Climate Change (No. 2) Bill: Final Stage

Part of Executive Committee Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 11:45 am on 9th March 2022.

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Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP 11:45 am, 9th March 2022

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.