Climate campaigners warn against Stormont collapse
Proposed climate change laws in Northern Ireland must not fall victim to Stormont instability, a protest has been told.
The demonstration outside Parliament Buildings in Belfast warned a powersharing collapse would torpedo draft legislation going through the Assembly aimed at setting a net zero carbon target for the north.
Northern Ireland is currently the only part of Britain and Ireland that does not have its own climate change act.
Two separate bills are currently proceeding through legislative stages in the Assembly – one tabled by DUP Environment Minister Edwin Poots and the other a private members’ bill from Green Party NI leader Clare Bailey.
Ms Bailey’s bill, which is supported by a majority of other Stormont parties, was developed by the Climate Coalition NI – which is made up of a range of scientists, academics, lawyers and environmental organisations.
It sets a 2045 target for reaching net zero carbon emissions.
Mr Poots’ bill sets the less ambitious goal of reducing emissions by 82% by 2050.
The DUP minister has previously criticised the rival bill as “Disneyland” legislation which imposes targets that could devastate Northern Ireland’s agriculture sector.
Both bills would fall away if the DUP follows through with its recent threat to collapse the Stormont Assembly in protest at Brexit’s Northern Ireland Protocol.
Supporters of the Climate Coalition NI Bill protested outside Parliament Buildings on Monday afternoon.
Chloe Ferguson, from Queen’s University students’ union, urged politicians to move beyond party politics.
“We will not have a future or a planet to fight over if we don’t get this right,” she said.
Daithi McKay, from the Climate Coalition, said waiting to act was not an option.
“Traditionally what we’ve always had here has been climate denial but climate denial has now been replaced with climate procrastination and it is just as dangerous,” Mr McKay, a former Sinn Fein MLA, told the event.
“We cannot kick the can down the road in regard to this particular issue, in regard to the climate emergency, because there isn’t going to be a road if we do that again.”
Political backers of Ms Bailey’s Bill also addressed the protest.
Her Green Party colleague, MLA Rachel Woods, said: “Today we are sending a clear message to Minister Poots and to others – low ambition is not good enough.
“We are experiencing a code red for humanity. We cannot wait any longer.
“We are the first generation to truly feel the effects of climate breakdown and we are the last generation to be able to do anything to avoid it.”
Sinn Féin MLA Philip McGuigan asked why Mr Poots had not attended.
“You would think with an issue as important as climate change and the impact that is having on our environment, that you would see the minister responsible for the environment down here standing in solidarity with us all leading the charge and leading this campaign. You would think that, wouldn’t you,” he said.
“Unfortunately, that isn’t the case. The minister responsible for the environment here in the North has had to be pushed and cajoled along the way to even take the mildest of actions on this issue.”
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said: “In all the political shenanigans we’ve seen over the past week, one thing needs to be made clear – if this Assembly comes down, this Bill goes down as well.”
He said there would also be no Northern Ireland representation at the COP 26 climate conference in Glasgow in October.
“We are walking away if we walk away from these institutions from our responsibilities to this planet and the people who will inherit it,” said Mr Eastwood.
Alliance MLA John Blair said the legislation was been threatened by “political stuntery”.
“We have to be clear – this issue can’t be threatened by that stuntery,” he said.
People Before Profit MLA Gerry Carroll said any future moves by Stormont that could potentially damage the environment had to be met with a “wall of anger” from activists.