Report on the Inquiry into Climate Change (Assembly)

Northern Ireland Assembly, 07 December 2009

I welcome the report and congratulate the Committee on its hard work, widespread consultation and compre­hensive research. The report makes 52 recommendations, most of which I agree with, although I have some reservations. It is important that we recognise the global impact of climate change on the most vulnerable people and countries. We have a moral obligation to act. We are stewards of the planet, and we have a responsibility for future generations.

Although I welcome the report, I have some reservations. Some of the recommendations are vague and woolly and should be strengthened. Furthermore, the report does not give proper timescales. Some Members do not take the issue seriously. I am particularly disappointed that the report does not recommend a separate Northern Ireland climate change Bill, because the UK Bill does not specify targets for Northern Ireland. We must set our own targets and be able to reach them.

The recommendations are largely aspirational, and I question whether the Assembly has the willpower to implement many of them. We have passed motions on climate change and the promotion of renewable energy, but the willpower to implement or enforce those policies has been lacking. For instance, recommendations 28 and 29 call for the enhancement of building standards and the promotion of a renewable energy initiative. That is ironic, because, in its first Budget, the Assembly decided to abolish Reconnect grants, which were introduced to promote the development of renewable energy systems. The Budget also reduced building standards, which were designed to promote energy efficiency. Recommendations 28 and 29 call for measures to be taken in areas in which we are moving in the opposite direction. Unfortunately, when it comes to taking action, the Assembly does not always live up to its ideals.

Energy performance certificates were introduced to encourage householders to improve the energy efficiency of their houses. Any property that is sold, built or rented is supposed to have an energy performance certificate at the time of sale. The aim of the scheme is to encourage people to buy a property with a high energy performance certificate. In practice, that has not worked, and many sellers do not provide certificates until a property is sold. That is frustrating the aim of the energy performance certificates. There is no enforcement of that legislation, and, therefore, it has little impact on energy saving. We introduce legislation, but we do not enforce it.

It is also disappointing that the recommendations do not include specific targets and that they are vague. In fact, they refer only to Northern Ireland making a fair and proportionate contribution to the UK greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets. We do not have our own targets, and we should have.

I welcome recommendation 7, regarding the need for short- and medium-term annual targets. They are essential. Setting targets for 2020 or 2050 does not indicate urgency, and most of us will not be around to find out whether they are met. We need targets that we can meet, and annual targets would help us to plan more efficiently.

Leadership from the Assembly is important if we hope to get the public to take climate change seriously. I welcome recommendation 16 that the Northern Ireland Government show leadership and adhere to their commitment to a carbon-neutral estate by 2015.

I welcome the fact that the Minister is going to the climate change conference in Copenhagen. The Minister’s support is essential for the development of the comprehensive strategy on climate change. The activities of the previous Minister of the Environment set a bad example and set back the Assembly’s efforts to promote public awareness of climate change.

I welcome the report and broadly support the recommendations.

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