Climate protestors at Stormont fear effect of Assembly collapse

Proposed climate change laws in Northern Ireland must not fall victim to Stormont instability, a protest has been told.

Monday, 13th September 2021, 10:30 pm
Professor John Barry of Queen's University Belfast (left) speaking during a demonstration with climate activists at the steps of Parliament Buildings, Belfast, calling for a Net-Zero Climate Act to stop the climate crisis. Picture date: Monday September 13 2021.

The demonstration outside Parliament Buildings warned a powersharing collapse would torpedo draft legislation going through the Assembly aimed at setting a net zero carbon target for the region.

Northern Ireland is currently the only part of the UK 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.

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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.

Sinn Fein 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.

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.

Alliance MLA John Blair said the legislation was been threatened by “political stuntery”.