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Northern Ireland Assembly declares a 'climate emergency'

The Northern Ireland Assembly has declared a climate emergency and backed the creation of an independent body to protect the environment.

It followed a debate on climate change in the chamber on Monday 27 January 2020. 

MLAs supported immediate action to cut carbon emissions and called for an independent Environmental Protection Agency to be established within a year.

Both measures were in a draft Programme for Government in the deal which re-established the political institutions.

In the course of the debate, the assembly was told that Northern Ireland was not being "bounced" into measures to deal with climate change.

Green Party leader Clare Bailey said there was 50 years of evidence to support the need for action.

"We have the evidence, but we're fast running out of time," she said.

Earlier, Agriculture and Environment Minister Edwin Poots suggested that deciding what to do was a complex consideration that would take time to get right.

"We don't want to be bounced into decisions that we later regret," he told the debate.

Mr Poots said when it came to greenhouse gas emissions, while agriculture had the highest emissions, that reflected the Northern Ireland's role as a food-producing region with a livestock focus.

He said any decisions on climate action should take account of those special circumstances.

Minister Edwin Poots
Image captionMinister Edwin Poots cautioned against rushed decisions on environmental policy

The assembly was voting on a motion declaring a climate emergency and calling for immediate measures to tackle it.

The debate heard calls for improved public transport, cycling infrastructure and an energy strategy that focused on renewables.

Mr Poots said he was not opposed to the idea of an independent Environmental Protection Agency but that it would need a robust appraisal and any change would require Executive support.

He said he would write to the government's advisory body on climate action, the Committee on Climate Change, for advice on how Northern Ireland could contribute better to UK targets for net zero carbon by 2050.

Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) leader Jim Allister spoke against the motion describing it as "turbo-powered virtue signalling" by a "puny legislature".

Jim Allister
Image captionJim Allister accused MLAs of jumping on the Greta Thunberg bandwagon

He accused MLAs of jumping on what he described as a climate "bandwagon of Greta this and Greta that" saying that there had always been changes in climate which had pre-dated the industrial revolution and man-made emissions.

MLAs supported the amendment from Sinn Féin and the Green Party which called on the Executive to support the climate change recommendations of the New Decade New Approach Deal.

They backed the Sinn Fein/Green Party amendment by 48 votes to 27.