Northern Ireland news

KATE NICHOLL: A Green New Deal is the catalyst for radical and positive change

Belfast Mayor Kate Nicholl. Picture by Mal McCann.

ACROSS the world, 2021 has seen a number of extreme weather events.

In the last few weeks alone, we have seen floods across continental Europe and China, wildfires in America and eastern Europe, and more locally, Northern Ireland's record temperature was set and then beaten in the midst of a heatwave.

While of course many of us enjoy the sun and summery feeling it brings, there can be no denying these extreme events are becoming more commonplace and likely to happen on a more regular basis due to climate change. We have watched with horror the scale of destruction, with scenes that will be repeated again and again if governments fail to act urgently.

The pandemic has taught us we are all in this together, so it's time we put those lessons into practice to tackle the climate crisis. To do that, while also recovering from Covid-19, it is vital we radically reform our economy and indeed, our society as a whole. Alliance has proposed a Green New Deal, a suggestion which received the backing of the assembly earlier this year.

So what is a Green New Deal? It is not only about tackling the climate emergency but recognising it goes hand in hand with economic and social justice. The first step is transitioning to environmentally and economically sustainable jobs, which is why our proposals would create at least 50,000 green jobs across Northern Ireland by 2030, in areas such as manufacturing green technologies, installation of electric vehicle charging points, social care, rail network expansion and creation of renewable energy infrastructure amongst others.

And we must ensure all of us have access to opportunities in a green economy, which is why we are proposing retraining allowances and targeted bursaries for under-represented groups in the labour market.

We have also laid out plans for ways to achieve a universal, affordable childcare system, retrofitting all social housing and grants to retrofit private homes with energy efficiency measures, creating zero carbon public transport, having interest-free loans for electric vehicles, and assisting farmers who seek to transition to sustainable farming.

As we emerge from the pandemic, and while still facing the worst fall-outs of Brexit, it is vital the executive delivers a clear and integrated Green New Deal that not only looks to decarbonise our society but which creates an equitable and sustainable economy with well-paid and secure jobs. It would be a bold initiative, designed to face down the prevailing global issue of our day.

Of course, the executive cannot tackle this alone. The United Nations Climate Change Conference, otherwise known as COP26, takes place in Glasgow in November, where it is expected countries will agree further commitments to tackle the climate emergency. The UK Government must use this critical landmark to lead the way in radically reducing emissions and helping define our global future.

Throughout history, periods of great upheaval have sparked great change – from Roosevelt's New Deal to the birth of the welfare state and NHS following World War II. These changes were radical – and necessary. I can't help but feel we are at a similar crossroads.

Time is running out, not just for us but for our planet. Our young people have led the way and marched in their thousands to voice their fears, calling for action. A Green New Deal would be the start of just that, being the catalyst for radical and positive change.

It won't mean an end to our hot summers but it would help ensure future generations can enjoy them safely.

:: Kate Nicholl is Lord Mayor of Belfast

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