Green leader Clare Bailey slams rivals who 'rowed back' on net zero commitments ahead of assembly election
CLARE Bailey has criticised rival parties who "rowed back" on their commitment to a 2050 net zero target by supporting special measures for agricultural emissions in Stormont's Climate Change Bill.
Speaking ahead of her party's conference in Belfast tomorrow, the Green leader told The Irish News that the legislation, signed off earlier this week, was "historic".
But she said she was disappointed that its measures to reduce emissions had been watered down after intense lobbying from the north's agrifood sector.
The bill includes measures to achieve net zero by 2050, however, an amendment from Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots includes a separate methane reduction target of no more than 46 per cent.
Produced by livestock, methane persists for just a short time in the atmosphere but is a much more potent global warming gas than carbon dioxide. A UN report last year said reducing methane emissions was vital for tackling climate change in the short-term.
Ms Bailey tabling climate change legislation as a private member's bill in October 2020 is widely credited with prompting Mr Poots to bring forward his own bill, which took precedence in the assembly because it was sponsored by an executive minister.
"I'm pleased that we got our own bespoke bill and pleased that we amended the minister's bill extensively, securing an independent climate commissioner, biodiversity targets and embedded just transition principles – all of which made it so much stronger," she said.
"But when it came to the consideration stage we got the split targets for methane, which really brings us down to 82 per cent by 2050 rather than net zero."
Ms Bailey said it was important that "people check the the small print" when looking at rival parties net zero commitments.
She said Sinn Féin, the SDLP and Ulster Unionists had all supported a target of 2050 or earlier but voted for Mr Poots' amendment.
"There was very strong lobby against net zero from the agrifood corporations and the UFU (Ulster Farmers Union) – politicians rely on votes and we're coming up to an election," she said.
"But you can't say one thing at Westminster or one thing in Leinster House and then come into this assembly and vote for something else because you feel threatened coming up to an election.
"You can't row back on commitments – climate change doesn't work like that."
The Green leader said she had concerns that commitments in the bill would not be implemented with the necessary urgency, adding: "I always expect dithering – this is a five party executive with a history of non-delivery".
The south Belfast MLA said she was confident her private member's bill that aims to create safe access zones outside sexual health centres would complete its passage by the end of the mandate, and likewise proposed legislation from her party colleague Rachel Woods securing paid leave for victims of domestic violence.
"That's two back bench MLAs delivering three bills – I think we're confident that we're setting a good strong legislative agenda in the assembly," she said.
Ms Bailey declined to say how many of her party's MLAs she expected to see returned after May 5 but highlighted the potential prospects of her deputy Mal O'Hara in north Belfast and Brian Smyth in east Belfast.
"I'm very hopeful that we will get more MLAs without a doubt but how many is down to the electorate," she said.
The Green Party conference takes place tomorrow at the University of Ulster's Belfast campus