staff, the Office of the Legislative Counsel (OLC), Members and the Speaker's Office. Thank you to all involved. Some said that I could not or would not bring the legislation forward, but it is clear, as I stand here today, that those accusations were unfounded.
I am grateful for the support that my Bill has received during its passage through the Assembly. Climate change affects everyone in Northern Ireland and on the planet, and it requires people to respond at local and global levels.
As politicians, we have a duty to take action to ensure that our environmental footprint becomes less significant and that we produce a sustainable economic and environmental model where both can prosper.
It was a privilege for me to visit Alternity Biogas Energy this morning to open a facility where biomethane, which is largely extracted from waste food products, is being turned into fuel through anaerobic digestion. Through further work, it is now being used to power trucks. Those trucks will produce around 20% of the carbon that a normal diesel truck would. The common-sense logic behind that is huge given that 20% of our diesel comes from Russia.
We have all those sources of energy here at home, and lot of them are on farms. Instead of taking away the methane altogether by removing the animals and the food, or by just allowing the methane to go into the atmosphere, we can capture that methane through anaerobic digestion and turn it into fuel for trucks, tractors and, indeed, homes. The mix of 80% biomethane with 20% hydrogen enables us to heat our homes without changing the boilers that are currently in those homes. All those things demonstrate to us the wisdom, common sense and practical nature of adopting high-quality policies that deliver on reducing the environmental footprint, reducing the methane that goes into the atmosphere and providing an energy source that is reliable, local, cost-controlled and will not be subject to the huge lurches that we have seen over the past few weeks. The common sense in what we are doing is very clear.
The Climate Change (No. 2) Bill will help to ensure that we do the right things. Since my appointment as Minister of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs in January 2020, I have made climate change a top priority in my Department and have ensured that resources are prioritised to deliver this legislation. Indeed, the Executive Bill has reached Final Stage ahead of the private Member's Climate Change Bill, which has only reached Consideration Stage despite being introduced to the Assembly four months earlier. That shows the commitment that we have made to delivering this legislation, having gone through all the due processes, including proper consultation, before we commenced.
I have been clear and consistent throughout all the debates on the Northern Ireland climate change legislation that we should follow the advice of experts and set targets on the basis of the evidence. There are Members in the Chamber who will take expert advice on climate change but will not take expert advice on how you respond to climate change. That is for them, not me, to answer, but my Bill, on its introduction, reflected the recommendations from the United Kingdom Climate Change Committee (CCC), which is the statutory, independent adviser on climate change. There are people on that body who have unsurpassed expertise and can provide us with evidence and advice. Delivering the targets that they recommended would have seen Northern Ireland make a fair and equitable contribution towards the UK net zero target.
Unfortunately, however, at Consideration Stage, a majority of Members of the Assembly agreed to change the headline target in the Bill to net zero emissions by 2050 — and that really was done for a headline. It is purely an aspirational target and one that, unless we invest huge amounts of money or acquire carbon credits, we are unlikely to achieve. On the use of carbon capture and storage technology, the acquisition of carbon credits is not the way to go about it. We need to ensure that, in the steps that we take, we minimise the amount of carbon produced here and we sequester as much carbon as possible. We will not do that without the assistance of the agricultural sector. Therefore, it is crucial that we bring that sector with us, thus the importance of the amendment that I moved last week.
As I have highlighted many times, we are talking about spending hundreds of millions of pounds per annum not just to reach the net zero target by 2050 but to continue beyond 2050. The long-term impacts of the decisions that are being made in the Assembly will be highly significant and will be felt by other Departments, such as the Department for Infrastructure, the Department of Education and, of course, the Department of Health. Again, it will be for Members to identify whether they are going to go through with some of that spending or go back on their word and support the Health and Education Departments. Nevertheless, the headline is there, and we will work with that as things stand.
Those present today will know that the issue that concerns me most about the overall net zero target is the potential impact on our local and very successful agriculture sector. There are some in the House who think that it is too successful. There are some in the House who think that we should not produce food for 10 million people but should only produce food for the people who live here. That is an entirely selfish notion and one that I do not want to be associated with. It is selfish because this world needs food.
We are in a circumstance where Egypt, which is a country in North Africa with a population of 120 million, is tendering for wheat and is not getting the supplies of wheat that it needs to feed its people. People tell us that we should let our land go wild: that is an absolute nonsense. It is a travesty. It is inhumane and it is wrong. Therefore, I support our agri-food sector in the production of food. We are one of the most efficient food producers anywhere in the world, and we are one of the most efficient food producers in keeping carbon down in the world. I will continue to make it very clear that we cannot allow those things to happen.
The agri-food sector in Northern Ireland employs some 113,000 people. Some people seem to think that those jobs do not matter because we are going to have all these new, green jobs etc. We should not cast away what we have; we should build on what we have. We should bring in the green jobs while keeping those existing 113,000 jobs. That is why I tabled the amendment at Further Consideration Stage to limit the impact of the net zero target in that regard and ensure that what we require of the agriculture sector and others in reducing methane emissions is in line with the evidence and advice from the experts.
My amendment clarified that the net zero ambition of some Members will not require a level of methane emission reduction of more than 46% by 2050, which is consistent with the advice from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the UK CCC's balanced pathway recommendations and the ambition of the Paris agreement to achieve long-term temperature goals. That will be very challenging and will require significant new policies. The transitional elements of the Bill should help to ensure that the challenges that rural communities and many sectors will face while tackling climate change are recognised and taken into account when developing and implementing policies. There is also a requirement for Northern Ireland Departments to consider the risk of carbon leakage when deciding policies and proposals that are to be included under the climate action plans and for Departments to take into account the desirability of eliminating or minimising that risk.
Of course, we would not have required such amendments had the targets in the Bill, as introduced, been agreed, but at least I have been able to mitigate some of the potentially damaging impacts that aiming for overall net zero could cause, whilst also strengthening the just transition opportunities for rural communities.
In addition to the targets, the Bill includes a number of other important elements, which will help us to address issues that are caused by climate change.
Those include a requirement to produce five-year climate action plans that set out policies and proposals for meeting carbon budgets and the emissions targets; a requirement on a number of Departments to produce sectoral plans and to meet targets connected to them; a range of reporting requirements and duties for Departments and the Climate Change Committee; a requirement on my Department to bring forward public-body reporting regulations within 18 months of the Bill's achieving Royal Assent; and duties on all Departments to exercise their functions, as far as it is possible to do so, in a manner consistent with meeting the targets in the Bill and the carbon budgets that we set under it.
That last element in particular is crucial. All Departments and, indeed, all parts of our society will have to play their part in helping to reduce emissions. Climate change is not a one- or two-Department issue. The provisions ensure the need for all of us to act, as they will be enshrined in law, and if that does not happen, we will have no chance of getting anywhere close to the targets in the Bill.
I should add that that will not be achieved without investment. When I made requests for the green growth strategy to be properly funded, I was hugely disappointed by what was on offer in the proposals that came from Mr Murphy's Finance Department, because Sinn Féin Members' words and the money that the Sinn Féin Finance Minister provided did not match up. You will not reach 82% by 2050 on that budget, never mind 100%. There is therefore no point in going out and conning the public by saying that you want to do something significant on climate change and want to make efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, including carbon emissions, if you are not prepared to put your money where your mouth is. I challenged Sinn Féin Members last week to put their vote where their mouth was on the issue of herd reduction, and they demonstrated that they are quite happy with herd reduction, in spite of what they had said a few weeks previously. I challenge them again: if you want to achieve what you claim that you want to achieve through the legislation, the Sinn Féin Finance Minister needs to put his money where his party's mouth is on the issue, otherwise it will not be delivered.
That concludes my opening remarks today. I look forward to the Bill's being passed and to every party in the Assembly's supporting the efforts to implement and deliver on its ambitions.
I welcome the opportunity to speak today on behalf of the Committee for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs at Final Stage of the Climate Change (No. 2) Bill. It would be remiss of me not to comment on what is a significant step forward for our local Assembly. We have collectively brought forward and developed climate change law and, in doing so, have addressed the long-standing legislative gap between us and our neighbours. Although total agreement on emissions targets and oversight structures was always unlikely, it is fair to say that, over the past number of weeks, the key issues have been debated well, and, at times, vociferously, and there can be no doubt about Members' commitment and passion to deliver climate change law that is robust, deliverable and fair to key sectors of our economy.
The Committee has had the unique privilege of evaluating two climate change Bills simultaneously in the past year. Although that has proved challenging, there is no doubt that the extensive time and effort that the Committee has taken to listen to stakeholders and experts has been crucial in shaping some of the amendments that have been incorporated into the Bill. In particular, the Committee welcomes the inclusion of a just transition principle, which will place an onus on Departments to ensure that their plans for reducing emissions support sustainable job growth; take account of key sectors of the economy and small businesses; and safeguard the most vulnerable in our society from the adverse impacts of change. Furthermore, following the overwhelming feedback to our calls for evidence, the provision that obligates Departments to consider harmonising policies and approaches with those in place elsewhere on these islands is very much welcome and will ensure that our local approach maintains parity with that of our neighbours.
The Committee also welcomes the amendments made at its suggestion to ensure that the targets for emissions percentages and years can only ever be revised in the future to make them more ambitious. That will serve to alleviate any stakeholder concerns about the commitment to strong climate action and puts in place a legal safeguard against any potential move to weaken targets in the future. The amendment to the Bill that requires DAERA to bring forward regulations outlining the specifics of the duty on public-sector bodies is a positive addition that will ensure that they all are appropriately consulted on what can be reasonably expected of them in delivering on climate change reporting measures.
Before closing, I take the opportunity to thank the many hundreds of people who engaged with the Committee's call for evidence on climate change legislation over the past year and the dozens of stakeholder organisations that provided evidence to the Committee orally and in writing. Many of those stakeholders did that for both Bills over the past eight or nine months. Getting to this stage has required much effort, engagement and energy from the Committee and from Members of the House. That is testament to the fundamental importance of the Bill progressing today. It will set a framework for how we can ensure that, as a society, we can contribute to the global effort to mitigate climate harm and sets a fair and just pathway for the transition to a low-carbon economy.
I will add a couple of points in my capacity as Sinn Féin's agriculture and rural affairs spokesperson. We have engaged extensively over the past year on the topic. That includes the 52 evidence-gathering sessions that the Committee took part in. We met hundreds of schoolchildren and many stakeholders from local government and small businesses. We engaged and listened attentively over the past eight or nine months. Sinn Féin proposed a total of 39 amendments to the Bill, including amendments on public consultation, rural equality and small business proofing, the agriculture transition fund, carbon leakage, the social and economic role and importance of farming, and methane. Putting forward 39 amendments on behalf of the party took a huge amount of work by fellow MLAs our policy officers and the Bill Office. I also thank the DAERA officials, because they were on hand to clear up any outstanding issues or points of clarity that we had. I am thankful to them from a party point of view. We wanted to get this right, and we put forward those amendments at both Consideration Stage and Further Consideration Stage. It has been a long process. We want to get it right, because the legislation will set the trajectory for the next 30 years and beyond.
In conclusion, I thank everyone who has been part of this. I commend the Bill.
I welcome the fact that we have reached the final stage of this process. It has been an arduous process. As I have said before, it is a concerning time for our farming community and its representative bodies and for the entire agri-food sector. The Climate Change (No. 2) Bill process was started by the Minister and his Department with a firm and strong focus on the science, a realistic view that climate change would be tackled by measures that were complementary to the planet and would ensure that our agri-food sector would continue to meet the consumer needs of Northern Ireland and its export destinations. With the unfolding horror in Ukraine, as Putin continues his brutal invasion of that country, the security of food supply and the ability to meet the needs of consumers is vital. We have already seen alarming price rises in many products, the most worrying of which is the continuing upward trend in fuel and electricity prices. All of that makes decisions around future energy generation and emissions measures very important. I am clear that we must get those decisions correct.
The Bill, at its Final Stage, is representative of as many views on the debate as it is possible to have. It represents a way forward, and whilst, ultimately, it is extremely challenging, it provides a chartable course towards achieving the aims of protecting the climate and protecting livelihoods. The various views on the issue have been well noted in the Chamber, and it is clear that disagreement will continue on how best to move forward. However, this Bill is the most realistic prospect of delivering the aims and objectives.
I do not intend to dwell longer than is necessary on the Final Stage debate, given the legislative pressures on the House as the mandate draws to a close. I am content that my views have been taken on board and have been well documented, as have the clear views of the agri-food industry. We must now look to the methods of enabling the targets contained in the Bill to be met.
I am glad that we have arrived at the Final Stage of the Bill. Climate change is clearly one of the most fundamental issues facing the human race. As we, here and now, think of what is happening to the human race, however, we tend to put things in a bit of perspective. In order to have a serene atmosphere, it is obvious that we need to have a serene and peaceful planet with serene and peaceful people in it. I think, particularly now, of the people of Ukraine; of the damage, human and atmospheric, that is being done, on this occasion, by Russian aggression; and, indeed, of the threats of nuclear destruction. I make the point again: a peaceful planet and a serene atmosphere run entirely one with the other.
I am glad that we have arrived at the point where we have a climate change Bill. It is an accommodation that recognises the importance of reducing our contribution to climate change; recognises the domestic realities; incorporates a just transition and oversight mechanisms; and presents opportunities in the green economy, one of which the Minister outlined in his speech. As a member of the AERA Committee, I thank those who contributed to the Committee's evidence-gathering sessions; as the Chair said, there were 52 in total on both Bills. I thank colleagues on the Committee for working relatively well — in fact, very well — together on the matter, and I especially thank the Chair for his steering and forbearance throughout. In particular, I thank the Committee Clerk and staff and, obviously, the staff in the Bill Office — it is good to see Barbara with us today: I am sure that she does not mind my mentioning her — for their support and efforts throughout. Through the Minister, I thank his officials, who were there to provide us with evidence and some steer as we worked our way through what turned out to be a complicated and lengthy process.
I am glad that we have arrived at the Final Stage of the Climate Change (No. 2) Bill. The SDLP supports it.
I thank all those from whom we took evidence on the Climate Change (No. 2) Bill. I also thank everybody in the Assembly who supported us in many different ways.
Today, at Final Stage, we are looking at a very different Bill from the one that was introduced. Many supportive amendments have been made, while some clauses have been removed and replaced with alternatives. The Bill now has 65 clauses and is divided into five Parts.
Not everything in the Bill will please everyone. Northern Ireland will not be immune to the severity of the impact of the issues of climate change as part of the United Kingdom. It must accept that legislation and targets are needed for the reduction of emissions in line with the Paris climate change agreement. As part of the UK, Northern Ireland must, therefore, now work towards reducing its emissions. It must also remember, however, that it has a duty to not permit the carbon leakage that comes from imported foods.
The agriculture sector of course accepts that meeting the emissions targets over the next number of decades will be challenging. The separate methane target will, however, realign Northern Ireland with the Climate Change Committee's balanced pathway for agriculture. The agreed amendment will see methane levels fall to 46% from their 1990 levels by 2050 and will contribute to our net zero target. By separating methane, which breaks down relatively quickly in the atmosphere and is a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, farmers can now use the available scientific data, which indicates that food additives can reduce methane emission by up to 30%.
With continued research, innovative ideas and improvement in science, the impact on the farming industry, while challenging, will hopefully ensure the continuation of a thriving agriculture sector and allow agriculture to contribute to tackling climate change. The Bill will contribute to the protection of our environment in, I hope, a sustainable and sensible manner for generations to come. I commend the Bill.
I am pleased to join the debate remotely today and to speak on behalf of Alliance. At the outset, I thank the DAERA officials who were involved, the AERA Committee members, the Committee officials and those who presented and made representations to the Committee in relation to the progress of the Climate Change (No. 2) Bill and the Climate Change Bill.
On the day that the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change gave its "bleakest warning yet" and reported on an "atlas of human suffering", the Assembly in Northern Ireland backtracked on its decision to deliver net zero legislation. I cannot overstate my disappointment in the parties that supported the delivery of a changed, inadequate and disproportionate target and strove to create loopholes in and exemptions to our responsibilities in Northern Ireland. Wealthy nations like the UK disproportionately bear responsibility for climate change. That is known to be a fact. Low-income communities in the global south urgently need justice to cope with escalating loss and damage and to adapt to the future. To deliver anything other than our best was to turn our back on those who are most at risk from and least responsible for the climate emergency.
The debate should never have been about the agriculture sector versus the environmental sector. To quote that IPCC report, we have:
"a brief and rapidly closing window" in which to adapt to climate change, with the risks associated with lower levels of warming being greater than previously thought. The debate should have been about every person, every sector and every Government playing their part in mitigating the impacts of climate action. We should not have limited our ambition for climate action. Furthermore, by protecting one strand of one sector over all strands of all others or even giving the impression of doing so, we stand to lose enormous economic and social opportunities and confine Northern Ireland to being the carbon outlier of Europe. We need ambition at a political level, because the opportunities are ours for the taking. The race to net zero is seeing growth in economic opportunity among our neighbours and competitors. I regret to say that, on this issue, as in many other areas, we remain the exception to ambition.
Throughout the passage of the Bill, I have continually sought to defend the agri-food sector against attempts by some in the Chamber to destroy the industry. Since the introduction of the Bill, it is fair to say that our farmers have been to the brink and back. The process has caused a lot of needless anxiety and concern for many who have watched on, aware of the potential of the legislation to destroy their livelihoods. There is a lesson to be learned here for Members, especially in light of the pending stages of the private Member's Bill still to follow: we must continue to remind ourselves that lives and livelihoods are bound up in our tackling of climate change.
As with so much that is considered by the House, striking the right balance is everything. It was clear that the right balance had not been struck subsequent to Consideration Stage. The outworkings of votes at Consideration Stage, if left unchallenged, would have resulted in an estimated reduction in the number of active farmers by 13,000, with job losses across the agri-food sector running into tens of thousands.
Amendments at Consideration Stage dealt a body blow to the Department's carefully considered Bill, changing it almost entirely. At Further Consideration Stage, however, some parties had a reality check. Amendments that were tabled by the Minister at that stage offered a lifeline to bring the legislation back into the realms of reality. I am glad that, to a certain extent, that lifeline was accepted, particularly in relation to amendment No 1 and the clarification on methane and its contribution to the net zero target. A degree of protection and support was won for the agri-food sector, and I know how much relief that brought to farmers across Northern Ireland. Unfortunately, it was hugely disappointing that amendment No 17 was not supported by Members. A clear opportunity was presented to the House to send a message to the rural community that its contribution to net zero would be fair and proportionate. Mr Allister called it a litmus test of whether Members were on the side of farmers or not. I am sad to say that the latter was evident in relation to amendment No 17.
As has been said repeatedly, our agri-food sector has always wanted to play its part in tackling climate change. Indeed, the industry has always been ahead of the House in its effort to enhance environmentally friendly procedures, practices and processes. The sector did not need us to tell it; it did it itself. Many often forget that, when we consider the agri-food sector, we are considering families and communities who have been the custodians of our countryside and environment for generations, long before it became popular, and long before the Green Party and the climate crisis lobby existed. The outworkings of the Bill should be to better equip and enhance the work that is ongoing, not to vilify and punish our farmers. Let us be in no doubt: the targets that have been set, thanks to amendment No 1, will be difficult, and there will be a price to be paid. They are ambitious, but, most importantly, they are realistic and based on science.
I commend the Department and the Minister for their efforts throughout the process to ensure that key themes of the Bill and the amendments that they proposed subsequently were clearly evidence-based, in keeping with the expert advice from the UK CCC, the intergovernmental panel and the Paris agreement. Unfortunately, on occasion, Members have been headline-driven as opposed to science-driven. I trust that, as we move to consider the Bill in the name of Ms Bailey, Members will bear the science in mind.
It is important to note that it has been a long and tortuous road to this point, but we have reached it. It is also important to note that, although the Climate Change (No. 2) Bill that we are debating at Final Stage takes forward a key New Decade, New Approach commitment, we are still, two years later, waiting for the delivery of an independent environmental protection agency. The Climate Change (No. 2) Bill is, if anything, just one action as part of a wider programme of work that needs to be taken forward. It is only a starting point.
The Alliance Party will vote in support of the Bill at Final Stage because, as the proverb goes, better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without. This Bill ain't no diamond, but, on the whole, the Alliance Party is of the view that it is better to have something than nothing. We have reservations, and it is important to outline those today, as my colleague John Blair has done. It is also important to put on record our commitment to bringing forward a private Member's Bill in the next mandate to deliver the real ambition required to deal with the climate crisis that we now face.
The Alliance Party, as my colleague John Blair outlined, is disappointed that the Bill was watered down at Further Consideration Stage by excluding methane. Last week, only a few months after the UN Secretary-General said that the IPCC report was nothing less than "a code red for humanity", the IPCC reported that there was:
"a brief and rapidly closing window to secure a liveable future" on the planet. We need to live up to that challenge. The challenge presented to Northern Ireland is real, and we must meet it. We owe it to future generations to step up and take actions to avert a climate catastrophe.
I will turn to the implementation of clauses 12 to 21 of the Bill as it was amended at Consideration Stage. My colleague John Blair wrote to the Minister on Friday asking what considerations he and his Department had given to the implementation of those clauses. Amendment Nos 57 and 58, which were tabled at Further Consideration Stage, corrected serious technical defects in clauses 12 to 21. In its report to DAERA, the Office of the Legislative Counsel stated that a subsidiary power of the Department is required. It is our understanding that that delegation of powers is required in order to ensure that clauses 12 to 21 are fully operable. As the Minister did not move amendment Nos 57 and 58, we are concerned about the operation of those clauses.
Sectoral plans and associated targets were added to the Bill at Consideration Stage by the Alliance Party after drafting by the Assembly Bill Office. Those clauses, once drafted and proposed, were then passed with the support of the majority of the House. I would be interested to learn from the Minister why he did not move the correcting amendments and how that impacts on the sectoral plans and associated targets that were inserted at Consideration Stage. If we are to achieve the targets that are set out in the Bill, the action from different sectors is crucial. That is why we moved the amendments, and it is vital that they are implemented. Clarity is required from the Minister.
In closing, I did not think that we would reach this point with the Bill, but I am glad that we have. I put on record my thanks, particularly to the DAERA officials, who I know have spent a significant amount of time on drafting the legislation, to officials in the Bill Office in the Assembly and to officials in the Assembly generally. We have reached this point, and hopefully the Assembly can move on and agree the Bill at Final Stage.
As others have done, I thank the Committee staff, staff from RaISe, the Bill Office and departmental staff for all their assistance throughout this process. I also thank all the witnesses and those who responded to the consultation. I also give thanks and praise to the climate campaigners out there, particularly young people, who helped to keep the issue on the agenda and have led us to where we are today.
Let there be no doubt that dealing with global warming and climate change is the issue of our time. From the resumption of the Assembly in 2020, when Sinn Féin tabled the first motion that was debated in the Chamber in order to declare a climate emergency, progressing climate legislation in this mandate has been a priority for us. We wanted legislation that was not only ambitious, with a net zero target, but legislation that was fair, just and deliverable. We wanted legislation that would help us here in the North to play our part in the climate emergency and that left no sector of society behind.
The Bill may be considered to be the Minister's Bill, but, in reality, it bears no resemblance to the Bill that he introduced here a number of months ago. In my view, the process has witnessed good collaboration across most of the political parties in the Chamber, and, through the work of Sinn Féin and others in the Committee scrutiny process and at previous stages of the Bill, a vast number of amendments have been added to the Bill. Those amendments will ensure that the work that we do over the next three decades will be based on just transition principles. There will also be a just transition commission to help oversee progress, a separate just transition scheme for the agriculture sector and other protections for small businesses and our agricultural and rural communities. From the Bill, work will be done with an eye on nature-based solutions, and there are amendments that we and others tabled in order to deal with carbon leakage. Also introduced is independent oversight via a climate commissioner, as well as climate action plans and sectoral plans. The Bill also includes the very important protection of the need for public consultation and the support of MLAs at various steps along the way.
The Bill is, by and large, a framework Bill, but it will, rightly, be central to the work, plans and policies that the Executive and all Departments will take forward, and, over the next three decades, it will help to transform the society that we live in.
We must reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. If the need to save our planet did not make that obvious, the current cost-of-living crisis, because of our dependence on oil and gas, should certainly hammer home the point.
On that very issue — dependence on fossil fuels — one of the means of switching from fossil fuels was to burn woodchips. We had the issue with the renewable heat incentive (RHI) scheme, and the headline in the paper today is that £90 million has been lost to the Northern Ireland Budget because Sinn Féin will not agree with the proposals that are being put forward in that area. The Member might reflect on that when he talks about moving from fossil fuels.
I suppose that I thank the Minister, the new Member for South Belfast, for his interjection. I am surprised that he chose to interject to mention the RHI scheme, which was a disastrous DUP scheme that did nothing to redress global warming but did instigate a financial crisis and the collapse of this institution. Minister, we need to ensure that any progress that we make is based on green energy schemes that work and do the job that they set out to do.
The Minister takes me on to my next point very well. Stormont often gets a bad press, primarily because of the actions or inaction of the DUP. Often, people do not notice the impact of the work that is done here, but a cursory glance at what has happened in the Chamber in the past three days — since Monday — gives an indication of what the Assembly can do. We have considered the Private Tenancies Bill, which will protect renters in the private housing sector, an autism Bill, the first gambling legislation in close to 40 years, sexual offences and trafficking victims legislation, free period products legislation and a domestic abuse Bill. This evening, after we have debated two climate Bills — potentially — we will consider free hospital car parking legislation from my colleague Aisling Reilly.
Every one of those pieces of legislation is much needed to help, assist and protect individuals, communities and society as a whole in the North. Whilst I do not want to rank any of the work that we do here by importance, I am glad that, before the end of the mandate, we will finally have a climate Bill. That is an important legacy to leave for those who are elected to here in May, but, more importantly, it is a legacy and an opportunity for our children and grandchildren well into the future.
I am pleased to have arrived at the Final Stage of the Climate Change (No. 2) Bill. It is one of the most significant pieces of legislation that the Assembly has considered, and it tackles the most important issue of our lifetime. The Bill has been a long time coming. After three missing years in the mandate, an Executive was reconvened after the New Decade, New Approach agreement was finalised, which promised us a climate Bill for Northern Ireland along with an independent environmental protection agency. The Minister took office on 11 January 2020, and it has taken us over two years to get to this point.
On 3 February 2020, the Assembly passed a motion calling on the Minister to bring forward a climate change Act and establish an independent environmental protection agency for Northern Ireland. The Minister responded by saying that he would not be rushed into introducing measures that we would later regret. On 21 July 2020, the Assembly passed a further motion, which called on the Minister to introduce a climate change Act with legally binding, ambitious targets within 100 days. The Minister responded by telling us that the time frame was impossible and that the Assembly's ask was ridiculous.
When the Minister failed to step up, civic society and activists stepped in. By the hundredth day of the Assembly's restoration, a climate change Bill for Northern Ireland had been drafted, to be introduced as a private Member's Bill, and had the support of all parties except the DUP and the TUV. The cross-party Bill was submitted in September 2020 and introduced to the Assembly in March 2021, setting the framework for what we need in a climate change Act for Northern Ireland: strong net zero targets, a just transition, non-regression and robust climate action plans that take a holistic view of the crisis by incorporating targets on not only greenhouse gases but soil quality, air quality and biodiversity.
Once the Bill was introduced, the Minister suddenly found that he did have the time to take forward climate change legislation. The Minister's Climate Change (No. 2) Bill was introduced in July 2021. It was much less ambitious and narrower in scope. It was a watered-down version of what had already been proposed. The fact that we have two climate Bills close to completion is down to the fact that the Minister's hand was forced by an unrelenting civic movement and cross-party working. United in the demand for climate action, those people stepped up in the face of the Minister's refusal to meet his commitments.
I am delighted to see a few of the faces behind that push in the Public Gallery. I know that others are listening online to witness the passing of this stage of the Bill on its journey to becoming the Climate Change Act (Northern Ireland) 2022. I acknowledge the professionalism and the work put into the Bill by Barbara and her team of private Member's Bill Clerks, the Committee Clerks and the departmental officials.
It is positive that the Bill, in its current form, is much stronger than it looked when it was introduced. That is thanks, in part, to 12 successful Green Party amendments. On policy areas, it largely mirrors what was in the initial Climate Change Bill and the cross-party desire to see robust legislation.
The Green Party has managed to put a just transition firmly on the agenda and, through amendments, at the core of the Bill. That means that consensus-building with people and communities, and empowering them to play an active part in the transition to net zero, should be at the heart of actions coming out of the Bill. Be in no doubt that the Green Party will be watching very closely. Our amendments have ensured that action taken in Northern Ireland to reduce emissions should simultaneously serve to reduce poverty, inequality and social deprivation. We have guaranteed a just transition fund for agriculture, which was missing from the Climate Change (No. 2) Bill until an amendment was made to it. That is to ensure that farmers can access financial support and advice on reducing emissions.
We are particularly proud of the fact that we secured an amendment requiring sectoral plans to eliminate gender inequality and advance equality of opportunity between men and women, which would make this one of the first pieces of gender-proofed climate legislation in the world.
Targets have been expanded to look beyond emissions to soil quality and biodiversity, because the problem of climate breakdown is inextricably linked to ecological breakdown and the state of our soils. We secured an amendment requiring policies and proposals to support nature-based projects that enhance biodiversity, protect and restore ecosystems, reduce emissions and support climate resilience. The Green Party will push to see that delivered and not swept aside in the push for further economic development, which has caused the crisis that we are in.
We secured vital, Northern Ireland-specific, independent oversight through the establishment of the Northern Ireland climate commissioner. The commissioner will be an independent organisation, separate from government and political interference and bias. Its report will provide an independent, scientific critique of the efficiency of the Executive's climate action plans. The role of the Northern Ireland climate commissioner will be crucial in underpinning public trust in climate policy. The absence of independent environmental regulation in Northern Ireland generally, and the absence of an agency, has eroded public trust. If Northern Ireland intends to make the deep-seated changes necessary to tackle climate change, the public must have trust in the system and be invested in the process. The commissioner will ensure that the public and climate policy decision-makers have all the necessary information to assess whether the Executive's climate policy is effective, fair and in line with the best available climate science. That should ensure that we will no longer hear the trotted-out excuse that we simply do not have the proper evidence needed to create the right policy.
The Bill is much stronger than when it was introduced, thanks to the extensive amendments tabled by parties across the House. However, the amendments that passed last week to create a separate target for biogenic methane, so that the Bill does not reflect a truly net zero target, have seriously weakened the Bill's provisions. That shows that, when it comes down to it, our political parties will not make the hard but necessary decisions that go with climate action, because that would require them to think beyond elections and electoral cycles. We are elected by the people of Northern Ireland to show political leadership. Meeting the climate crisis requires bravery, but, at the eleventh hour, the majority of MLAs caved in to the demands of a lobby that represents the highest-emitting sector in Northern Ireland. That is a political and moral failure, and future generations will judge them harshly for it.
There are fewer than eight years left in the global carbon budget. That gives us two thirds of a chance of staying under the critical threshold of 1·5°C global warming. What is right is not always what is popular. With fewer than eight years left to avoid catastrophic climate change, Members of the House have decided that votes and lobbyists are more important than fully addressing the "code red for humanity" warning and the "atlas of human suffering" warning given to us by the IPCC. The Minister focused on headlines during his contribution, yet he totally ignores those headlines.
What happened last week with regard to amending the Bill to create split methane targets is the perfect example of parties' duplicity; they are talking out of both sides of their mouths. Once they feel that the public will not understand the detail, they do what they want to do and not what they have said they will do. The DUP has, at least, been consistent in its position, but other parties that claim to speak for the planet, the environment and climate justice showed, last week, what they truly stand for: keeping their seats, no matter what. Citizens who want to cast their vote for the planet should know that, last week, the DUP, the SDLP, Sinn Féin, the UUP and the TUV spoke in favour of significantly weakening our net zero commitments. Parties that were co-sponsors to the cross-party private Member's Bill — Sinn Féin and the SDLP — spoke in favour of split targets for methane last week, abandoning the commitment to a net zero target for Northern Ireland. It is great to see the climate champions in the SDLP supporting net zero by 2040 and no split methane targets at Westminster. Why, then, would they not support the same here? The climate champs in the UUP make manifesto demands for a UK net zero target by 2035 but vote for our contribution to be 82% and for splitting the targets.
Throughout this process, it has been noted and argued that, despite having a similar emissions profile to Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland did not set split targets for methane. At Consideration Stage, Sinn Féin successfully passed an amendment what would require us to align our policies with the Republic, yet they now support different targets for Ireland, North and South. How does that make sense? The island of Ireland is a single biogeographic unit. At every stage, the Green Party advocated for an all-island approach to climate action. Sinn Féin, the SDLP and others caved in to corporate lobbyists, creating two separate targets for this island with all the administrative, legal and practical difficulties that come with that.
It is abundantly clear that, in the course of this process, Members lost sight of what this legislation is truly about. On the very day that Members of the Assembly watered down and weakened the Bill, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its 'Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability' report. The IPCC says, unequivocally, that:
"places where people live and work may cease to exist, that ecosystems and species that we've all grown up with and that are central to our cultures and inform our languages may disappear".
The IPCC report also states that the burden is falling overwhelmingly on those who have not caused the problem. Large parts of Africa will become uninhabitable. Growing numbers of people are dying as a result of excessive heat. Fifteen times more people have died as a result of floods, droughts and storms in vulnerable regions such as Africa, South Asia, Central America and South America than have done in other parts or the world. That is climate apartheid, where the rich pay to escape heat and hunger and the rest of the world watches.
The report sets out an atlas of human suffering. In the words of the UN Secretary-General, António Guterres:
"This abdication of leadership is criminal."
Thanks to the inclusion of many Green Party amendments, the Bill is stronger than when it was originally introduced. It is not everything that we wanted it to be, particularly given its less ambitious methane targets. I respect the will of the House, however. It has been a democratically developed Bill, with much cross-party working. Now is the time for us to ensure its delivery. It is time to get behind the structures that are contained in it in order to allow us to create the systemic changes that are so urgently needed.
In agreement with the co-sponsors of the Climate Change Bill and Climate Coalition Northern Ireland, I have decided that, if the Final Stage of the Climate Change (No. 2) Bill is passed by the House, I will not move the Consideration Stage of the Climate Change Bill. The will of the House would be similarly expressed, and the outcome for the target would not change.
Although the Minister has held true to his word by not delivering an independent environmental protection agency in this mandate, it is a historic day for Northern Ireland. The Bill creates an important framework for the future for the climate action that we need to take. The Bill is not everything that we would like it to be, but it is an important first step, and one that we all need to keep building on. It is now time for every politician and political party and all Departments and civic actors to step up and put the policies in place to see the Bill achieve real emissions reductions, while also securing a sustainable future so that people and communities can thrive and be equipped with the tools that they need in order to thrive. The climate crisis is the biggest crisis that humanity is facing today. We need to play our part. I am glad that today we are creating the building blocks to start moving forward.
I am delighted to contribute to the Climate Change (No. 2) Bill's Final Stage. I, too, pay tribute to and thank those who have campaigned for so long for climate legislation. I acknowledge the work of the Department; the AERA Committee — in particular, its Chairperson, my party colleague Declan McAleer — all those who provided evidence; the Bill Office; and Clare Bailey and other MLAs, including my colleague Philip McGuigan, whose work, along with that of activists, on bring forwarding the Climate Change Bill motivated the Minister to bring forward this Bill.
From today, we will no longer be the only region in these islands without its own target-led climate legislation. We have navigated a long and complicated path to get the Climate Change (No. 2) Bill to Final Stage. The engagement and debate has been useful, however. The interest and strength of feeling shown reflects what is at stake, which is the very existence of our planet, as we know it, for future generations. We should not and must not, in any way, diminish the climate and biodiversity crises that our planet faces. Action to tackle those crises means changing how we and future generations live our lives. Not acting, or delaying, means catastrophe and more irreparable damage.
This Bill has evolved into what it is now: ambitious but containing safeguards and protections for our communities, achieved by Sinn Féin working with others to make strong amendments to the Bill. It has the principles of just transition enshrined in it — defined in it, in fact. It ensures consultation, collaboration and partnership. It means that future MLAs will have to sign off on regulations and plans. Good progress has been made from the point where the Minister asserted that it could not be done in this mandate to where we are now with a climate Bill that we have managed to find some consensus on. We now have a framework for us to work within to tackle the climate emergency that will also ensure fairer treatment. As well as being based on the principles of just transition, it provides for a just transition commission to plan a way forward, a just transition fund for agriculture to support farmers to adapt and innovate, and a climate commissioner for oversight.
It is worth stating again what just transition means. It means that lower-income workers, small businesses and those who work in sectors that are more dependent on fossil fuels or that produce more emissions and have more to do to decarbonise are not punished or left behind, unable to transition; that those who can afford to do their bit do it; that there is a fair and just pathway for all; and that we work together to tackle deprivation, enhance social justice and develop a greener, fairer economy and society. Those are laudable aims. We now have to deliver on them. It will be for the next Assembly to ensure that it happens, in collaboration and partnership with our communities and wider society.
A lot of the debate on this legislation focused on agriculture and our rural communities. It was right that their concerns were highlighted, discussed and listened to and that protections were incorporated into the legislation. I hope that those who led in challenging robustly on this legislation will continue to speak up on the other threats facing our family farms and rural way of life: the future agriculture policy, the outworking of Brexit and the trade deals being done by the British Government. Those things need challenged, too. I assure our farmers and rural communities that Sinn Féin will do what it has always done and has a clear track record on: standing up for our family farms and fair treatment for our rural communities.
We now turn to the future, and, with this legislative basis, future policies and strategies will have to align to it. We can and must look to the new opportunities in developing our green economy, new skills and jobs and different ways of working. We must ensure that the well-being of our citizens and our planet is a priority and is measured alongside economic metrics.
My final words are for our young people who went on strike and protested and have ensured that climate and biodiversity crises are on the political and policy agenda: keep shouting, keep protesting and make sure that we as political representatives make good on the promise of this legislation and deliver on its potential. I support the Bill at Final Stage.
I have no difficulty with issues pertaining to making our planet as pristine as we can. That is sensible, right and necessary. I have no difficulty with reducing harmful emissions as much as we can, and I have no difficulty with issues pertaining to clean energy. My goodness, I represent North Antrim, where we have Wrightbus as the lead in the magnificent work that is being done on hydrogen-fuelled buses. Where I do have difficulty and what I dissent from is the woke consensus that man can change the climate. Of course, we all should aspire to leave this planet in pristine condition and a better position than we found it, but to suggest that puny man can, by himself, change the climate is, I think, something that has been swept along by a tide of obsession and hysteria that does not bear scrutiny.
The Climate Change (No. 2) Bill certainly started off better than Clare Bailey's Bill, but whether it has ended up much better is very debatable. It is a flawed piece of legislation because, the methane concession apart, it embraces the net zero ambition — or compulsion, indeed — by 2050. Inevitably, even with the methane concession, it will harm our key agriculture industry. There will be herd reduction because of the Bill; herd reduction that will be voted for by virtually everyone in the Assembly, and that is at a time when food production in the world has never been more perilous.
If someone is looking for a code red alert, they will find it in Ukraine in respect of food production. Where is Ukraine going to be, this year and in future years, as a producer of the vital wheat and cereal that helps to feed much of the world? Judging by current conditions, it is unlikely to be able to make anything like the contribution that it has hitherto made, yet it is in those circumstances that the House is saying to Northern Ireland, which produces food to feed 10 million people, "We're going to impose restrictions on you so that you produce less". That is in a context where the world needs more, and we are going to do it because we are all signed up to this wokeism about climate change. I really do say this to the House: it is wrong-headed, particularly now in the circumstances that the situation in Ukraine has created. Now, we are going to compound that by impinging upon production in agriculture in this Province. That I cannot and will not support.
I said in the last debate that amendment No 17 was the litmus test of whether the House was on the side of or against farming. Alliance, the SDLP, Sinn Féin and the Greens clearly declared themselves against farming interests by voting down amendment No 17. That was the litmus test for me. It is also the litmus test for the Bill.
I thank the Member for taking an intervention. Does the Member accept, or has he heard, the comments of the president of the Ulster Farmers' Union, the largest farming organisation in the North, who did not support amendment No 17? Rather, the UFU is of the view that farming wants to be part of the solution here. Does he accept that? That comes from the largest farming organisation in the North, and surely it has a more authoritative voice than the Member.
I have no difficulty in accepting Mr Chestnutt's observations about climate change, but the Member who intervened obviously has, because Mr Chestnutt was one of those who argued loudest that we should not go beyond the Climate Change Committee's recommendations of 82% — something that Mr McAleer was deaf to, that he voted against, that he insisted on rejecting. I take no lectures about the leadership of the farmers' union and its view from Mr McAleer, who demonstrably indicated that he rejected the primary advice by rushing headlong into voting for the contribution to the decimation of farming that the Bill represents.
I am quite clear: amendment No 17 was a litmus test not just of whether we supported farming but of whether the Bill was ever worthy of support. By rejecting amendment No 17, the House made up my mind on the Bill. Therefore, I will not vote for it.
I thank the AERA Committee Chair and members for their contributions to this and previous debates. I will seek to respond to some of the comments that were made.
I will start with Mr Blair. His contribution was pretty cliché-ridden, and he talked about the loss of an economic opportunity. Does Mr Blair not realise that 113,000 people here depend on jobs in the agri-food sector? He also said that it should not be an issue between agriculture and the environment. However, Mr Blair and his colleagues made it an issue between agriculture and the environment. They rejected the advice of the Climate Change Committee, who are the experts. They knew how to deal with climate change better than the experts did and were happy to destroy people's jobs and livelihoods in the process. That is what the Alliance Party is about. Mr Blair also said that we have not been ambitious: this is an ambitious Bill.
Ms Bailey and others referred to young people. After this business concludes, my next event will be at the College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE), where there will be a careers fair and bursaries will be awarded to young people. There will be hundreds of young people at that event who are investing their future in the food industry — an industry that the majority of people in the Chamber were prepared to decimate and that Ms Bailey still wants to decimate. That is the message to those young people from some in the Chamber: they do not care about their jobs, their livelihoods and their futures. Those young people are investing in producing high-quality food for people in this country and in countries across the world, but that is not of value to people in the Chamber. Shame on those people.
Mr Muir commented on the need for an independent environmental protection agency. Of course, he said that while conveniently ignoring the fact that, through the Environment Act 2021, we have created the independent Office for Environmental Protection. Therefore, instead of the politically based European Commission looking into those affairs, we will have an independent Office for Environmental Protection that is entirely independent of government.
Mr Muir also talked about methane being excluded. Of course, methane was not excluded. Methane is a much shorter-lived greenhouse gas than many others. It is still in the targets. I have to clarify again — it is on the public record, but I will put it on again — that the reduction to 46% is consistent with IPCC advice. We have heard the IPCC being quoted: what we have proposed in the legislation is consistent with that advice. It is also consistent with the UK Climate Change Committee's balanced pathway recommendations and the ambition of the Paris agreement to achieve long-term temperature goals. We have achieved all that in what is proposed, yet Members are still critical.
I want to mention RHI to Mr McGuigan because he said something that was entirely un-factual. He is welcome to challenge this, but my Department informed me — I have put it on the record — that, between 2012 and 2030, the renewable heat incentive will contribute a 7% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Mr McGuigan wants a 100% reduction: there is something that achieves 7% of that 100%. Many people are using that scheme in good faith; many are heavily indebted as a consequence of installing RHI boilers; and many — the vast majority — run those boilers at a significant loss. However, Mr McGuigan thinks that it is a good idea to give £90 million back to the UK economy. He is saying, "We do not need that. We do not want these people to reduce greenhouse gases by 7%. No, no, they should import that gas from Russia instead". Sinn Féin could deal with that by supporting the Department for the Economy's proposals, which will make what we do in Northern Ireland similar to what is happening in the rest of the United Kingdom and in the Republic of Ireland. However, Mr McGuigan and his Sinn Féin colleagues are blocking that. They are blocking a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and ensuring that money that could come to Northern Ireland to enable that to happen stays in London. That is not a smart place to be, and I note that there are no explanations from Sinn Féin for the silly position that it is adopting on the issue.
Ms Bailey provided an analysis of how we got here. It may be somewhat self-indulgent to make the suggestions that she made, but they do not stand up to any scrutiny or facts. When we had the debate in July, we were engaging in a consultation process and bringing about legislation, but, because we were doing things right, it could not be done in 100 days. This is not my mantra; it has been said for generations. Rushed legislation is bad legislation. Ms Bailey's Bill, which, I am glad, is now off the agenda, was a poorly drafted, economically damaging Bill. It would not have resolved issues around climate change. In fact, it would have done harm to the climate change agenda, because Northern Ireland would have exported its food production to other places that would have carried it out in a less environmentally friendly way and emitted more carbon to produce the same number of kilos of beef and the same number of litres of milk. That would have been the consequence of Ms Bailey's Bill. All that she would have done is shift carbon emissions from Northern Ireland to other places and shift jobs from Northern Ireland to other places.
I thank the Minister for giving way, and I commend him on reaching the historic occasion of a climate change Bill being passed in the Assembly. I also commend him on the political skills that he has used to navigate the Bill through the Executive and the Assembly.
In the context of exporting Northern Ireland's responsibilities for producing its own food in Northern Ireland — food that meets the need here and in other parts of the United Kingdom — is it not more important than ever, at a time of political uncertainty, that we have food security in Northern Ireland and food produced in Northern Ireland rather than being dependent on other nations? Whether it is about getting the right foods for Northern Ireland or, indeed, reducing carbon emissions, we should not franchise that responsibility out to nations like Russia and other parts of the world whose values are not in keeping with the values that we share in Northern Ireland. The Bill strikes the right balance between meeting environmental needs and ensuring economic and food security.
I thank the Member for raising that issue. He is absolutely right about that. Ms Bailey talks so much about the problems in sub-Saharan Africa and other places. Those problems are here today, Ms Bailey. Maybe you do not realise that there is a massive problem in sub-Saharan Africa. When tenders for product are put out there, people do not respond. Tell that to the 120 million people in Egypt who are looking for food. They tender for that food, but there are no responses, and that is because there will be a shortage of food as a consequence of what is going on in Russia and Ukraine and food supply is already finely balanced. The policy that Ms Bailey wants this country to adopt is to produce less food. I say that that policy is mad. We have a growing number of people living in the world, and any policy under which you produce less food for that growing number of people is not a policy that any rational, sensible Parliament, Assembly or person should want to adopt.
The Member mentioned soil quality, but we are already ahead of the game. Planes and drones are out at this moment doing lidar mapping of Northern Ireland, and around 60% of that has already been achieved. We are already lidar mapping all of Northern Ireland so that we can see what is going on underneath the ground. We have a scheme over the next four years to analyse all the soils in Northern Ireland so that the appropriate nutrients to support food production can be introduced. We did not need legislation to do that; we needed common sense. That is being done.
Ms Bailey has always been critical of this DUP Environment Minister, but I have always said that, while the legislation gives us a framework, the green growth strategy gives us the engine and the transmission to drive all this forward. I stand to be corrected, so I will be happy to take an intervention, but I have yet to hear Ms Bailey complain that Mr Murphy did not give substantial enough support to deliver green growth and to deliver on the environmental agenda in Northern Ireland. She can quickly criticise the DUP Minister, but she is reluctant to criticise a Sinn Féin Minister. She can answer for that, although I note that she has not.
The Member also referred to the agri-food sector as the highest-emitting sector — not the highest-employing sector but the highest-emitting sector. That is how she looks at the agri-food sector. I recognise —.
I was just about to respond on that, so the question did not need to be asked. I recognise that the agriculture and agri-food sector emits around 27% of carbon emissions. It has reduced its emissions over the years, but it has not reduced as much as some other sectors have. The energy sector's move from coal to gas production has helped significantly. As a consequence of things that are happening now, there is some movement back to coal, which is hugely regrettable. That regression is taking place because of circumstances that are beyond anybody's control. The agri-food sector is looking at the challenges and will meet them, but that needs to be done in a timely and constructive manner.
I mentioned where I was this morning and the opportunities that are to be derived from anaerobic digestion. Instead of doing away with cows, we can capture more of the methane that cows produce and use it to heat people's homes and run vehicles. How is that not a logical solution for a food-producing country? How is it a better idea to grow thistles and weeds, which, by the way, does not help biodiversity, than to grow grass, grain and protein crops? There are opportunities to do more of those things.
I understand where Mr Allister is coming from. There will be a herd reduction as a result of the Bill, but that does not mean that there has to be a reduction in agricultural output. There are opportunities to grow alternative crops, including protein crops and foods such as kale, spinach and wild rice. Those things may seem far-reaching, but, over the next number of years, we will be looking seriously at crops like those in order to ensure that we can continue with food production in a significant way. There will be alterations, and I and the farming community accept and understand that.
Anaerobic digestion gives significant opportunities in horticulture because of the heat that is produced as well as the electricity. Many significant opportunities can be derived from growing crops like tomatoes, horticultural plants and so forth because we will be able to produce power and energy from animal nutrients and cattle slurry etc.
The Climate Change Committee has given advice on that. It is different from what it would have been under the 82% target. Given that we have adopted the 46% methane target, the reduction will perhaps be less than what it would have been under the 82% target. Nonetheless, significant opportunities can be developed by the agri-food sector. Nothing stays the same: things change. We have built up a large dairy and chicken sector, in particular, over the past 30 years, and some of that will change. However, we will ensure that there is an opportunity for people to continue to live and work in the countryside and maintain the agri-food sector. Therefore, I can support the Bill in its current form.
I thank the Minister for giving way. I also thank him for the talk on the future of farming. Obviously, that is an area in which he is very well versed, being a farmer himself.
Minister, given that you are talking about emissions, can you indicate, for example, how many of our areas of special scientific interest or special areas of conservation are breaching the ammonia limits?
Ms Bailey does not like to give me any credit for anything, but under my tutelage, and as a result of decisions that I have taken in the Executive, that will be reduced by 25%. I imagine that not many others would have been able to deliver such a significant reduction — 25% — in another Department in two years on something to do with the environment. I will accept any praise that she might have for that reduction in ammonia and for the proposals that I am putting together to further reduce ammonia emissions. That is important.
Mr Muir made an issue of my not moving amendment Nos 57 and 58. Mr Blair has, I believe, written to me on that issue as well. The purpose of amendment Nos 57 and 58, which I tabled at Further Consideration Stage, was to replace the content of what are now clauses 13 to 22 — clauses 12 to 21 prior to the Further Consideration Stage — and link it to the requirements on the production of climate action plans. That would have helped to ensure that the provisions in the Bill on sectoral plans were clear and effective and were applied and administered efficiently.
The reason why amendment Nos 57 and 58 were not moved is that the amendments to remove clauses 12 to 21 were not selected for the Marshalled List. Therefore, there was no point in moving amendment Nos 57 and 58. Notwithstanding that, I have indicated that the view of officials is that there are no legislative competence issues with respect to clauses 13 to 22. There are certainly issues with the wording of the provisions, which could have and would have been improved if all my relevant amendments had been selected, voted on and agreed. However, the purpose of the subsidiary power contained in amendment No 57 was to provide flexibility to enable the targets to be more precisely delineated. It was never stated or implied in any correspondence from my Department that the power was required to make clauses 12 to 21 — now clauses 13 to 22 — operable or that they would be outside competence without them.
Of course, the most significant and concerning aspect of the clauses on the sectoral plans and associated targets is the inclusion of the aspirational target, which does not align with the recently agreed Executive targets and has the potential to be hugely costly on delivery. I assure Members that I and the Department are committed to ensuring the full implementation of the Bill's provisions once they are passed into law.
It is my privilege to make this winding-up speech. I thank Members for their support and commend the Bill to the House.
Question put and agreed to. Resolved:
That the Climate Change (No. 2) Bill [NIA 28/17-22] do now pass.