The recent climate change agreement in Paris is a huge step forward for our planet now and for future generations.
The stark reality is that climate change is responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of people and the displacement of millions more.
It has been said that we are the first generation to begin to understand climate change and probably the last generation to be able to do anything about it.
Climate change presents the biggest worldwide challenge of our time. It affects all of us.
In Northern Ireland we can expect much more extreme weather and the misery and suffering that causes. In recent times, we have seen the hottest weather on record both in spring and summer.
But what we can do and what we must do is stop the madness of strangling that which sustains us.
For me the greatest injustice is that climate change hits the poorest and most vulnerable in society the hardest; those in the developing world who have done the least to cause it. We have a moral responsibility to protect them.
That is why the summit in Paris last week of world leaders, which I was keen to attend and contribute to, is so important.
The historic agreement reached contains, for the first time, pledges from almost 200 countries to cut their emissions to mitigate against future climate change, as well as commitments of billions of pounds for developing countries to help them become more resilient to its impacts.
It is important that we build on the momentum and ambition reached in Paris and I pledge to do everything I can to ensure Northern Ireland plays its part.
We have a target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions for the North by 35% by 2025.
Through the work of the cross departmental working group which I chair, I want to ensure all government departments play their part in meeting it.
DOE has helped ensure we reduced the amount of waste going to landfill, and significantly increased recycling.
I have signed prosperity agreements with several companies, a world first where organisations or business can go beyond compliance and explore innovative approaches to reducing environmental impact. The message is also being brought to future generations. Northern Ireland is the first place in the world to achieve 100% Eco-School status.
Our energy sector has significantly reduced its emissions from electricity generation while renewable energy sources have increased dramatically. Our agriculture sector has been working hard to reduce carbon inputs. But I believe we can do more.
We are the only region in these Isles without Climate Change legislation. That needs to change. Recently I issued proposals for a Climate Change Bill. The Assembly voted in favour of legislation. That is welcome.
Everyone though must play their part by respecting our planet’s resources, reducing waste and recycling more. Insulate your home; switch off lights when not needed; buy energy and water efficient appliances; walk, cycle or take public transport more. And buy local produce. You don’t need food travelling half way round the world.
Many simple steps, when added together, are a powerful force for change. We must cherish, respect and protect our environment here in the North and across the planet. A better environment leads to a stronger economy and will help leave a planet fit for purpose for our children’s children and grandchildren.”
Mark H Durkan is Stormont’s Environment Minister