Climate Change (No. 2) Bill: Final Stage

Part of Executive Committee Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 11:30 am on 9th March 2022.

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Photo of Caoimhe Archibald Caoimhe Archibald Sinn Féin 11:30 am, 9th March 2022

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.