A Green Party ‘Northern Ireland climate change Bill’, proposed by Steven Agnew, was successfully resolved today after heated debate in the Assembly. In what is always a contentious topic for some local politicians, the recent cases of widespread flooding and environmental damage caused as a result have given the proposals added traction and legitimacy in a debate that is sometimes biased solely by the views of those who choose to deny the scientific consensus on the issue.
Mr Agnew stated that ‘the recent flooding in Northern Ireland has finally woken us up to the reality that we need to protect our communities from the impacts of climate change. It is clear that we have had a lack of integration and that there is political uncertainty. I think that certainty and clear direction could help us, not just to tackle the causes of climate change and adapt against it but to give certainty to our business community, which needs to know whether it should continue to invest, as it has done, in the ever-growing green economy’.
Mr Agnew also stated that the message needs to come from ‘the top of the government’ to show that there exists a ‘commitment’ to mitigating climate change and the ability to ‘adapt to the impacts’. He stated that ‘human action has caused climate change but human inaction has certainly led to the extent of the flooding that we have seen’.
The Minister of the Environment Mark H Durkan largely supported the ‘overwhelming’ evidence that climate change is happening, and that it will ‘continue in the decades and centuries to come’. Mr Durkan also noted that the increased levels of polarised and ‘extreme’ weather conditions lead to the conclusion that it ‘reinforces the need for urgent action to drastically reduce global greenhouse gas emissions in order to minimise future climate change’.
The Minister also stated his intention to make Northern Ireland ‘a leader in carbon reduction’. He noted that ‘all Departments bear a collective responsibility in achieving the Northern Ireland Executive’s Programme for Government target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 35%, based on 1990 levels, by 2025’. Despite this, Mr Durkan also said that although it was his opinion that the introduction of the climate change Bill would be beneficial, he remained ‘fairly convinced’ that he lacked the ‘necessary support’ to introduce the bill.
The motion faced a certain lack of enthusiasm from Mr Peter Weir (DUP) and Mr Jim Allister (TUV). Mr Weir said that the focus should be on creating better flood defenses and emergency planning rather than legislation. In a reference to the reports of a member of the Green Party proposing that climate change deniers should be sacked from government, Mr Weir stated ‘it is zealotry from a party that, a few weeks ago, was telling us that anyone who disagreed with the notion of climate change should be sacked from government. That is the kind of Stalinism behind the amendment, and that is why we need to reject it’.
Mr Allister rejected the merits of the scientific understanding of climate change, in a frank discourse with Mr Alban McGuinness (SDLP), choosing to focus on the ‘freezing over’ of the River Thames a ‘few hundred years ago’. ‘What was the cause for that, in the days before there were CO2 emissions from factories and mines and everything else?’.
Mr McCarthy (APNI) stated that ‘whether you accept climate change or not, our earth is experiencing change and we must act now. You can see it in huge areas across the water and, indeed, in the South of this island. Something is undoubtedly happening, and we must act now’.
In one exchange Mr Sammy Wilson (DUP) challenged the motion on the grounds of the science. After Mr Agnew chose to give way, Mr Wilson stated ‘since the Member takes his views from scientists, does he take his view from the scientist who says “to capture the public’s imagination … we have to offer up scary scenarios … Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest.” That is one of the leading climate change scientists. Is that whom he takes his advice from?’
This quote – taken from Dr Stephen Schneider – is actually a misquote and is taken out of context as it selectively leaves out the last line of the original source. The original quote is fairly different, as it changes the meaning quite drastically:
On the other hand, we are not just scientists but human beings as well. And like most people we’d like to see the world a better place, which in this context translates into our working to reduce the risk of potentially disastrous climate change. To do that we need to get some broad-based support, to capture the public’s imagination. That, of course, means getting loads of media coverage. So we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we might have. This “double ethical bind” we frequently find ourselves in cannot be solved by any formula. Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest. I hope that means being both.
The motion was resolved at 45 AYES to 33 NOES.
The full transcript (Assembly Hansard) is here: http://www.niassembly.gov.uk/Assembly-Business/Official-Report/Reports-13-14/24-February-2014/