Stormont minister brands competing climate change bills ’embarrassing’

·4-min read
Nichola Mallon is travelling to the Cop26 summit next week (David Young/PA)
Nichola Mallon is travelling to the Cop26 summit next week (David Young/PA)

Northern Ireland having two competing climate change bills going through the Assembly at the same time is an embarrassment, a Stormont minister has said.

Nichola Mallon said there was a need for agreement on a single piece of legislation setting “ambitious” targets to reduce emissions.

Northern Ireland is currently the only part of the UK and Ireland without a climate change act.

The Infrastructure Minister was commenting ahead of hosting a virtual gathering of stakeholders on Tuesday to discuss action that can be taken to tackle climate change in Northern Ireland.

It's deeply frustrating and, frankly, it's embarrassing

Nichola Mallon

Ms Mallon, an SDLP representative, also called on fellow Executive ministers to follow her lead and use electrical vehicles for their ministerial cars.

Two separate climate bills are currently proceeding through legislative stages in the Assembly – a private members’ bill from Green Party NI leader Clare Bailey and one tabled by DUP Environment Minister Edwin Poots.

Ms Bailey’s bill, which is supported by a majority of other Stormont parties, sets a 2045 target for reaching net-zero carbon emissions.

Mr Poots’s bill sets the less ambitious goal of reducing emissions by 82% by 2050.

The Environment Minister has insisted his target is in line with a recommendation from the UK’s Climate Change Committee.

He has warned the target set in Ms Bailey’s bill could have a devastating impact on the agricultural community in Northern Ireland.

However, Ms Bailey has insisted the region must set itself an “ambitious” target and address its reputation as “environmental laggards”.

Talks between the two MLAs and their officials about a potential compromise bill have yet to find agreement.

At a press conference ahead of her meeting with stakeholders, Ms Mallon, who will travel to Cop26 in Glasgow next week, was asked about the fact the Assembly had two rival bills.

“I think it’s deeply frustrating and, frankly, it’s embarrassing,” she said.

“The SDLP is a signatory to the private member’s bill. And it is sad that we do not have ambitious legislative targets and that we’re allowing Northern Ireland to fall far behind.

“My hope is that we can find agreement and that we can have an ambitious set of targets that we can put into legislation. And, critically, this must be done before the end of the mandate.”

Visiting the Peatland Pavilion at Cop26 on Tuesday, Mr Poots said peatland restoration will “play a key role in our plans to reduce carbon emissions” as envisioned through his draft green growth strategy.

The minister continued: “My department has also recently consulted on a draft Northern Ireland peatland strategy.

“This strategy, which we hope to publish in the new year, will provide a framework for peatland conservation and restoration in Northern Ireland over the next two decades, ensuring we deliver a low carbon, high nature future.”

Green Party MLA Clare Bailey (PA) (PA Archive)
Green Party MLA Clare Bailey (PA) (PA Archive)

Ms Mallon described Tuesday’s event as a “climate summit”. It brought together various organisations such as the Belfast Climate Commission, the NI Utility Regulator and the Consumer Council.

She explained that representatives from the agricultural sector were not invited because she needed to keep the event within her infrastructure remit.

“I had proposed that the Executive as a collective hold a climate summit, so that all ministers could be around the table and that we could bring organisations that fall within all of our remits together to talk about a collective plan,” she said.

“Of course, I am the minister for infrastructure and within that I have a very specific role and remit, and so that very much dictated the list of attendees today.

“But, of course, I recognise the importance of our agricultural sector and they need to be supported as we move through this just transition to net zero.”

On her call for Stormont ministers to “lead by example” and use electric cars, Ms Mallon said: “From the moment I took up post, I chose to have an electric car.

“You can’t as a minister be asking citizens to do things that you’re not willing to do yourself.

“I also wrote to all of my ministerial colleagues inviting them to take up e-cars and I remain hopeful that they will make that choice.”

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