Committee for the Environment - Inquiry into Climate Change
Inquiry into Climate Change
7 May 2009
Members present for all or part of the proceedings:
Mr Patsy McGlone (Chairperson)
Mr Cathal Boylan (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Roy Beggs
Mr Trevor Clarke
Mr David Ford
Mr David McClarty
Mr Ian McCrea
Mr Mike Thompson ) Committee on Climate Change
Ms Katherine White )
Mr James Dillon ) Sustainable Development Commission Northern Ireland
Mr Jim Kitchen )
Mr Alex Hill ) Met Office
Professor John Mitchell )
Ms Frances McCandless ) Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action
Mr Keith Brown )
Mr Brendan Forde ) Department of the Environment
Mr Stephen Peover )
The Chairperson (Mr McGlone):
We move to the Committee’s inquiry into climate change. The first set of witnesses represents the Committee on Climate Change (CCC). I welcome Mr Mike Thompson and Ms Katherine White. Perhaps you could give us an overview of your submission, and then we will take questions from members on any points that require clarification or expansion. Please proceed with your evidence.
Mr Mike Thompson (Committee on Climate Change):
Thank you. It is a pleasure to be here. Members should have received a pack of slides that we submitted. It will be helpful to follow those as we present the evidence.
Can we check that members have those?
Ms White (Committee on Climate Change):
The slides are in addition to our written submission, and give an overview of the Committee on Climate Change’s recommendations in the report that we published in December 2008.
We will not cover the full report, but we will pick out highlights that are relevant to the Committee’s inquiry, and that complement the written submission. The Climate Change Act 2008 set up the Committee on Climate Change to advise on three specified areas: the setting of carbon budgets; how to meet those carbon budgets; and monitoring progress against meeting those. The slides cover the three areas in that order.
The first slide lists the CCC’s recommendations from our December report. Under the Act, we were asked to advise on a variety of issues based on our assessment of the science and the UK’s international commitments, and taking into account the technical and economic feasibility of different levels of targets. The first target is for 2050, and is for an 80% reduction in the UK’s emissions of greenhouse gases, relative to the situation pertaining in 1990. Since the climate impacts of greenhouse gases apply to all gases, and to emissions from all sectors, that target should apply to all gases and emissions from all sectors, including emissions from international aviation and shipping. An 80% reduction is seen as a suitable UK contribution to a global deal to reduce emissions by 50% by 2050.
It is key for the CCC that such a global deal be achieved as soon as possible. However, we recognise that such a deal does not currently exist. Therefore, for the interim period, we have proposed an intended budget, running until 2022, for when such a deal is in place. When a deal is in place, the intended budget equates to a 42% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions below 1990 levels by 2020. That is 31% below 2005 levels. That can be met through a combination of emissions reductions domestically, and through purchasing credits for emissions reductions abroad. Until such a deal is in place, we should be prepared to move to the intended budget, and therefore be on track for our 2050 target.
However, just as the EU has a 20% target, pending a global deal, so too should the UK have an interim budget. That is the budget that the UK Government have accepted, and legislated for in the recent financial statement. That budget is for a 34% reduction in greenhouse gases, against 1990 levels, by 2020. That is a 21% reduction against 2005 levels. As it is key that the UK be on track to meet those long-term targets, the use of credits in meeting that reduction should be very strictly limited. Those are the recommendations that the CCC has put forward. The 80% target has now been legislated for by the UK Government, as has the interim budget.
The next slide deals with how those budgets can be met. Looking ahead to 2050, the key is to start by decarbonising the power sector, namely the generation of electricity. There are three key technologies that we can use to do that: renewable technologies, such as wind, marine, and bioenergy; nuclear; and, in the longer term, carbon capture and storage.
Once that has been achieved, or as that is increasingly achieved, we can roll out the use of power to sectors that are a little harder to decarbonise, and in which such technologies are not so readily available. Those are principally heat and transport. I have more detail on what we can do in those sectors, but we will move on to what we can do to meet the budgets until 2022. The Climate Change Act 2008 did not require the Committee on Climate Change to propose sectoral targets; rather, it required a budget for the UK economy as a whole. It is important that proposed targets be feasible and achievable. To assess that achievability, we have analysed how the budgets might be met across the various sectors and where abatement could come from.
The Committee has proposed three key criteria for assessing where that abatement action should happen. Those are the measures required on the path to 2050 to achieve long-term decarbonisation. They must be pursued, even though they are, in the short term, expensive. Measures must be pursued in areas where practical constraints are overcome and where abatement is definitely deliverable. Measures should be pursued in a way that minimises costs, so that the cheapest abatement measures should be picked up first.
Accounting for those three criteria, what options does that lead us to? In power generation, and in the absence of nuclear power and carbon capture-and-storage in the short term, renewables is a particularly attractive option, and we can also reduce coal-burning in the power sector.
In energy use, there is an opportunity to reduce demand through energy efficiency, particularly in buildings and behaviour change, which involves people turning down thermostats, switching out lights, and so on. In the longer term, there are opportunities in renewable heat through the use of biomass and biogas in heating and in microgeneration to provide both electricity and heating.
In transport, there should be moves towards improved fuel efficiency; that is, a move towards a vehicle fleet that uses less fuel per kilometre and therefore emits less CO2. Towards the end of the budget period at 2020, there should be increased hybridisation of vehicles, an increased roll-out of electric vehicles and, in the longer budget term, there can be increased use of biofuels within sustainability criteria. Our guide to that is set out in the Gallagher review of the indirect effects of biofuels production.
There are also opportunities in transport for behaviour change. Smarter choices could be made, including increased use of public transport and eco-driving. The Committee also looked at opportunities to reduce non-CO2 gasses. We focused on agriculture and waste, in which there are opportunities to reduce nitrous oxide and methane emissions, which are also in the Kyoto basket of greenhouse gases.
In order to achieve those abatement measures, current policies and current policy intent are, according to our analysis, sufficient to deliver the interim budget. However, there is significant opportunity for policy strengthening, and that will be required to deliver the policy intent as stated. Use of renewables, improving fuel efficiency in vehicles, and many of the measures that were announced in the energy White Paper 2007 are required to deliver on that policy intent. Those measures must address both financial and non-financial barriers.
The costs of meeting the intended budget — the 42% reduction by 2020, on the way to meeting the 80% reduction by 2050 — are as follows. The headlines are that the costs of meeting the 2050 target will amount to 1% to 2% of UK gross domestic product (GDP), and a comparable cost globally. For meeting the 2020 target, the costs are lower: we estimate them to be less than 1% of GDP. There are also possible growth opportunities in various low-carbon sectors that are not allowed for in those GDP assumptions.
Where will that 1% come from? Essentially, there is a resource cost associated with moving to a low-carbon economy. To produce the same energy services with a lower carbon output entails higher costs in most cases. We have simply added up those costs and taken them as a proportion of GDP. The costs come mainly from electricity decarbonisation. Building wind turbines to generate electricity will be more expensive than burning coal, so that will come as a cost to the economy.
In other sectors — buildings, industry and transport — the savings that we make from energy-efficiency measures will roughly offset the more expensive measures required elsewhere in the sectors. Finally, the purchase of emissions credits in the EU emissions-trading scheme and of clean development mechanism (CDM) credits that will be required to meet the intended budget will come at a cost to the UK. Those funds will flow out of the country. That gives a total resource cost of about 0·3% of GDP.
There are a range of possible knock-on impacts of that as it works through the economy. We use a range of models to simulate that possible range. There is no consensus on which is likely to be the right model, so we report the full range, which is at a cost 0·3% to 0·8%, hence the headline figure of a less than 1% impact on GDP. The Committee on Climate Change has said that those costs are worth bearing, because they are less costly than what we think the impacts of climate change would be if climate change continues unmitigated.
The chart before the Committee illustrates high-level impacts of climate change. I do not propose to go into detail about that chart, which was taken directly from a recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report. The headline message is that as temperatures increase, so do damage costs, and there will possibly be sudden changes. The worldwide distribution of those impacts will be uneven. Their size will depend on a lot of scientific uncertainty about which we do not know, and on a lot of socio-economic uncertainty with regard to the response to physical impacts.
Therefore, the committee has not tried to put a value on those in pounds or percentage of GDP. In the committee’s judgement, however, the costs of unmitigated climate change are significantly higher than the costs of mitigating climate change.
That is, essentially, the committee’s analysis at the UK level. For Northern Ireland, we have carried out a high-level top-down disaggregation of that analysis, accounting for differences in economic structure, population projections and transport patterns. That shows that Northern Ireland has, potentially, an opportunity to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by about two million tons. That is in the context of current emissions of about 22 million tons. That abatement potential is split across the various sectors in which emissions occur.
There is, relative to the UK, a slightly higher proportion of emissions from road transport and agriculture, which reflects the higher size of those sectors in Northern Ireland. The building sector has the largest abatement potential. Therefore, energy efficiency in Northern Ireland would be particularly important.
Many of the levers for unlocking those potential abatements will be reserved policies from the UK Government and the EU emissions trading scheme. However, there will be a significant need for devolved policy measures, too, particularly the promotion of energy efficiency in buildings and industry, development of a policy framework for microgeneration technologies, and a policy framework for agriculture and land use that focuses on climate change. There are also opportunities for supporting renewable energy sources in the power sector, and in supporting planning for low-carbon investments. Those eco-policy priorities are, essentially, for the entirety of the UK, but they allow for the different levels of responsibility that are devolved and reserved.
That, in essence, is our report from last year, and the advice that we have given. According to the Climate Change Act 2008, the Committee on Climate Change will this year provide its first annual progress report, which is due in September. So far, however, there is not a lot of progress to report with regard to emissions in the first budget period. Emissions data will not be available until next year.
The report will assess the Government’s carbon budgets and the strategies that have been put in place to meet them. That will provide a framework for future monitoring by specifying a set of progress indicators, and it will identify policy priorities for Governments in meeting the targets.
The indicators are the key to the report, and they were discussed in the committee’s written submission. They are based on a four-level hierarchy. The top level is emissions at a sectoral level; the second level is what drives those emissions, namely the level of energy demand and the carbon intensity of the energy supply; and the third level is the abatement actions that need to be rolled out in order to bring about changes in carbon intensity and energy demand such as investments in low-carbon technologies such as wind turbines and loft insulation, in infrastructure such as building off-shore grids for wind, and in rolling out charging points for electric vehicles.
Finally, the bottom layer that underpins all that are the policy requirements — to imply from what the Government are currently doing what is required to happen in order to meet the indicators. From that, we will create policy advice for all Governments.
The report will also include details on current issues, and those will follow on from our analysis last year. One such current issue is the impact of the credit crunch, on which we will comment later. Another is how to manage the power sector with increasing intermittent generation from wind. A third issue is how to tackle fuel poverty. Finally, we will address the demand for choices in transport, which our first report did not cover in detail.
Thank you for your most helpful presentation. You mentioned the cost of moving to a low-carbon economy. However, you did not refer to the fact that many people believe that we have already reached the peak oil level, and that considerable market pressures will lead to increased oil and gas costs. The supply of gas from Siberia could be at risk because of the unstable Governments in that region. I am curious about why you did not mention the cost of not moving to a low-carbon economy. Have you calculated that cost? I accept that there would be a cost in moving to a low-carbon economy. Equally, however, there would be a significant future cost in not doing so.
The figures that we presented to the Committee set the cost of moving to a low-carbon economy against the cost of not doing so. The costs are based on an assumption by the UK’s Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) that the price of fossil fuels will increase to a level higher even than in 2008. The price, therefore, will be higher than at present. The analysis suggests that even taking into account higher oil prices and, consequently, higher gas prices, the move to a low-carbon economy will still incur a cost.
If the price of fossil fuel were to rise beyond those projections, the cost of moving to a low-carbon economy would decrease. An ancillary benefit of moving to a low-carbon economy would be a decreased reliance on imported oil and gas, which brings with it the benefits of having a secure energy supply.
You said that one of the biggest contributions that Northern Ireland could make was to reduce heating costs. If my memory serves me right, we are already significantly improving the insulation levels in buildings. Given that it is expensive to make retrospective changes to buildings, it is much better to introduce any improvements at an early stage. Will any improvements, beyond those that have been mentioned, be required in the next five to 10 years? Will we have to move any faster than outlined in the current timescale, which largely follows the GB model?
Energy efficiency in all buildings across the UK is improving. Opportunities probably exist to go further than that. The precise balance will come down to the exact cost and how easy it is to persuade homeowners and owners of commercial buildings to respond to the policy of increasing energy efficiency. Even measures that appear costly upfront may be less costly than other decarbonisation measures. I am not sure of the exact balance of the current policy. However, as far as energy efficiency is concerned, the more, the better.
Is the consensus that the cost of doing nothing would be higher than the cost of prevention?
Do you mean the cost of allowing climate change to happen?
Yes. I am talking about the economic, seasonal and human costs involved.
The Committee has not tried to calculate the cost as a percentage of GDP. It would be reasonable to judge that the cost of doing nothing would be greater than the 1% to 2% of GDP that action would require.
Mr T Clarke:
Are you saying that doing nothing at all would cost a greater percentage of GDP, despite not having analysed the cost?
The costs of doing nothing as regards the impact on the climate are not straightforward to express in GDP terms, in the way that we can say that it costs more to use wind to generate electricity than it costs to burn coal. It is hard to say what the impact of changing crop patterns and changing weather patterns throughout the globe will have on UK GDP.
Mr T Clarke:
I want to know, for the record, whether you can say that the impact will have a greater or lesser cost.
We are talking about different impacts. A direct comparison in that way is difficult, which is why the Committee has not tried to compare them in that way.
Mr T Clarke:
Is it to do with costs? I am drawing on the Chairperson’s question.
The Committee has information before it today that refers to the Stern Report. The comparators included in that report say that the cost of doing nothing could cost us around 3% to 5% of GDP. That is what I was trying to tease out.
The Stern Report took a different tack, in that it attempted to quantify, in money terms, the size of the impacts that the science dictates as regards human welfare, ecosystems and so on. The view of the Committee on Climate Change was that expressing that in monitory terms was not necessary. It is a reasonable judgement to say that the cost to GDP of 1% to 2% for mitigating climate change is clearly worth paying if we look at the impacts alone, without trying to put a direct GDP number on that. The Stern Report stated clearly that mitigating climate change is cheaper than not mitigating climate change.
Mr T Clarke:
I have a problem with how that figure was reached if a study has not been carried out to find out whether it will be more cost effective to do something about climate change as opposed to doing nothing. I do not think that it is fair to say that it is cheaper to do something.
It is not to say that it is cheaper; it is to say that it is a cost that the CCC believes is worth paying. That is a judgement based on our reading of the science and our reading of the impacts, and a judgement of how much is worth paying for those costs. We believe that it is worth paying more than 1% to 2% of GDP.
Mr T Clarke:
There has been no cost analysis done on the difference between doing nothing and doing something. You are saying clearly that that has not been done. That is what I was looking for.
The likes of the Stern Report has carried out that costing. The Committee does not need to reiterate anything that Stern has done.
You cannot respond on the Stern Report, but I presume that you are acquainted with its findings, which would inform some, if not all, of what you are doing at the moment anyway.
Our report has built on the Stern Report, which came well before our report. We did not consider it necessary to repeat the findings of the Stern Report, which said that if we express those in GDP terms, the cost of action is lower than the cost of inaction. The line that we are trying to go with in the report is that there is a cost in money terms — in GDP terms — to the UK economy and to any economy that pursues climate change mitigation action. That cost is worth paying against the impacts of climate change if we do nothing.
I want to talk about the issue of renewables. You have set out a budget, but the problem — probably for all the devolved Governments — will be the implementation of any planning policies. I am talking specifically about the renewables in the North. How will you impact on that and ensure that it is deliverable? We have gone through PPS 18, which deals with renewables, and we will not achieve those targets in reality if we do not look at renewables. We will sit here and talk about it, and it is nice to hear a report. However, in reality, is it the carrot-and-stick approach, is it all stick, or are there any incentives? Have you looked into that aspect, and how do we address that issue?
The Committee’s role is to monitor Government progress in meeting carbon budgets. Whether precise renewables targets are met is, in itself, not an issue for the Committee. What is an issue is that in proposing how carbon budgets could be met, we have said that renewables are a very important part of that. As a result of that, yes, the Committee has an interest in whether renewables are being rolled out at the level that we think needs to be achieved.
In our December report, we did not specify what level that needs to be. We proposed two scenarios: one in which the level of renewables reached the target; another in which there was a lower level of renewables, but with nuclear builds to fill the gap. In September, we will set out a much more detailed timeline. As part of the hierarchy of indicators, the September report will set out a scenario for how many gigawatts of installed capacity of onshore and offshore wind should be seen each year until 2022. As part of that, we will have to identify, much more specifically than in the first report, where the sites are for that to possibly happen. We will not define which of those sites definitely need to go forward; however, it will be made clear that a large proportion of them will.
When it comes to what is required to bring that forward, in many senses, it is over to the Governments. It is not for the Committee on Climate Change to say what specifically needs to be done, but it is for us to say that something needs to be done. So far, we have said that we need financial support and non-financial support. Financially, the mechanism is the renewables obligation, and that needs to be strengthened to reach the levels of renewables that have been proposed. Non-financial support means removing the barriers on planning and transmission access. At the moment, we have not gone into those issues in any more detail. However, we may do in September.
Procedurally, under the Climate Change Act 2008, your set-up gives you a responsibility to the Government. How do you apply that to the three devolved Governments in the UK?
Essentially, our responsibilities are applied by following what is set out in the Act. That requires us to provide advice to the UK Government, to publish advice on the basis of what the targets ought to be at a UK level, how those targets can be met, and what progress has been made to meet those. The legislation requires us to do that with reference to the different circumstances in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Our first report was very much focused on the UK as a whole. However, we looked at how the impacts of meeting the budgets could differ among the devolved Administrations, and at how the abatement potentials may differ.
Going forward, there is a clause within the Bill that allows each of the devolved Administrations, and the UK Government, to make ad hoc requests for advice from the Committee. If and when those requests are received, there is a mechanism in place, through the sponsor group, which allows those requests to be considered, resourced and negotiated.
At this stage, I take it that you have not received any specific requests from the Northern Ireland Administration?
It is important for the Committee to learn what level of contact and collaboration the CCC has with each of the devolved institutions. Obviously, that is a big issue for the regional Governments. Can you tell us how that works? I am learning a lot from you today, and it is great to have you with us. Can you explain to us whether that mechanism has to rely exclusively on a request from the Department, or can you initiate contact? What is your current method of collaboration with our Department of the Environment, or indeed the wider Executive, which has the responsibility for climate change, be that through sustainability or otherwise?
The mechanism that I described is a formal request for specific advice from the CCC. Outside that, there are ongoing working arrangements between the secretariat of the committee, the various bodies in the UK, DECC, and the environment Departments of the devolved Administrations. We have regular contact with the Northern Ireland Department of the Environment; we meet every month or every six weeks. We use that as an opportunity to share information and analysis, and we generally have a co-operative relationship with what is being done at a working level.
In addition to the specific ad hoc requests, we have an ongoing work programme that relates to the devolved Administrations. This year’s progress report will look at aspects of recent trends in respect of emissions relating to Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. It will consider where we expect a strengthening of the policy framework to deliver the carbon budgets and where the levers for those policies should lie — whether they are to be reserved or devolved. An ongoing work stream relates to Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland so that aspects relating to them do not have to be solely reliant on ad hoc requests through the official channels.
Is that done on an ad hoc basis, rather than a formalised structure?
Ongoing work is carried out, and the devolved Administrations can make formal requests. The regular contact that we have with the Department of the Environment in Northern Ireland relates to that ongoing work stream and the sharing of information that supports that.
Do the devolved Administrations seek your advice and guidance on targets?
They can; the Act contains provisions such that any of the national authorities can make requests for advice and information from the CCC relating to any targets that they set nationally and for their contribution to the UK’s carbon budgets.
Your evidence on the scenarios that are required to meet the carbon budgets identifies some of the key issues. However, it does not prioritise those scenarios. Turning off unnecessary lights is an extremely effective action; there is a zero cost per ton saved, even if the number of tons saved is fairly small. Have you done work to specifically set out how much cost is saved per ton across the areas of power generation, energy use, transport and non-CO2 issues?
Yes, we have done exactly that. The four sectors have a chapter each in our December report. Each chapter sets out emissions in those sectors, what we expect them to be in the future in a business-as-usual situation, and what the opportunities are for reducing those emissions. Those opportunities are presented based on how much carbon they can save and how much it will cost per ton of carbon that is saved. That analysis, which is at a UK level, is set out in quite a lot of detail in our December report.
The analysis is at a UK level. Do you intend to extend that work?
We have extended it in that, based on the UK level, we have decided what the likely devolved level is. Given the data constraints, it would be difficult to extend beyond that to a similar bottom-up type of analysis at a devolved level. There is much more data at a UK level than there is for any of the devolved Administrations. Under our current plan, there is no intention to look at the devolved institutions in further detail.
On the issue of power generation, what specific work has the committee done on issues such as the proportion that it is reasonable to expect for renewables, both on the 2020 and the 2050 level, allowing for factors such as the intermittency of wind? How far have you gone beyond the issue of wind into areas such as marine generation? Similarly, what assessment has been done of the short-term viability of carbon capture and storage (CCS), which seems to be held up as the long-term panacea? I see nothing in the long term for that.
We will provide more detail on all of those issues in September, particularly the intermittency of wind, which is a big issue. That is particularly important in respect of the 2020 targets. The committee sees nuclear energy as important, alongside wind energy. Nuclear is a non-flexible energy source, so intermittency becomes more of a problem when there is more nuclear energy. We will look at the 2020 targets to see what the opportunity is for those to co-exist and how the market may need to be structured in that scenario. That work is not yet complete so I cannot give you any more details; however, we will report further in September.
In the December report, we drew mainly on the existing documents that were published alongside the UK Government’s renewable energy strategy, and particularly on a report by the consultants Sinclair Knight Merz (SKM). That report indicated that a level of wind penetration is quite likely and that nuclear would struggle to coexist in the power sector alongside a 32% roll-out of renewables. We are looking at that in more detail and may come to a different conclusion in September.
Marine energy is an important technology in our scenarios. At the moment, it is hard to define exactly how important that will be because it is a relatively young technology. It presents opportunities for learning and costs to come down. However, it will raise issues around planning consents and what can be rolled out. We have not defined precisely what will be required, but marine energy will have a role to play.
Carbon capture and storage will be an important technology in the longer term. Action needs to be taken to get to that, because it is not currently available. Beyond that, we did not say a great deal on that matter in the December report. Some projects are under way now that are looking at CCS in more detail. We will say more in September.
September will be pretty important to us all then.
Mr T Clarke:
I missed what you said about how important nuclear power is in respect of the overall target.
Nuclear power will probably play a fairly small role in the budgets up to 2022, because of the long lead-in times for building a nuclear plant. Even in the most ambitious scenario, it is hard to imagine a nuclear plant appearing before 2018. Beyond that, nuclear power is one of three key technologies for decarbonising the power sector. Keeping all three of those technologies on the table is the cheapest way to achieve that abatement. Therefore, we see it as an important technology for the longer term.
Mr T Clarke:
By “longer term” do you mean reaching that target of 28% by 2050?
From 2020 to 2030, and from 2030 to 2050, nuclear power will have an important role to play.
Mr T Clarke:
Surely, if we are buying into nuclear power at this stage, we cannot shirk our responsibility and should be looking at it seriously. Is that what you are saying?
Absolutely. Actions need to be taken now so that there are nuclear plants in 2020. In September, we will set out what those actions need to be.
Mr T Clarke:
Some people frown on the use of nuclear power. If we put off taking any action until 2022, some people in this room who have made noises about not wanting nuclear plants might not be that concerned then. I am glad to hear you say that we should take action now as opposed to 2022, when some of us might not be on this Committee. I support the idea.
Are you trying to make a political point, Mr Clarke?
Mr T Clarke:
Thank you, Mike and Katherine, for your contribution today. Needless to say, you are welcome to stay and listen to the other witnesses’ contributions.
The Committee will now hear evidence from the Sustainable Development Commission Northern Ireland (SDCNI). Members should note that the Sustainable Development Commission (SDC) is the Government’s independent advisory body on sustainable development. It reports directly to the Prime Minister and to the First Ministers of the devolved Administrations.
Committee members have been provided with a summary of the Sustainable Development Commission’s submission to the Committee’s inquiry into climate change and a copy of the specialist adviser’s comments. Giving evidence are Mr Jim Kitchen, who is the head of SDCNI, and James Dillon, who is the commission’s communications and engagement manager. You are very welcome.
Mr Kitchen, you have 10 to 15 minutes in which to give an overview of the commission’s work. After that, members may want you to answer some questions or clarify a few points.
Mr Jim Kitchen (Sustainable Development Commission Northern Ireland):
If you will indulge me, Chairman, I wish to congratulate David Ford on completing the Belfast marathon on Monday. That is a significant achievement that requires a great deal of preparation, which provides me with the perfect metaphor for climate change and what needs to be done to tackle it. David Ford will know that he put a great deal into preparing for the race, starting by running one or two miles, and, eventually, over weeks and months of training, got up to 26 miles.
That is precisely what we need to do to address climate change. The targets are set for 2025 and 2050, but we need to start preparing this year if we are to get to the finishing line. I will stretch the metaphor no further, but it is not a bad way —
The rest of us are still preparing.
There is a bewildering array of climate-change targets. There is the EU 20-20-20 package, which sets out ambitious plans for a 20% cut in greenhouse gases, a 20% contribution from renewable energy, and a 20% cut in energy consumption — all to be achieved by 2020. There are the UK Government targets, which the Committee on Climate Change efficiently laid out, so I will not repeat them. In Northern Ireland, we have included targets in the Programme for Government and in the sustainable development strategy for Northern Ireland. Those existing commitments are that we must reduce greenhouse gases by 25% of 1990 levels by 2025 and produce 12% of our electricity from indigenous sources by 2012. We are also seeking for the Government estate to be carbon neutral by 2015. Other important, supportive steps are outlined in my written presentation.
Those are, without question, very challenging targets. Northern Ireland has a proportionate role to play in contributing to the UK and EU targets. During its inquiry, I am confident that the Committee will hear many other bodies express similar sentiments about what Northern Ireland’s targets should be. I will not speculate on what decision the Committee will reach. We support the idea of rolling five-year carbon budgets. More importantly, however, it is necessary to set out the policies and proposals that will enable Northern Ireland to deliver those budgets. I have my doubts over whether such plans can be put in place in time for their incorporation into the next sustainable development implementation plan, but they must by ready in time for the next Programme for Government.
To achieve carbon budgets, almost every Department in Northern Ireland has some role to play in delivering actions to mitigate climate change or to help us to adapt to live with its effects. Climate change, like sustainable development, touches most aspects of our lives.
In Northern Ireland, the Department of the Environment (DOE) has responsibility for climate-change policy, biodiversity and land-use planning. The Department of Finance and Personnel (DFP) is responsible for procurement, which has a big impact, the Government estate and building regulations. The Department for Social Development (DSD) runs housing policy and urban regeneration. The Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) has responsibility for all rural policy, and incorporates Rivers Agency and Forest Service. The Department for Regional Development (DRD) is in charge of regional development and, importantly, the regional transportation strategy. The Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister (OFMDFM) houses sustainable-development policy. However, when it comes to implications for climate change, the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI), which is responsible for energy and economic development, is probably the most important Department.
If we are serious about tackling climate change, it is energy that we must tackle first. Of the 22 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CDE) that is emitted in Northern Ireland each year, 75% comes from energy use and 21% from agriculture. The Sustainable Development Commission believes that a strong case can be made for combining the responsibilities for energy policy and climate-change policy in a single Department. If that were done, it would likely provide the best opportunity for encouraging the move towards a low-carbon economy to develop our commercial innovation into a low-carbon future.
The private sector, with the assistance of organisations such as the Carbon Trust and Invest Northern Ireland, is already making fantastic progress in that regard. Yesterday, I had the privilege of judging the environment section of this year’s Business in the Community awards for the private sector. Some of the entrants provided proof of Northern Ireland’s excellence in that field. For example, the drinks company Diageo has cut its energy bills by £1·5 million, which represents a 40% reduction in real terms.
Michelin Tyre plc in Ballymena has cut its energy use by 27%, saving €2·1 million per annum. Pritchitts, a local company based in Newtownards, has invested £1 million in its energy-efficiency projects and is making annual savings of £2 million against its 1999 baseline. In the process, Pritchitts has cut its CO2 emissions by 70%. Those are only three examples from a large number of entries to that competition, all of which demonstrated a similar scale of energy and waste savings. For me, that is a very vivid demonstration of what is possible. That is the sort of experience that the public sector needs to draw on if there is to be any chance of achieving a carbon-neutral estate by 2015.
In the recent past, Governments in many countries have recognised the need to augment their public spending as one element of their interventions to tackle the global economic crisis. Committee members will be familiar with Franklin D Roosevelt’s renowned New Deal of the 1930s. That was exactly such an intervention, involving a massive investment in public-sector infrastructure. Ideas based on what one might call New Deal thinking have been taking off around the world, with initiatives being considered or adopted in many countries, including South Korea, China and Australia, as well as in Obama’s new Administration in the USA. The basic premise of those proposals is framed around the idea that a programme of public works must look to the future, must avoid the worst elements of what one might call the old-fashioned, extractive economy, and, instead, must focus its ambitions on the opportunities presented by the new, low-carbon economy of the future. In short, it is a “green new deal”.
In Northern Ireland, a wide-ranging group of organisations, from business and civil society, is drawing up proposals for a “green new deal”. We suggest that multiple benefits can be derived from targeting investments at initiatives that tackle energy security — the Committee on Climate Change mentioned that earlier — from creating low-carbon infrastructures and from offering ecological protection, most of which will help deliver some of the ambitions expressed in the Programme for Government. We are looking at cost and financing options, not merely going begging to the Executive with cap in hand. Financing options are being developed for a range of projects. First, an ambitious plan to retrofit existing houses is being explored. Rather than rely on the building regulations being introduced for new buildings, we need to retrofit the existing housing stock to a high energy-performance standard. The SDC has calculated that the average cost of refitting houses across the UK is around £11,000 a home. That will bring our standard assessment procedure (SAP) rating, which is an energy performance measurement, up to 81.
The second project involves a substantial investment in renewable-energy provision. A story in Tuesday’s ‘Belfast Telegraph’ described Harland and Wolff’s increased profits this year, which are partly down to the work that it did in assembling the Cleaner Energy Systems (CES) turbine for the offshore renewables industry. The third project is the reinforcement of the electricity grid. If we are going to have renewables, most of which will be in the west of the Province, the grid needs to be upgraded significantly to bring that energy to the east of the Province, where most people live. That also facilitates decentralised energy technologies.
Of course, we need to reduce transport emissions — we know how significant they are in contributing to Northern Ireland’s CO2 outputs. That will be done through a combination of better public transport, investment in walkability and in cycling schemes, and better personal travel planning. We recognise that personal cars will be around for a long time to come, but we must facilitate a move towards more efficient cars.
A massive investment is needed in the energy efficiency of the public estate, with the intention of delivering low-carbon public services throughout Northern Ireland. Investment of that sort will result in benefits, such as reduced household-energy costs, which will free up resources for consumer spending and investment elsewhere.
Efficient use of energy will reduce Northern Ireland’s reliance on imported fossil fuels, and that will alleviate our concerns about energy security and our exposure to what might be called the fragile geopolitics of energy supply. It will boost the availability of jobs in the innovative and fast-expanding environmental industries. It will make a vital and early contribution to the carbon-reduction targets in the Programme for Government. It will also help to protect ecological assets and improve the quality of the natural environment, which is a legacy to future generations.
In the coming summer, UK Ministers will make a series of policy announcements. A manifesto will be produced outlining the UK position for the United Nations’ climate-change talks in Copenhagen in December. An announcement will be made on the new renewable-energy strategy for the UK, and a low-carbon industrial strategy will be rolled out. The Department for Transport will respond to the carbon budget, and a strategy to save heat and energy will be unveiled.
We see little evidence of similar policy-thinking in Northern Ireland. To be fair, however, we were impressed by the very good consultation paper on the draft strategic energy framework that DETI issued early.
Recently, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) researched the best ways in which to create public support for taking effective action on climate change and energy. Unsurprisingly, one of its key conclusions was that, in order for them to act, people must believe that climate change will happen and that, if unchecked, it will have serious consequences. People must also understand what they can do to mitigate that risk. The DEFRA study suggests that two distinct types of messages and processes must be set in motion to create a shift in public attitudes: the delivery of an overarching narrative from leaders in Government; and a series of opportunities must be created for people to engage in, or take action on, climate-change issues.
The Committee’s inquiry already provides an important springboard for that action. By presenting positive, can-do messages through the media and in the Assembly, Committee members can help to spur business, Government and the public into taking the actions that will begin to tackle the acknowledged threat of climate change.
Thank you for your presentation. The Committee has listened to only its second presentation, but I already have so much information in my head that I hardly know where to start. I welcome the fact that Mr Clarke may be about to build a nuclear plant in Randalstown to deal with the issue of climate change.
Mr T Clarke:
Think of the jobs that a nuclear plant would create in Newry.
The main issue is that Departments must work together on policy. Apart from the budgets and other measures that will be required to address the issue, how prepared is each Department to deliver on policy? Anyone who travels on the M1 or M2 in the morning sees how many private vehicles are on the road. What difficulties do you foresee in reducing the number of private vehicles and in providing better public transport? Realistically, how can each Department deliver on policy?
Departments in Northern Ireland are run in such a way that, in a sense, each exists within its own remit. As Committee members will know, it is difficult to get effective interdepartmental co-operation on a number of issues. I acknowledge that officials work together on many issues, but it remains the responsibility of each departmental Minister to progress the work of his or her Department. Our argument is that a policy on climate change and energy will be more efficiently delivered if those two elements are under the one roof. That does not mean that all the other elements that I mentioned are not important. For example, DSD must deliver more energy-efficient social housing, and DFP must deliver on its responsibility for the Government estate.
We discovered only recently, and many people may still not know this, that even building standards differ for social housing and private housing. If one were to buy private housing and hand it over to the Department for Social Development or a local association to deliver as social housing, significant changes would have to be made, including to the buildings, as it would not be up to the required social-housing standards. I find it incredible that there are two sets of standards. It is ridiculous.
DSD has put in place code level 3 from the ‘Code for Sustainable Homes’ for all its newbuild housing. Frankly, the Sustainable Development Commission would welcome a raising of that, but I understand that that is not the concern of the Committee. If we are to tackle the climate-change issues that we face in Northern Ireland, we will need to get above code level 3 for sustainable homes. We need the basic standard to be at least code level 4 and aim for much higher standards in the near future.
The ambition across the water is to have all housing move to zero carbon by 2016. Our building regulations are moving in that direction as well, but we have not yet declared by when we hope to move to zero carbon in Northern Ireland. If we follow the existing pattern, building regulations here will be implemented a year or so after they are in GB. However, those regulations apply only to new buildings. The fact remains that around 75% to 80% of existing buildings will still be around in 2050, which is the year by which the Government aim to have met all their climate-change targets. Unless we tackle the existing housing stock, commercial buildings and Government buildings, we will not get anywhere near an 80% reduction in energy consumption. Energy efficiency in buildings is a really bid deal, and our colleagues from the Committee on Climate Change made that point well. Energy efficiency is the big win. The Carbon Trust’s report on what to do about climate change in Northern Ireland reinforces that point.
To return to your question about transport, Mr Boylan, the Department for Regional Development is in the process of beginning to look again at its regional transportation strategy, and a consultation process will begin in August 2009. I know for sure that it is looking really hard at sustainable-transport options. Among those will be increased efforts to get people on to public transport, but it will not be easy to achieve that.
I represent an area west of the Bann, and I have been told that many public servants, who are not particularly well, are travelling huge distances every day. They are not the high-flyers who live around Belfast, Holywood or Bangor. I have examined the supposed implications for decentralisation, one of which is be that instead of making a round journey of around 100 miles a day at a cost to themselves, the environment and their families, those public servants might be travelling one or two miles into the nearest town instead. It makes sense and is a simple way in which to do things. Have you given any thought to that?
We have not been working on that as such, but I have every sympathy with what you say. More flexible working than exists at present is something that needs to be considered. Working in offices, as we do today, may not be the best way to work in future. Technologically, we are already most of the way there. There is no technological barrier to people working from home several days a week.
The Assembly has commissioned a piece of work on the possible relocation of public-sector jobs. I am sorry, but I do not know whether the Committee for Finance and Personnel has reported on that yet. Nevertheless, the situation in Northern Ireland is being examined. Within the time frame that we are talking about, it is fair to say that radical changes will be made to the way in which people earn a living.
It ticks the boxes at no exorbitant cost to Government.
It certainly does, especially if it were to become widespread practice, as opposed to the current practice having thousands of public-sector employees come into Belfast every day from, for example, the north-west, the north-east or your constituency.
I meant to raise the issue of using broadband access to work from home, but you have obviously taken that into account. Funding to do so is now available under EU directives, and that will alleviate some of the major issues over time. Given the fact that 35% of the population lives in rural areas, and that most of those people are isolated, the solution is not simply to spend all the money on major roads. It is to be hoped that that will be highlighted during the inquiry and dealt with in future.
From recollection, transport accounts for around 30% of Northern Ireland’s emissions. That figure is higher than it is in most other parts of the British Isles. It is a big issue that must be addressed.
Mr T Clarke:
We seem to be pointing the finger at people who must travel by car to work. They do so out of necessity, rather than through choice. We do not have to look far to see that better transport systems operate in other parts of the UK. Funnily enough, transport is the responsibility of a Minister who belongs to the same party as the Member who asked the question. If Northern Ireland’s transport system were improved, there would be better travel links for people, making commuting easier and also giving people a choice. At present, however, people who live in the west of the Province do not have that choice, because transport links are non-existent. Departments must make commitments to improve them.
If you permit me, Chairman, I wish to raise another point. I must say that the witnesses from the Committee on Climate Change let the Government get off scot-free. We talk about what everyone else must do but not about what the Government must do. We are sitting in a building that, I am sure, is not energy efficient. We talk about what people must do in their private homes between now and 2050, yet we have taken our eye off the ball when it comes to the Government estate, so I am glad that you have raised the matter.
It is absolutely critical that leadership be demonstrated in all aspects of government. The Assembly considers Parliament Buildings to belong to its estate not the Government estate. The existing target in Northern Ireland’s sustainable-development strategy is that the Northern Ireland Government estate will be carbon neutral by 2015. That is an insurmountable mountain to climb unless the Executive are prepared to spend a great deal of public money on carbon offsetting, which will not be acceptable.
Therefore, much more needs to be done with the Government estate — in all its manifestations. I do not simply mean Government buildings that house Departments, whether they be Dundonald House, River House or any other building. We need to consider the Government estate in the wider context of schools, hospitals, and so on. Every publicly funded building in Northern Ireland must be fit for a low-carbon future.
Many schools are being built under the investment strategy over the next 10 years. There is absolutely no point in building a school that will not be fit for a low-carbon future in 2050.
Earlier, you outlined how many businesses are making great efficiency savings while reducing their effect on the environment. The public sector can learn many lessons from business. In many cases, it appears that business is way ahead of the public sector when it comes to being energy efficient. If a business saves money, it is being run well. If it saves money while helping to preserve the environment, that is fine in my book.
As part of our inquiry, it may be helpful for us to determine exactly what other Departments are doing to meet their Programme for Government commitments. That could be important. If it is OK with members, we might write to respective Departments to get updates from them on what they are doing.
Mr D Ford:
Thank you for your presentation, Jim. To take up the point that Trevor Clarke made, if you examine the certificate at the front of Parliament Buildings, you will find that this 80-year-old building is significantly more energy efficient than the four-year-old Antrim Borough Council building, where Trevor and I spend the occasional Thursday afternoon. That illustrates the value of retrofitting — at least in some parts of the public estate.
The SDC is a UK-wide body. You have colleagues who work in Edinburgh and Cardiff. At times, you come across as though you are a fan of the UK Government, which is not a crime that I wish to accuse you of entirely. Are there similar problems in Edinburgh and Cardiff with the way in which the Government operate, or are there particular reasons why Northern Ireland lags behind the other devolved Administrations? Is it just us, or do the three devolved bodies’ and the UK-wide commitments differ?
That is a loaded question, Mr Ford.
Mr D Ford:
It is intended to be.
I will, of course, give you an answer. Very good progress is being made in Wales and Scotland on climate change, and on sustainable development more generally. The Scottish Government made a brave move, which was essentially to abolish Departments and have themes of government instead, one of which is to achieve “a greener Scotland”. To that end, they have put great effort into addressing many aspects of the climate-change agenda and sustainable development. The Scottish Government’s climate-change targets are significantly ahead of those for Wales and for the UK as a whole.
From recollection, the National Assembly for Wales is looking at 3% per annum reductions in emissions, which is similar to targets in Scotland and the Republic of Ireland. In Wales, Jane Davidson, the Minister for Environment, Sustainability and Housing, is charging ahead with that agenda. Her personal impact on driving the agenda in Wales has been significant. I do not know enough about how the structure in Wales works to delineate between here and there.
The more general point to be made is that a great deal more interdepartmental co-operation is needed. There are some very effective interdepartmental groups on certain themes — energy, for example — and more of that interdepartmental co-operation is needed to make the progress that we should be making.
Mr D Ford:
Of course, the method of devolution in Scotland made it easier for them to do that. However, you seem to be saying that we need to be trying to have more interdepartmental co-operation.
We can do it.
Can you explain, please, how the mechanics of that might operate?
The specific suggestion that we made is that the responsibilities for climate change, economy and energy should be under one roof. We should have a Department for energy and climate change, similar to what has been established in Whitehall with the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC). That would enhance the possibilities of putting investment into a future low-carbon economy, whereby the specialists in climate change and economic development would, one hopes, work seamlessly together. That is our aspiration.
Your submission states that the Northern Ireland Audit Office could have a role to play in overseeing and measuring progress. How might that work?
The responsibility of each Assembly Committee is to scrutinise, and that is an important element of its work. The Northern Ireland Audit Office could assist all Committees by providing them with access to specialist staff who are already skilled in auditing, who have established relationships with Departments throughout Government, and who would be able to provide you, as politicians, with expert assessment of progress against various targets, whether they be climate change, energy or sustainable development. That would then allow scrutiny Committees to make judgements.
How do you feel about Northern Ireland’s having its own carbon-emission-reduction targets?
I want to see Northern Ireland have it own targets. I hope that the Committee on Climate Change, as a result of its having detailed scientific knowledge, will be able to advise on the setting of those targets. It is important that Northern Ireland make a proportionate response to the UK and EU targets, whatever they may be, while taking into account our different circumstances. We are impacted on in various ways, not least because we share a land border with another EU member state. That has some significant impacts on setting our targets.
The make-up of our economy is heavily agriculture-based, so the considerations for Northern Ireland are different from those that pertain to England, for example. Therefore, it is not just a question of read-across — 3% per annum might be a rule of thumb that we could consider, but I am sure that the detailed work that the Committee on Climate Change can assist us with will be of great value in helping us eventually to et targets for Northern Ireland.
Mr D Ford:
You talked about the concept of a “green new deal”. Some of the opportunities that you highlighted, as was said earlier, lay across a range of Departments. For example, the universities come under the Department for Employment and Learning (DEL), biomass comes under DARD and other aspects of energy comes under DETI. How do you see the concept of a “green new deal” being driven in Northern Ireland if it is adopted?
We will have a number of audiences for the “green new deal”, which is a range of thinking that I have described as coming from a Broad Church of civic society. Everyone is represented, from the business community, including the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) and the Institute of Directors (IOD), to the unions, including the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) and UNISON, to the voluntary sector, including the Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action (NICVA). There are many other players. We will end up with something that is not only strategic in its ambitions but will come up with some ideas on how to finance the work, because the money will not exclusively come from Government funding — at least, we hope that it will not.
How will such a concept be addressed? We are still at the earliest stages of the thinking and of getting a report together, but, ultimately, we hope that it will be considered by the Executive and other bodies that will help to formulate Executive thinking. Therefore, the Economic Development Forum (EDF) will be a key target audience in the near future, once we have got to the stage of being able to present more detailed evidence, drawn up by the experts in the group.
You said about not coming to the Executive to beg for money. I am sure that if our Ministers had enough money they would build all the roads or buy whatever was needed. From where do you envisage getting the finance? Is it through policies or new ideas? Innovation is another form of technology, so what role will it play? The economic conference is coming up, so will you expand a little?
I cannot expand a great deal, because it is not one of my areas of expertise. There are people in the group who are putting together the financial packages that might be proposed, but that will be done in conjunction with institutions such as the banks — we will be talking to the banks to see what elements might be useful. One of the ideas that has been proposed, although I do not know how much of a runner it is, is something called a green bond. The SDC recently produced a report ‘Prosperity without Growth?’, which looks at some elements of financial restructuring. For example, during an economic recession, it is well known that people tend to save money. The Government are trying to get people to spend money to try to kick-start the economy, but people are nervous about spending money if they do not know whether they will have a job in three months’ time. Therefore, their instinct is to save money. If you could offer a vehicle for that saving, which would be targeted at investment in a low-carbon economy of the future, be that renewable energies or other innovations, as Mr Boylan said, that might be a vehicle in which people could invest. If we make that a vehicle for folks in Northern Ireland, it could be a runner. It is too early to go into much more detail, I am afraid.
I thank Mr Kitchen and Mr Dillon for giving evidence to the Committee.
The next witnesses to provide oral evidence represent the Met Office. Members should note that the Met Office is the UK’s national meteorological service. It produces information that is used for safety of life and property. That information is also used for defence and civil aviation and to provide a wide range of products and services that are tailored to meet the needs of individual customers. Members have been provided with a summary of the Met Office’s submission and the specialist adviser’s comments.
I welcome Professor John Mitchell and Mr Alex Hill from the Met Office. It is great to have you with us. As before, the witnesses will present a brief overview of their evidence for 10 or 15 minutes, and then members will ask questions.
Professor John Mitchell (Met Office):
Thank you, Mr Chairman, for allowing us to give evidence. I shall cover three topics, starting with the scientific basis for climate change. That is important, because, although most people here may accept that the climate is changing, not all of your constituents do. If you are to persuade them to make economic changes, and so forth, it is important that you are able to persuade them that climate change is happening and is an issue that must be dealt with.
Secondly, I shall talk about global climate change. That is really important in making the arguments for reducing emissions.
Finally, I shall talk about climate change in the British Isles, particularly in Northern Ireland, and its importance in respect of adaptation. When adapting something, one does not want to undercook or overcook it. For example, it is expensive to build barriers such as the Thames Barrier. One does not want to build barriers that are bigger than one needs, and, on the other hand, one does not want to construct a barrier that is too small because that will have consequences. Intermediate stages, such as setting land aside, may be used when better information on climate change is available.
I shall start with the physical science aspect of the evidence for climate change. The recent increases in carbon dioxide, which is the main gas that drives climate change, are not part of a natural cycle. Measurements of carbon dioxide concentrations over the past 400,000 years show that there have been four ice ages, which have occurred during times of low carbon dioxide concentration. Interglacial periods occur during peaks of high concentration of carbon dioxide. We are currently in an interglacial period.
In interglacial periods, there are between 180 and 300 parts per million of carbon dioxide. Over the past 100 to 150 years, that has increased by around 30%, which is an unprecedented rate of increase. Some of the higher emission scenarios go well above doubling CO2, so there is no doubt that those increases are not part of a natural cycle. The budgets of energy emission and carbon emission can be tied up with the increases in the atmosphere.
Carbon dioxide has a warming effect — a greenhouse effect. That statement is not based on complicated models, but on a simple understanding of physics that we learn in school. Carbon dioxide absorbs infrared radiation. The more greenhouse gases there are, the more infrared radiation is trapped, and the warmer the surface will become. Water vapour is the main greenhouse gas in the atmosphere, and, without the greenhouse effect, we would probably be in an ice age. There is no doubt about the physics of the greenhouse effect; it is reality. Although it is sometimes called a theory, it is a well-validated theory.
Using simple physics, a doubling in the amount of CO2 would lead to warming of around 1˚C. Because warming the atmosphere would increase water vapour, doubling CO2 would increase that warming to around 2˚C. That is based on empirical evidence and looking at observations from analogue evidence.
Some uncertainty comes in when the temperature and water content of the atmosphere is changed. It may lead to changes in clouds and wind. We have to design a model for that, and that is where some of the uncertainty comes. Even with that, a doubling of the amount of CO2 would mean an increase in temperature of anything between 1·5˚C and 5·5˚C. Even the lower end of that scale is not an inconsiderable amount. Although there is uncertainty, a substantial amount of warming is expected due to the doubling of CO2.
When simulated temperatures are modelled only to take account of natural factors, such as volcanic eruptions and changes in solar output, from 1900 to the present, we see very little change, particularly in the past 30 or 40 years. In fact, if anything, there has been a slight cooling. In the past 30 years, there have been three major volcanic eruptions and no increase in solar output has been measured. Unsurprisingly, natural factors do not explain the recent warming that has been observed.
When models include the effects of greenhouse gases and other pollutants, there is a much better match to the observed record, which is strong evidence that the warming that has been observed so far is due at least in part to the increased level of greenhouse gases. Other factors may have contributed, but the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) came to the conclusion that most of that warming has been due to greenhouse gases.
With respect to future global climate change, the IPCC model of predicted average surface temperatures between 2000 and 2100 produced results ranging from 2°C to 4·5°C above average pre-industrial temperatures. We can ignore the prediction of what would happen if we were able to restrict greenhouse gas levels to present levels, because that scenario would require an instantaneous 60% to 80% decrease in emissions.
The highest predicted average surface temperatures in the IPCC model will come about if we continue with business as usual. The best feasible scenario, which more or less predicts a levelling off of average surface temperatures, is produced by assuming an initial increase in emissions, followed by a decrease to below present levels. Those scenarios are based on quite a range of emissions. Putting them in perspective, we currently emit approximately seven gigatons of carbon a year, so the worst scenario would see that figure rise to approximately 25 gigatons a year, and the best would see carbon emissions fall to seven gigatons a year.
There are two points to take from the IPCC model. First, in the initial decades up to the 2030s, big changes to emissions will have little effect on temperatures because of inertia in the system. It will only be in the latter part of the century that the effects will begin to be seen. It is a bit like paying off one’s mortgage: at the beginning, one sees little effect, but, as one approaches the end, it is paid off much more quickly. The message from the model, therefore, is that, if one wishes to reduce the rate of future temperature increases, the sooner one begins to reduce emissions, the better. The second point to take is that some climate change is inevitable, unless emissions are instantaneously reduced by 60% to 80%, which, I suspect, is impractical.
However, to the man in the street, a 2°C increase in average global temperatures above pre-industrial levels means little. Therefore, I shall specifically consider summer temperatures for southern Europe. The warm summer of 2003 shows up as a spike in the record. Before then, actual observations and model runs more or less coincide. In addition, we have several predictions for the future. If greenhouse gases had not been emitted over the past 150 years, the modelling evidence suggests that the chance of that very warm summer, which killed 30,000 to 40,000 people, and which particularly affected France, would have been lower by a factor of two to four. More importantly, by the 2040s and 2050s, the warming scenario predicted by modelling indicates that such a warm summer will become a one-in-two-year event, occurring every second year. By the end of the century, such a summer will become a comparatively cool event.
Although a 2ºC warming does not sound like a lot, when one takes into account the fact that we are on land that warms more than the global average, that high latitudes warm more than the tropics and extremes increase more than the mean, you begin to get an impression of what a 2ºC change means.
The IPCC predictions are fairly conservative. They include the science that we know and understand. Some less-well-established and longer-term changes could occur, and I have deliberately tried to separate what we are fairly certain of from what is more speculative. The problem is that people who are concerned about the environment accuse us of not stating the dangers sufficiently, and other people who are sceptical about global warming say that we exaggerate. Therefore, I have carefully separated what is sound science from the areas where it is less well-established, whereby more severe changes could occur.
The Greenland ice melt is one of the areas of greater concern. If all the ice in Greenland were to melt, the sea level would rise by approximately five metres. In the current projections, we treat Greenland as a slab of ice, so it would take several thousand years for it to melt. However, there is some evidence that the ice could start to collapse much more quickly. As the water percolates down into the bottom of the ice sheet, it lubricates the bottom and could lead more quickly to collapse. That could accelerate the rate of sea-level rise.
Another area of concern is methane clathrate instability. Methane is a very strong greenhouse gas, which is trapped in the tundra over Siberia, and it is also in some of the high-latitude oceans on the bottom of the sea bed. If temperatures were to increase sufficiently — and, again, this a much more speculative issue — the methane could be released, which would augment the warming that we have allowed for already.
A third area of concern is the Amazon dieback. There is evidence from modelling — and this is, again, why it is less certain than some of the other changes — that increases in greenhouses gases would lead to dieback in the Amazon rainforest, which would lead to a further release of carbon dioxide and other positive feedback.
I will not mention Antarctic sea ice, but I will talk about Gulf Stream collapse. That is particularly relevant to Northern Ireland, because we are just downstream from the Atlantic. There is no evidence from models over the next 100 years that the Gulf Stream will collapse, but
there is evidence that it is slowing down. There are a couple of issues there. First, it means that the changes in the Atlantic temperatures are less than over the continent. In a sense, that is good news for Northern Ireland, because it is mediating warming.
The not-so-good news is that, if the ocean does not warm very much, but the land does, the moisture evaporates from the land, but there will be no compensating evaporation and rainfall off the ocean over southern Europe, into the British Isles and the rest of Europe in the summer. Therefore, there will not only be reductions in rainfall in the summer, but there will be increased evaporation, which causes issues for water storage. The good news is that winter rainfall tends to increase, but then there will be issues around how to store water, how to transport it, and so on.
Again, on the more speculative side, if we stabilise greenhouse gases today, it would include removing some aerosols, because, essentially, in reducing emissions, one cleans up other emissions. We estimate that there will be a 75% chance of the Greenland ice sheet melting over time, but it will not happen immediately. There will be a 20% chance of a global temperature increase of 3˚C, which would lead to a lot of damage in the tropics, particularly in the Amazon rainforest. That, again, is a model-dependent result. If the temperature were to increase by 4˚C, there would be a real issue of releasing methane from the tundra, and the Met Office is studying that issue. Those are the possible global changes. Therefore, there is an argument for reducing emissions. It is obviously a global problem.
Furthermore, if the climate is going to change — and I think that I have shown that some change is inevitable — what do we need to adapt to? Scientifically, that is a much more difficult problem, because it means predicting not just what will happen globally, but what will happen locally. We have got ourselves into this issue, and we have established to a fair degree of certainty that a changing climate continues to change. However, it is much more difficult to predict regional changes. There are some well-established global patterns, such as rainfall tending to decrease in high latitudes over southern Europe.
Therefore, changes in temperature vary from southern Europe to northern Europe. Most models show that, in winter, the British Isles, including Northern Ireland, experience an increase in temperature. In summer, that regional decrease in temperature will move northwards. That will have a fairly large-scale effect, and that is why we are predicting reductions in rainfall this summer.
The other problem with regional changes is that smaller scales have a lot more year-to-year natural variability. Everyone says to me that climate change is going to happen anyhow, and that is quite right. However, we are now looking at the changes above the level of natural variation. Of course, the uncertainties in modelling become greater.
Having said that, in 2002, the United Kingdom climate impacts programme (UKCIP02) produced scenarios that predicted rises in temperature. Those predictions will be updated in early summer 2009, but I cannot tell you what they will show. However, I can say that the mean changes are not very different from the changes shown in the UKCIP02; nevertheless, there are some subtle variations.
In winter, the temperature rise in Northern Ireland will probably be less than 2˚C , whereas in the rest of British Isles, particularly in south-east England, the temperature will rise by 3˚C or more. Temperatures changes are greater in the summer. In Northern Ireland, the temperature will probably rise by about 2˚C or 3˚C , and in south-east England it will probably rise by about 4˚C or 5˚C . That is dependent on a fairly high emissions scenario. I should state that those temperature predictions depend on what we do to address the issue of emissions.
Changes in temperature are relatively easy to predict; however, it is much more difficult to predict variations in rainfall. In the document that I provided to members, there are two graphs that illustrate the percentage change in summertime rainfall in England and Wales from 1980 to 2100; however, the levels of rainfall could be true for Northern Ireland, too. One graph shows the year-to-year summertime change and the other shows the 30-year summer mean change. My point is that, even in the present day, from year to year there can be a 50% plus or minus variation in rainfall. Therefore, it is much more difficult to predict and detect changes in rainfall.
The graph illustrating the year-to-year summertime change indicates that at the beginning of 1980 there were high rainfall events and that perhaps towards the start of 2100 there will be more low rainfall events. To clarify, however, the graph illustrating the 30-year summer mean changes has been compiled using the same information from a number of different model predications and has averaged those over 30 years. That graph shows a much clearer decrease in rainfall. It is difficult to detect decreases in rainfall from year to year. However, from looking at planning infrastructure, particularly reservoirs, it is possible to notice a change in rainfall.
On top of that, there will be an increase in evaporation. Year-to-year changes in rainfall are likely to be small, but over a period of time, it is possible to notice a difference; that is important. One particularly wet year does not prove that summers are getting wetter. Similarly, a dry year does not prove that it is getting drier.
Finally, it is likely — and this is really conservative scientific language — that the effect of human emissions of greenhouse gases on the climate has already been detected. The odds are something like 9:1. Scientists tend to be cautious, but if I were a betting man, I would say that those are good odds. The climate will continue to change with considerable regional effects.
The UK climate impacts programme of 2002 produced a single model prediction and rolled that out. I have said that there are uncertainties between models. What we have tried to do in the forthcoming UKCIP scenarios is to estimate the range of uncertainty in those predications, so whereas in the previous one we just had one single prediction, we are now looking at an estimated probability distribution of uncertainty.
Some people may simply want to consider the most probable prediction. However, people seeking more complicated applications may want to look at the range of probabilities. That is something that will come out in the next few months. The forthcoming prediction models will have a degree of sophistication, and the Met Office can help people to understand those.
Professor Mitchell, thank you very much for that very comprehensive overview and articulation of your point of view.
Thank you for your presentation; it was extremely interesting. You started off by saying that some of our constituents would not believe in global warming or climate change. I do not think that we have to go very far outside this Building to find people who do not believe in that. You have given us a model for the past 400,000 years. There are others who believe that the world is not more than 10,000 years old.
Mr I McCrea:
Books tell us that in the middle ages and in Roman times, people in the north of England grew their own grapes, and made their own wine. To grow grapes requires higher temperatures than we currently experience in this part of the world. How can you say with certainty that the increase in temperature as predicted is not cyclical?
Professor Lamb, who used to be at the Met Office, was one of the pioneers in looking at non-instrumental records; things like records of grapes growing in places where they do not grow now. That is indirect evidence.
The issue is that there are changes, and those changes tend to be natural. They tend to be larger locally than when you average them out. To give a simple example, one of the things that affects our climate, particularly in the west of the British Isles, is how strong westerly winds are blowing. In looking at records from the past 40 or 50 years, one can find a period in the 1940s or 1950s when those winds were less strong than they are now; we had more easterly winds; and our climate was drier and sunny.
In looking to the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, those winds were stronger. The records for Scotland in particular show a huge peak in rainfall, which may look like global warming, but it is not. It is natural fluctuation. Over the last decade or so, that has been less, and that peak has come down.
There are natural fluctuations, and the models will produce those. We try to validate them on a seasonal, inter-annual, and decadal timescale back as far as records exist. Once one averages the reconstructions globally, it is very hard to find anything that competes with the current warming, let alone with a one- to two-degree rise in the future.
There have been and tend to be changes regionally, but often one area is warmer while another area is colder. When there are strong westerly winds, for example, it may be warmer in winter where we are, but it is colder in other parts. There tends to be compensation around the globe.
My confidence is in the physical arguments. If there is an increase in greenhouse gases, there is an increase in heat and, therefore, temperature. It is a simple argument. Other things may be going on, but patterns such as the one in the graph that members have been given, in which the curves represent the changes with and without natural effects, show that it is not just a global pattern; it is a spatial pattern.
The warming is greater over the land than over the sea. It is greater in high latitudes. The vertical distribution of the warming shows that the warming is in most of the atmosphere, and the cooling above, which is due to the increased carbon dioxide. There are a number of factors that show that warming is consistent with that increase in carbon dioxide. Physically, if you heat something, it will get warmer.
In those days, why did the high temperatures not have an effect on ice caps, for instance?
If it was not global, it would not affect ice caps. One of the theories behind ice ages is the changes in orbital variations. In the northern hemisphere, the orbital variations were such that we tended to get more sunshine in summer. There is evidence, down in the Sahara, that the monsoon was stronger, because there is a stronger land/sea contrast, there were grassland hippos in the Sahara, and so on. We can reproduce those climatic conditions in models.
That is the second factor that gives me confidence: when one changes the orbital parameters, one can start to reproduce some of those changes in climate, although not in detail and not exactly. That is why we have to be very careful about the regional detail in the predictions. On a global scale, there is no doubt in my mind.
Fascinating and frightening at the same time.
I do not want to be alarmist; I am just trying to present the science as it is. We say that science progresses and things may change, but, currently, the evidence is very strong. “Very likely” is quite a strong term for a scientist to use.
Mr T Clarke:
I am not as old as Mr McClarty, so I do not want to go back 400,000 years; I just want to go back to the past two years. I am a bit sceptical. Although I share everyone’s concerns about climate change, the Met Office has predicted Indian summers for the past two years, but that has not happened. What is your scientific response to that?
I am glad that you asked me that. It is unfortunate that we do not have the diagrams in colour, but if we go back to the previous diagram, the year-to-year variations are in the black curve, which you may not be able to distinguish from the red curve. You see it in the observations and in the model. Year to year, we see quite big variations in temperature and rainfall. In fact, rainfall can swing from plus 50% to minus 50%, which is due to changes in atmospheric circulation with the wind coming from the north, the south, and so on, and that is much more difficult to produce than the warming effect of greenhouse gases. We are attempting to predict how the dynamics of the atmosphere will change, which is a much more difficult problem than what happens if the atmosphere is heated.
In the short timescale, I agree with you that the skill in seasonal forecasts, particularly in the summer, is low. We accept that, and that is something that we are trying to improve. Nevertheless, it can be better in the winter. We are not trying to predict that year-to-year variability in the climate forecast. We are looking at the longer term. Essentially, there is the band of variability, which is the difference between the warm and the cold summers that we experienced without climate change.
Basically, as the greenhouse gases warm, the range over which that goes produces an average increase in temperature, but there is still year-to-year variability. There will still be hotter summers and colder summers, and there will still be wetter summers and drier summers. It is predicting a different aspect of the atmosphere. If one heats something, it will warm. However, it is much more difficult to say what the weather systems will do within a year.
One of your colleagues said that it is like economics — it is chaotic — and that is quite right. Trying to predict the longer-term year-to-year evolution is chaotic, but not the effect of heat over a longer time. That, essentially, is the difference.
You are saying that we are going to have global warming because of the increase in greenhouse gases, and that man is the single largest contributor to those gases. That is the longer-term projection from the Met Office.
That is correct. Predicting 10 years ahead is difficult because, as you say, the year-to-year variability is quite big. It is not until the warming due to greenhouse gases is so big that you sift it up, that it can be detected. Even more difficult is rainfall, which is why I show that rather abstruse picture, which shows a lot of year-to-year variability. Projecting changes in rainfall is more difficult and more subtle.
Mr T Clarke:
Should I go out and buy shorts and T-shirts for this year? You have got it wrong for the past two years. What about this year?
This may sound slightly defensive, and I do not mean it to, but it is a probability prediction. We are saying that, for this year, the factor is about 2:1 that it is more likely to be warmer than colder.
Mr Alex Hill (Met Office):
I would say 60:40. There is a 60% chance of it being warmer than average and a 40% chance of it being colder.
Mr T Clarke:
In light of that response, could that also play into people’s fears that there might be a 60:40 chance of climate change? You are supposed to be the experts — the people who bring us the forecasts and tell us what is happening. I do not mean to be rude, but for the past while the Met Office has not always got it right. I can understand where the scepticism is coming from.
I understand that. It is because people are familiar with the weather forecast predicting 24 hours ahead, when the Met Office is quite 80% accurate. In doing that, it follows an individual weather system through. However, as that forecast is run out over a longer period, one starts to lose the skill, and by 10 to 20 days, the skill is lost.
In the tropics, in particular, is the phenomenon that is known as El Niño. That has the effect of heating the tropical oceans, particularly the Pacific Ocean, and they stay warm for a year or so. That is where seasonal forecasts are valuable. El Niño will move all the rain belts round, and that is why there are occasional droughts in northern Australia and Java and rainfall in Peru, which is unusual. Subsequently, the weather conditions flip back again.
That change is evident over the years, so there is predictability. Once it starts, one knows what will happen next. Unfortunately, that does not have a great influence in our latitudes. That is why the seasonal forecast is more difficult. The accuracy of the seasonal forecast depends on the area that is being forecast and the cause of the change. The change in respect of greenhouse gases is well understood, and it is inevitable.
Thank you for attending the Committee meeting and providing us with information. We will take a break and return at 12.40 pm.
The Committee was suspended.
On resuming —
The Chairperson (Mr McGlone):
We will now hear evidence from the Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action (NICVA), which is the umbrella body for community and voluntary organisations in Northern Ireland. In its role as the voluntary-sector development agency, NICVA seeks to represent the interests of community and voluntary organisations throughout Northern Ireland. Any of us who has worked in that sector will have come into contact with NICVA. It acts as a catalyst to promote innovation and new approaches to the challenges of social need. It works for justice, equality and dignity throughout society by promoting opportunities for community participation in the essential decisions that affect people from all backgrounds. A summary of NICVA’s submission to the inquiry can be found in members’ packs, along with the specialist adviser’s comments.
Frances McCandless is NICVA’s director of policy. You are very welcome indeed; it is good to see you again. You have 10 or 15 minutes to give the Committee an overview of your evidence and then members will ask questions.
Ms Frances McCandless (Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action):
Thank you for the invitation. I am delighted to be here representing NICVA. We very much welcome the Committee’s inquiry, which is extremely timely, particularly in the run-up to December’s Copenhagen summit on climate change. It is important that Northern Ireland, along with other parts of these islands, turns its face to climate change. The council welcomes the inquiry’s terms of reference, because they are focused on action, costs, and what can realistically be done. It is important to move from debating whether climate change is happening to talking about what can be done, when it can be done and what it will cost.
NICVA works on climate-change issues in two major coalitions. We are not climate scientists or economists. We represent community and voluntary organisations across Northern Ireland. There are more than 4,500 such organisations, of which 1,000 are NICVA members. We work with member organisations that have climate experts, and with organisations in disadvantaged communities that are starting to be strongly affected by issues associated with climate change.
This is a social-justice issue between generations and within generations. We want a Northern Ireland in which people will not be disadvantaged by the impacts that might result from a changing climate. Our sister councils in Scotland, England and Wales also work on those issues, because we see climate change as a pressing social issue. It is not a niche scientific or environmental issue but a huge social and economic issue for Northern Ireland.
It is important that we look at mitigation, — reducing carbon emissions and slowing the rate of climate change, which is happening — and at adaptation, which is getting ourselves ready to deal with the consequences of climate changes that can be confidently predicted. We work, as I said, in two coalitions. One is the Climate Change Coalition (Northern Ireland), which is about to change its name to Stop Climate Chaos. The coalition includes environmental organisations that are expert in climate change; development agencies that are concerned about the global impact of climate change and the effect of our actions on people in other parts of the world; health bodies; housing bodies; and trade unions. The membership shows that climate change is a broad area of concern and goes well beyond the environment.
NICVA is also a part is the Northern Ireland Climate Change Impacts Partnership (NICCIP), which includes Government bodies; employers’ representatives; engineering professionals; health and environmental representatives, and businesses. The partnership is about adaptation and preparing Northern Ireland for the changes that are happening. It is important, therefore, to look at both of those agendas.
The Northern Ireland Climate Change Impacts Partnership has made a submission to the Committee’s inquiry. Last year, however, it carried out research to find out how much people on the street in Northern Ireland, people in the Assembly and people in decision-making roles in Government bodies knew about climate change, and who thought that they could act and were prepared to act.
The study found that 62% of the public believed that climate changes had already had an impact on them. There is a consensus among all those questioned that over the next five, 25 and 50 years, climate change will have an increasing impact on Northern Ireland. Twenty-six of the 28 MLAs who responded to the survey believed that the Assembly could have a positive impact on reducing the impact of climate change. Members therefore clearly envision a role for you in that. Eighteen of the 24 MLAs who responded to another question thought that their constituents were willing to make lifestyle changes, yet 89% of those constituents said that they were willing to make lifestyle changes.
People are, therefore, much more ready and willing to make change than is customarily thought. In my experience of working with groups and communities, people are making change and are out ahead. We heard earlier that businesses are out ahead. That is often the case with communities, too, and they are looking for leadership from you and from the Executive.
According to the survey, 48 out of 55 key local council and central Government decision-makers said that priorities other than climate change were ranked much higher, and that that was holding them back from acting. Among members of the public who responded, 80% said that they would be prepared to install renewable-energy technology if it were financially viable, and 24 of the 28 MLAs who responded said that the amount of energy generated from renewable resources should be increased.
Overall, there is overwhelming support for action, especially from the public. Therefore, politicians need not be timid about climate change. People are already acting, and they want more leadership and support. Climate change is a key leadership and governance issue for Northern Ireland, and we want to see the Assembly take the lead.
Climate change should set the context for society and the economy, not the other way around, because there are finite scientific limits. We must consider other things in that context, and relate all other decisions to that. Climate change presents us with challenges and opportunities, particularly economic opportunities. It is not all about costs; it is about real opportunities to take Northern Ireland’s development to a different place. We are a small region, and we can integrate elements well if we try. We could be a world leader on some climate-change issues. For example, when the Stern Report was released, Northern Ireland could have thought about modelling the report’s vision, taking advantage of the economic opportunities that it outlined; and modelling some of the costs. In a region the size of Northern Ireland, we can still do that.
Climate change is an issue that affects every Department and public body. We are delighted that the Committee of the Environment is taking the lead, but, as witnesses have already stressed today, it is an issue that cuts across all 11 Departments. It will be very difficult for one Committee to have much leverage over the other Departments. We think that tackling climate change will require a great deal of sideways working among Committees and, hopefully, following on from that, among Departments.
The Climate Change Act 2008 does not set specific emission-reduction targets for any of the devolved Administrations. However, with the Committee on Climate Change’s help, Scotland has gone ahead with setting its own target. We think that the only way in which Northern Ireland can play a fair and proportionate role, as the Committee’s terms of reference state, is to make specific commitments for Northern Ireland. We know that Northern Ireland’s emissions are proportionately high in some areas, particularly in the areas of transport and agriculture. There are reasons for that. As we have heard, transportation in rural areas is very poor, and people rely on their cars. However, we need to try to think about solutions to those problems. We cannot use the reasons as excuses.
Northern Ireland’s initial commitments, in keeping with UK legislation, should include local, legally binding targets for reducing carbon emissions. That target should be an 80% reduction by 2050 in emissions from 1990 levels. We would like to see those targets contained in a piece of primary legislation — a Northern Ireland Act — so that they are binding commitments. The Assembly and the Executive should clearly state their support for an international climate-change agreement to limit global warming to no more than 2˚C, the threshold beyond which temperature increases can lead to unpredictable and potentially dangerous changes. That support is particularly important this year, in the lead-up to the Copenhagen conference. If there is such a Northern Ireland Act, we want it to provide a framework for all the actions to be taken, and all the benchmarks agreed.
As I said, we should be considering mitigation and adaptation. Some very good work has been done on that, as I am sure you know, by the Scotland and Northern Ireland Forum for Environmental Research (SNIFFER). The forum has completed two pieces of work to which I draw the Committee’s attention. In 2007, SNIFFER considered what is already happening. We have seen flooding, farms ruined, businesses lost, houses damaged, lives disrupted. We need to be preparing to adapt to what is already happening. That first SNIFFER report highlighted adaptation responses in areas such as biodiversity and habitats, agriculture, forestry, fisheries, water resources, coastal and flood-risk management, buildings, construction and planning, business, insurance, transport, energy and health.
All public-sector procurement, especially the strategic investment strategy, which currently stands at £15 billion over the next 10 years, must be proofed to ensure that it has robust adaptation components built into it. It does not make sense to build an infrastructure that will be with us for the next 20, 30 or 40 years, if it is not robustly adaptable to what the climate will look like at that time, particularly for things such as flood risk. Adaptation, in a sense, is not amenable to targets. It is no good saying that 70% of newbuilds should be adaptable — 100% of newbuilds must be adaptable; otherwise, we will end up having to redo them, because they will simply not be fit for purpose.
The most recent piece of work carried out by SNIFFER was on the impacts of climate change, which is of particular importance to NICVA. The impacts of climate change will be differential, hitting some people harder than others. Already, Northern Ireland has a very high proportion of people living in poverty and in fuel poverty, people with lifelong, limiting illnesses, and communities that have poor connections and poor resilience in general. Those are the people who will be hit hardest by climate change and its effects. We must think about what we are going to do for those groups of people. I draw the Committee’s attention to that report, which was published earlier this year.
We must ensure that what we do by way of adaptation does not conflict with what we do by way of mitigation. If the summers get hotter, one does not install air-conditioning systems, which use carbon-based fuels. We must ensure that the adaptation agenda does not conflict with the mitigation agenda; that we are not making things worse through short-term fixes.
As to necessary actions and a route map, to reach the long-term targets that should be set at 80%, we need intermediary benchmarking targets. The Programme for Government targets are not sufficiently stretching if we are to keep up with UK legislation. At present, the Programme for Government commits to reducing greenhouse-gas emissions by 25% below 1990 levels by 2025. We heard from the Committee on Climate Change that we should be talking about a 42% reduction, and not even within the same time frame but four years sooner — by 2020. We need a plan to get from here to 2020. As the Committee has said, we cannot leave it until 2019 before we start doing something about it. We would like to see the next Programme for Government set intermediary targets for emissions between now and 2020.
As Jim Kitchen said, we need legally binding five-year carbon budgets to keep up with developments in UK legislation. That is the only way in which we will get there step by step. We need to plan a managed transition in our economy and society to move us away from our carbon dependency. It needs to be done in stages, and five-year budgets would be a start. As Jim Kitchen has said, a 3% target, which is the UK target, would be a good starting point. We also recommend that the Committee on Climate Change, under the ad hoc procedure that was mentioned earlier, be involved in setting those targets. It is currently doing that in Scotland, and it would be able to give advice and help in Northern Ireland in setting carbon budgets and setting targets and benchmarks.
In its terms of reference, the Committee asked about impact assessments. No one wants to add to the long, long list of impact assessments that every policy currently has to undergo. However, we feel that this is absolutely vital and such a key issue that new policies and spending programmes should have some form of climate-change impact assessment; otherwise, we simply will not know how the spending will stack up and the impact of new expenditure.
If we go down the carbon-budgeting route, it will have an impact on fuel poverty. The point of carbon-budgeting is to reflect the true costs of carbon and to reduce its use. That means that the price of carbon, in the short term, will rise. Those already living in fuel poverty will feel the impact even more strongly. Energy-efficiency measures will go a huge way towards ensuring that their costs do not go up as much as they could, but we need to be realistic. If we are to set carbon budgets — the report of the Committee on Climate Change contains interesting figures on this — we need to consider how we will compensate and help out those homes that are on low incomes and that are already in fuel poverty. We do not want the actions that we take in one part of Government to exacerbate the circumstances with which people are already struggling in another area.
We would like to see responsibilities for delivering targets allocated in a Northern Ireland climate change Act and identified in individual public service agreements for each and every Department. As we heard earlier, almost every Department is implicated in the actions that will need to be taken; it cannot simply be left to the Department of the Environment. The climate change unit’s own public service agreement should commit it to providing a key advice and information role. Clearly, however, the unit will not have a delivery role to play in many of the mechanisms that do not sit within the Department of the Environment.
We feel strongly that immediate action is required. I have said that we cannot wait until 2019; but we really cannot wait until 2010 or 2011. We have to start thinking about it now. The scientific advice is that emissions should peak no later than 2015 or 2016, so we cannot leave it too long. The longer that that part of the curve continues to rise, the greater the level of carbon is emitted, and the greater the overall long-term damage. There is a big time constraint, and we cannot ignore it.
We want to see a short-term route map provided by the action plans that accompany the sustainable development strategy. Jim Kitchen said that the timescale might not allow for that. However, those action plans can provide a way, within the framework of a piece of primary legislation, of setting out short-term goals, targets and steps.
Critically, we need to ensure that we decouple growth from resource use. We are 99% dependent on fuels that are based on carbon and come from outside Northern Ireland. Even if there were no global warming, we would need to think seriously about the fact that a pipeline from Russia supplies most of our gas. We cannot afford to compete in the global markets, and we do not have the energy security that we need. For no other reason than that, we need to decouple our social and economic growth from fuels that we cannot produce here.
We and many others, as you have heard, advocate a “green new deal” package for Northern Ireland. That has already been raised with the First Minister and the deputy First Minister. NICVA, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, the Confederation of British Industry, the Institute of Directors and others will submit a paper to the Economic Development Forum in the near future. We will look at financing mechanisms, because we recognise that there are massive resource restraints on the public sector and that, after next year’s comprehensive spending review, that picture is likely to look worse, rather than better.
Therefore, we are not being unrealistic about such a scheme but are trying to be creative about how it might be financed. The need to bring jobs here can be allied to the need to cut carbon dependency, which can be a win-win scenario for Northern Ireland. That needs leadership, which we would like to see coming from the Assembly and the Executive.
In our most recent response to the Programme for Government, we highlighted that the renewables sector in Germany supports 170,000 jobs. That figure is for renewables alone, and there are spin-offs from all the related technology development. We would like to see a little bit of that kind of job creation in Northern Ireland.
In answer to your question about secondary legislation, as I said, we would like to see primary legislation in the form of a Northern Ireland climate change Act with legally binding targets. Measures that could be considered for inclusion in secondary legislation include a tax on plastic bags, which has been very successful in the Republic of Ireland. Much of the task is changing the hearts and minds of the public — measures that look as if they will initially be painful usually turn out not to be a huge problem for people and become the normal way of doing things. It is worth thinking about whether we can get some quick wins on issues such as that.
We would like to see this Committee work with other Committees to ensure effective scrutiny on climate change across all Departments. I will also comment on the role of the UK Committee on Climate Change. When it reports, it will do so to the UK Parliament and the Northern Ireland Executive simultaneously. We would like that report to be presented to MLAs so that it is open to scrutiny and so that Northern Ireland’s performance on the UK targets is openly reported in the Assembly. We would also like the Executive’s response to that report to be presented to the Assembly, as that would provide a much broader and more open forum for scrutinising Northern Ireland’s performance.
We would like to see both quantitative and qualitative measurement of climate-change impacts, because sometimes we will need to know not just the numbers but the case studies of how different types of people in different communities are feeling the impacts. We also suggest that public opinion be measured, because sometimes action is not taken because the public are deemed not to be ready. However, the public are sometimes more advanced than we imagine. Therefore, it is useful to have indicators of how people are thinking about climate change and how willing they are to make changes at any given time.
Finally, I emphasise the leadership role — we think that the Committee has a particular role to play in ensuring that the public receive accurate and credible information, and in building changes in public opinion. It was perfectly legitimate for politicians to lead the way in influencing public opinion and then legislate on issues such as drink-driving, domestic violence and the wearing of seat belts. It is even more important that the Committee take action on that issue and try to change how we as a society view what we need to do to address the problem.
Frances, thank you for that comprehensive overview.
Mr I McCrea:
I thank you for your presentation. For someone who claims not to be an authority on the issue, you gave us plenty of information.
At the start of your presentation, you mentioned some of the MLAs who had responded and said that credit was not given to people for taking the lead on climate change. I regard some of the steps that the community is taking to be more to do with efficiencies rather than climate change. The knock-on effect of those steps benefits the environment. Funding is a major issue, and you talked about the comprehensive spending review and what future Budgets hold for Northern Ireland. I wonder from where we are going to get the money for energy-efficiency schemes. I agree that 100% of newbuilds should be energy efficient.
People want energy-efficient homes, because they think that they will save money by keeping heat in the home. Sometimes, I think that people overemphasise the climate-change element to such schemes, because, in reality, people are mainly motivated because they are saving money. One comment that you made about renewable energy was whether schemes would receive financial aid. That is the important part for me.
I have no doubt that that there are people — I have spoken to people — who are very much into the climate-change element and act for that reason. However, the majority of people acts out of self-interest. There are knock-on effects, including the financial aspect and the issue of renewable energy.
That is a very important point. In a sense, it does not matter why people are taking action, as long as they are acting. It is the outcomes that matter.
In a project across the road from our office in north Belfast, a group of community organisations have come together to reduce their carbon footprint. They have changed their electrical appliances, made their buildings energy efficient and changed their travelling habits, and they have saved a great deal of money as a result. However, they started to talk about the issue because they have a link with a school in Mozambique, where climate change is a big problem. Therefore, they acted for two reasons and got really tangible benefits. Some people would act for the former reason, and others for just the financial benefits, but, in a sense, the reason does not really matter.
Various creative ways are being explored to find the money. Jim Kitchen, for example, spoke about a mutual savings bond, which would, potentially, give a better rate of return than commercial savings products. There are also equity release schemes that allow homeowners to install renewable technologies and to borrow the cost against the equity in their properties. The outlay would be paid off as the savings in the bills come through, and, if legally viable, the debt could stay with the property rather than with the owner. All those options are being explored at present by people who know a lot more about them than me.
However, we are hoping to provide such creative solutions, because if we do not have the money, it is difficult to make the switch. We know that we might make savings in the long term, but there is still a need to able to invest up front. It is a real shame that we have lost the grants that provided homeowners with up to 50% of the cost of installing renewable technologies, because many more people were, I believe, ready to act, and they would act again if they were given that little incentive. Putting in 50% of one’s own money is still a great deal of money, but just getting a little push is helpful.
Thank you for that presentation. As you say, it does not really matter why people act, as long as they do act. I was interested in your statistical information and surveys, although those surveys probably have to be qualified. Most people will say that it is a good idea to do something about global warming. However, when if affects them, it is a completely different matter entirely.
One example is the erection of wind turbines — people are happy as long as they do not impinge on their view. We heard earlier that we should be seriously considering nuclear power. How many people in Northern Ireland would put their hands up for a nuclear power station in their area? Those statistical facts from the surveys must be taken with a pinch of salt.
You are absolutely right to be cautious about the surveys. However, it is interesting to see how many people have acted and put their own money into such schemes. When one sees the number of people who recycle, go out of their way to make lifestyle changes, or put their own money into renewable technologies, that gives a much clearer indication of what people are willing to do.
People have been shelling out of their own pockets to make a change on some of those fronts even without 100% grants. That gives a clear signal that people are ready to do something, and a little nudge and a policy framework that gives them an incentive to act would probably bring about a huge step change in what people are prepared to do.
Mr T Clarke:
I agree wholeheartedly with what Mr McClarty said about some of the projects. I promised the Chairperson that I would not mention one such project again, so I will not mention it. However, I wish to mention another project.
You spoke about people investing their own money. We have a project outside Glenavy in which businesses want to invest their own money to make renewable energy from incinerating chicken litter, yet there are politicians in the Senate Chamber who cannot take the hard decision to support that application. Such a project would make a positive environmental contribution, but there are politicians present who could not support that.
You are stretching the issue of climate change a wee bit there.
Mr T Clarke:
It is incineration: energy from waste.
Thank you for your presentation. I also thank Mr Clarke, who always takes his opportunity to speak about that matter.
Public buy-in is needed — collectively as opposed to individually. Legislation can be set for guidelines, targets and the policy itself, and everyone may adhere to it, but we do not want to have to beat people into submission to get them to do so. In the past 18 months, there has been a strong awareness of the climate-change issue. That may not be the case in some Departments, but there has been an awareness in the rest of the public domain. How can the gap be bridged to incentivise people to try to address the issue?
An important first step is that, instead of saying do as I say, not as I do, an example should be set at the Assembly and in public buildings, schools and hospitals across Northern Ireland. The wind turbine that people see from the motorway as they drive past Antrim Area Hospital is an incredibly powerful example of that in operation in the real world in Northern Ireland. Such things change people’s minds and normalises it so that becomes part of what we see around us all the time.
Practical steps can be taken, such as rates reductions for people who have good insulation or who have introduced renewable technologies into their homes. Those kinds of measures would not cost enormous amounts of money, but they would send out a clear signal. Small grants, through which a small amount would be paid from the Government purse, with the public paying the rest, could be the tipping point to get people to make a difference. Measures as simple as having bus lanes can help. As you know, when a bus whizzes past someone who is sitting stationary in their car, it sends out signals to people.
If people are surrounded by strong legislation that leads them to think that things are being done fairly, that the impacts are being felt by everyone and that Government are genuinely behind it, the small signals sometimes add up to a message that the world is changing and that people need to behave differently. If Government and business are making changes, people will think that they should make changes to their lives. Not all of that costs a great deal of money: some of it is about setting an example; some of it is about showing what is possible; and some of it is about giving a little bit of seed funding to encourage people to go the extra mile.
Mr D Ford:
Thank you, Frances, for that presentation. It was extremely useful to have input from a body such as NICVA, following on from the fairly detailed scientific content that we heard earlier. I remind Trevor Clarke that some of us are trying to find a more green solution to the problems with chicken litter than something that is only 15% energy efficient and might threaten the Ramsar status of the site.
Mr T Clarke:
Fifteen per cent is better than nothing.
Mr D Ford:
Some of us are looking for something better.
You referred to the paper that is being done by NICVA, ICTU and business groups on the “green new deal”. You also talked about issues such as how fuel poverty should be dealt with. Will that paper address the issue of how fuel poverty will be dealt with if a true price is to be put on carbon? What is the timescale for that? I am looking for a few hints of what will be in that paper before I see it.
It has not been written yet, so I cannot give you too many clear hints. NICVA, ICTU and the CBI will bring it to the Economic Development Forum, of which we are a member, but it will come from the wider group that Jim Kitchen mentioned earlier, which includes energy experts, finance experts and strategic-infrastructure experts. The paper will be realistic in tackling issues of fuel poverty, because that will be a key issue for us. If we tackle energy as one of our first big carbon issues, we will have to think about fuel poverty.
I understand that a paper will be ready to go to the Economic Development Forum by the summer, if not before then.
Mr D Ford:
It would be useful for us to see it as soon as we can.
You mentioned impact assessments. I agree that it is easy to have too many of those, but have you given any thought to how a climate-change impact assessment might operate alongside the other assessments that we need for public policy?
That is a really difficult issue, because one does not want to propose a hierarchy of impact assessments. However, any impact assessment must be meaningful. We worry that, because they are so numerous, many of the current impact assessments become tick-box exercises. The issue is too big and too complex for that to happen.
I cannot envisage exactly what the impact assessments would look like, because I am not an expert on how policy is made in each Department. However, they must be strategically positioned in the existing set of impact assessments and granted great importance. The impact assessments must be set in such a way that they are not merely a procedural exercise. They must ask difficult questions about what impacts — positive or negative — any policy or spending priority is going to deliver. Otherwise, they would be a meaningless waste of everyone’s time.
Mr D Ford:
In the presentation, you referred to the climate change unit in the DOE as being the centre of expertise. It was suggested earlier that energy responsibilities and climate-change responsibilities should be brought together under the one Department. What is your response to that suggestion?
This morning was the first time that I heard that suggestion, but, off the top of my head, I must say that it would seem to make sense.
Frances, thank you very much for taking the time to be with us today. It was a very useful session.
Owing to time pressures, we must now move rooms. We will suspend momentarily and reconvene in Committee room 144, where we will hear from the Department of the Environment. Thank you.
The Committee was suspended.
On resuming —
The Chairperson (Mr McGlone):
We are now joined by the permanent secretary of the Department of the Environment, Mr Stephen Peover; Mr Brendan Forde, who is head of the Department’s climate change unit; and Mr Keith Brown, who also works for the climate change unit. You are very welcome.
We had a fairly extensive evidence session earlier. I do not know whether you and your officials were listening or whether you have been apprised of the details, but we had useful and informative discussions. It was certainly a learning curve for me.
We will now hear from the Department. The Department of the Environment’s climate change unit works closely with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) in London and with other colleagues in the devolved Administrations in Scotland and Wales. We have a summary of the Department’s submission and a copy of the specialist adviser’s comments.
If you were listening earlier, you will know that you have between 10 and 15 minutes to give an overview the Department of the Environment’s position and then members can ask questions or raise queries.
Mr Stephen Peover (Department of the Environment):
I know that the Committee is already running over time; I may not really need 15 minutes to cover everything. Brendan Forde will talk about the submission, which members will have had a chance to read. I heard a fair bit of the earlier sessions; however, Brendan and Keith listened to the whole session and picked up on some issues that we will comment on.
First, the Executive’s key priority of encouraging economic development in Northern Ireland must be considered in the context of the Committee’s broad terms of reference and how the issue of economic development, which a number of people have raised, impacts on environmental issues generally, from natural-resource use, to waste production, to climate change. Therefore, the issue is how that priority sits with the other priorities, such as avoiding — or adapting to — climate change. We welcome the Committee’s input.
What was your point in respect of that?
How one reconciles continuing economic development with environmental priorities.
Do you not mean to ask how the Government do that?
Not just Government, but the question is how society can do that.
It is usually Government that deals with such matters.
Northern Ireland in the last three years has seen considerable underdevelopment of its resources. However, in contrast to that, we have seen some considerable expansion in economic development. There have been increases in construction, for example. We are now facing a recession.
The views of the Committee on Climate Change on the impact and costs of climate change are predicated on there being continued economic development over the next 20 years. However, there are a lot of economic variables involved in that. There are expectations in this society of change and development in prosperity after a period of 30 years of underdevelopment here. How will that be reconciled in the mind of the public with responding to climate change?
Some of the points that have been made to the Committee concerned people’s attitudes. I do not know if any members were at the Northern Ireland Local Government Association (NILGA) conference last year in Derry. There was an Ipsos MORI presentation about polling of the public in England, whereby a vast majority of the public — more than 90% — recognised that there were serious environmental issues to be faced. However, when asked what they were personally doing to respond to those issues, less than 10% said that they were changing their lifestyles to respond to those challenges.
Perhaps you did not hear all of it, but we heard positive things from businesses about how they were making savings and increasing their profitability by taking extra measures to help meet their commitments on climate change. It was very heartening for us to hear that view from businesses. We also heard from the voluntary sector about issues such as innovations, schemes and leadership. We are here today to listen to evidence from the Department in order to get an overview. I know that you and your colleagues are anxious to provide that overview. It would be helpful for us to hear that from the Department.
I am trying to pick up on some of the points that were raised in discussion with the Committee. Frances McCandless from NICVA raised the issue of people changing their lifestyles. That is a key component of any environmental change, and that must be borne in mind. However, there is evidence from a respected polling organisation that people will say that they recognise the problem, but very few people are taking action to respond to that problem.
We will hear ample evidence, from all sorts of quarters. When the Department has time to consider that comprehensive evidence, it will have plenty of time to respond. We hope that it does respond, and we will welcome that response, but today I would like to remain focused on the submission that the Department is making to the climate change inquiry.
I thought, having heard the earlier submissions, that you wanted us to respond to them.
No; I was contextualising it for you. You still have 10 or 15 minutes if you wish to give us an overview.
I shall let Brendan discuss the submission that we sent to the Committee, and then we will be happy to take questions.
Mr Brendan Forde (Department of the Environment):
The submission to the inquiry is fact-based, in the context of the way in which the Department of the Environment and Government generally in Northern Ireland respond to the climate-change agenda. The key European commitments were mentioned in earlier evidence sessions. The position that is agreed at the UN conference in Copenhagen in December will be critical.
DOE, through its UK connections in relation to policy, is in regular contact with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Department of Energy and Climate Change in relation to the EU emissions-trading scheme, and other European initiatives.
The targets have been well rehearsed this morning, including the 20% target to which the EU has already committed, and the 30% target, if there is a deal at Copenhagen. A round of negotiations took place in April, dealing with the subject of adaptation, the importance of which was mentioned in some of today’s latter evidence sessions. A White Paper on how key strategic aspects of adaptation should be progressed has been produced by the European Commission, and is currently under consideration by the Council of Ministers.
To put all of that in perspective, the role of DOE is in co-operation with Whitehall, which takes the lead. All of the European policy developments, discussions and consultations take place at a member-state level. Whitehall takes the lead. The next tier of commitments and drivers that provide context for our policy development comes from Whitehall policy commitments. DOE has been involved in UK discussions on all aspects of the UK Climate Change Act 2008 — which has been referred to in great detail — and all of its component parts, including the independent Committee on Climate Change.
As was referred to by the Committee on Climate Change this morning, we have constructive arrangements and regular meetings at which we share what is happening in Northern Ireland, and the committee tells us where its analysis is going and what it is intending to do.
Another aspect is enabling powers for trading schemes. Part of the UK Climate Change Act is provisions that allow the development of the carbon reduction commitment, which is a new capping and trading scheme that will potentially run from 2010. We have engaged at official level with the committee on a number of occasions in relation to the various consultations there have been on that.
In a sense, I am repeating what has been outlined by the committee this morning. However, coming down the hierarchy from Europe to the UK level and then to the Northern Ireland context, the key target for us, which — it is important to say — is not a statutory target, is that the Northern Ireland Executive are committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 25% against 1990 levels by 2025. That is the collective responsibility of the Northern Ireland Executive. The Executive gave policy agreement to the Climate Change Act, which was also given legislative consent by the Assembly. The latest consultation on the carbon reduction commitment has indicated that the Executive are committed in principle to bringing in the UK carbon reduction commitment, which is the new cap and trading scheme.
Those are all the big-picture elements for us. The DOE’s contribution to those is the day-to-day relations that we have with the Committee on Climate Change, of course, and some of the outworkings in respect of adaptation in relation to a new UK risk assessment that will produce its findings by 2011. Northern Ireland officials are closely involved in that process at the minute. The ultimate outcome should be an adaptation programme for Northern Ireland. That is timely and, as the Scottish and Northern Ireland Forum for Environmental Research (SNIFFER) report referred to earlier was produced in 2007, will be helpful in updating progress on a natural five-year cycle.
We input to policy developments in England, as I have referred to. A particular area of responsibility is the greenhouse gas emissions inventories. We are responsible at the Northern Ireland level for the production of figures in consultation with DECC and some outside consultants. We have also done some independent work to try to project those emissions out to the 2025 timeframes, so that we can monitor where we are against those.
With respect to adaptation, we were a party in the production of the SNIFFER report that was produced in 2007. Our involvement in adaptation has included setting up the Northern Ireland Climate Change Impact Partnership. As has been said today, that group has provided independent evidence of its own. There are also various planning aspects that DOE is involved in, which are not particular to my unit within the Department of the Environment. However, as you will appreciate, matters such as PPS 18 on renewables and PPS 15 on flooding are relevant and pertinent to our role.
In conclusion, there are big EU and UK policy drivers. The DOE makes a contribution towards Northern Ireland’s efforts to meet its obligations. Thank you.
Is that it?
Mr B Forde:
Are there any questions from members?
Thank you for the short presentation. Stephen, having listened to your initial comments, I suppose it is all about attitude — it is about being positive or negative. I will put it in positive or negative energy terms, as we are talking about climate change. You talked about economic growth. I discussed that in relation to some of the earlier presentations, and I am glad that you referred to PPS 18, because you are talking about economic growth in a situation in which there are proper policies in place.
The Department should take the lead on that. I might be totally wrong, but are you suggesting that, in the current economic crisis, we should be talking about climate change as opposed to economic growth and about whether one overrides other? That was my interpretation. The Department’s response has been pitiful. The Chairperson and I are the only two Committee members who have met you. I do not think the Department was going to make a response on that matter, but perhaps I am wrong.
The issue has been raised on a number of occasions.
It has been raised on a few occasions.
Bearing in mind what you said about economic growth, let us take the Department’s role for what it is and look at the issue from a policy point of view. We are working on policies. The Department’s responsibility is to develop policies that the Committee can then look at. We should be cognisant of the need for newbuilds and of promoting that throughout the whole of the North. Would you not agree that the Department, along with the Committee, has a key role in trying to drive that?
I am slightly disappointed; however, you are right to say that you are entitled to your opinion. It is about attitude. Whether we like it or not, the public clearly recognise that there are issues. Sometimes, it is necessary to incentivise people; it is about the carrot as well as the stick. We need to look at that, and we must work in tandem. Thankfully, the Committee’s inquiry will be able to contribute in some way.
Perhaps I confused you, Chairperson. I was trying to say that the Executive have an overall priority to enhance the economic development of Northern Ireland and that that needs to be reconciled with proper levels of environmental protection in respect of land use and resource use. That has to be set in the context of a sustainable development strategy, about which Jim Kitchen spoke. There is a broader canvas against which that is painted. The issue is about persuading people that economic development can be reconciled with social and environmental protection and that those things can be pulled together. That is what I was trying to say.
The Committee’s inquiry will be particularly helpful in bringing those issues to the fore. It will also help to persuade those people who recognise that there is a problem but who are not yet prepared to do anything about it, personally or professionally, that action is necessary. That is a real feature of life: people will the end but they may not will the means. They see what they want to do, but they are not prepared to make the sacrifices to get to that point.
We mentioned a couple of planning policies in particular; however, the handling of planning applications in general in Northern Ireland, and the policy that underpins those, throws up real issues for all of us. You are quite right to say that planning needs to be addressed as part of the process, and we recognise our responsibility as a Department to deal with that.
In addition, a number of witnesses who spoke today emphasised the cross-Executive nature of this whole business. This is a matter for all Departments, not just one. We cannot speak on behalf of our colleagues in the other Departments; however, we will work with them. We have the responsibility of co-ordinating PSA 22. However, a number of other Departments are responsible for achieving the objectives set out under PSA 22.
A number of other Departments contribute in general to the Programme for Government objectives of dealing with the current situation. That is the rationale behind our submission. We are not trying to limit our responsibilities; rather, our Department is directly responsible for a lot of areas. However, we are part of a wider system.
Normally, as happens with inquires, the Committee will produce a report, to which we will respond. In that sense, it is not appropriate for us to try to limit the area of operation by saying, from the outset, what our policy is or what the limits within which we operate are. We will certainly take on board the Committee’s report in due course. We will give it serious consideration and respond to it. We do not want to try to pre-empt the report’s findings by commenting in detail about we think the situation is or should be.
I presume that you will have views on the situation, as we request them.
Sorry; which situation?
You have just said that you do not want to pre-empt any views that we might have.
I was not confused by your comments either, Stephen, and, with no disrespect, I am sure that the public will not have been confused.
I was not confused either.
We see it as a cross-departmental issue; one only has to follow the media to see that. We can do our bit to alleviate the problem by looking at the Department’s policies, and, in the round, we should be looking at that.
The Department has relevant policies. We deal with environmental protections, areas of special scientific interest (ASSIs), biodiversity and planning policy. The Department acts as an organisation in its own right on a range of policies. We also work collectively with other Departments on broader issues such as climate change. As a Department, we have few levers in affecting that; other Departments have more levers.
In your opening remarks, you should have talked about ASSIs in regard to climate change as opposed to economic growth. That would have been a more appropriate starting point.
Your climate change unit is pivotal to the issue. You touched on that earlier. It would be useful to hear what initiatives you take with other Departments on climate change and in addressing their remit. I know that Brendan Forde’s unit is well-informed on that and has collaborated well with other jurisdictions in informing them and driving the issue. The climate change unit at DOE has responsibility for those matters. Because of the cross-cutting element, I am anxious to hear how, as the host Department with responsibility for climate change, you reach out to other Departments and how you take the initiative on those matters with colleagues on the Executive and with their departmental remits.
Frances McCandless mentioned the Northern Ireland Climate Change Impacts Partnership. We are involved in that with other Departments. We act as the link with sister Departments in Whitehall. We are also responsible for aspects of the PSA. The Executive have agreed a mechanism for reviewing and taking forward the commitments that were made under the Programme for Government. We will act as the host Department on PSA 22 and bring together other Departments to contribute to that to ensure that progress is made on the cross-cutting objectives.
I am trying to establish not what will be done but what has been done up to now. The climate change unit has been in place for a considerable time. I am sure that Mr Forde can provide practical examples of the initiatives that you take with the other relevant Departments to advance and champion the cause of climate change as it is your remit and responsibility to do.
Mr B Forde:
A recent example is the use of land for agriculture. We are conscious of the report by the Committee on Climate Change, which will provide further analysis on that issue. We are in strong contact with our colleagues in DARD and in the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI), which is the science part of DARD, over the research that they are doing. We are involved in connecting them to the researchers in DECC and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, who are equally progressive in some of those matters.
What does liaising and co-ordinating with scientists mean to me, the ordinary “five eight”?
Mr T Clarke:
What does the Department’s day-to-day activity directly have to do with the climate change inquiry?
I am trying to establish —
Mr T Clarke:
We seem to be wasting a lot of time on what the Department is doing, rather than feeding into what the inquiry is about. I am getting a bit frustrated. This meeting has run over time. This is the fifth presentation, and seven are scheduled for next week, so I will not certainly not be attending that meeting.
As Chairman, I am entitled to seek detail from the Department.
Mr T Clarke:
I am here to listen to an inquiry. I am retiring at this stage.
It is an inquiry, and you are entitled to do that. We are trying to establish from the Department the practical outworkings of what is going on. Mr Forde, please continue. I am sorry for that intervention.
Mr B Forde:
In practical terms, the Department’s work is concerned with trying to reduce emissions from agriculture, which represents well over 20% of emissions in Northern Ireland. That is far greater than the average amount of emissions in the UK, where emissions from agriculture represent around 7% of emissions.
Therefore, we are keenly interested in finding more efficient ways to till the soil and capture greenhouse gases in the soil through various horticultural approaches. That would benefit not only the farmer through greater efficiency, but the environment through lower emissions.
With regard to contacts with other Departments, we are aware that this is a live agenda as far as the Committee on Climate Change is concerned. We realise that there is a possibility of a win-win, with financial efficiency and environmental benefits. Due to the fact that agricultural emissions represent such a high proportion of Northern Ireland emissions, achieving targets for carbon dioxide emissions in agriculture would have greater impact and benefit than if the same measures were introduced in England.
Now that climate change has become an issue, what about Departments such as DETI with regard to renewable energy technologies?
Mr B Forde:
The Department is in daily contact with DETI about various aspects of the EU climate change and energy package, a large part of which is concerned with renewable energy technologies.
We are also in discussion about the SNIFFER report on adaptations. The DOE commissioned the SNIFFER report, which is available to all Departments. That report contains recommendations that are directed at Departments and at others.
Forgive my ignorance, but who follows up on the SNIFFER report and makes sure that its recommendations are carried out?
Mr B Forde:
Historically, that report was part of the sustainable development strategy, and DOE’s role was to provide advice on what the impacts of climate change would be across the various sectors. As part of the sustainable development implementation plan, it was identified that Departments and public bodies had to take that advice and apply it in a way that best suited their own business requirements in the knowledge of what those impacts might be.
Mr D Ford:
We have just had a useful example from Brendan when he talked about working with DARD on influencing or advising. I am concerned about the coherence of approach. As I understand it, the Programme for Government simply commits the Executive as a whole to a 25% reduction in carbon emissions by 2025. Apart from the fact that that is an inadequate target, it is also not a phased target.
Brendan said earlier that the Programme for Government, quite correctly, is non-statutory and requires collective Executive responsibility. Whose responsibility is it to ensure that we get anywhere with that target?
It is the Executive’s responsibility as a body corporate. Reporting mechanisms have been put in place to require Departments to respond, and to say what they are doing to implement the commitments in the Programme for Government.
Mr D Ford:
As I understand it, your responsibilities are to report on what actions the DOE has taken to meet that target.
There is a bit more to it than that. The DOE has oversight for certain public service agreements. Each PSA is allocated to a lead Department, and we have responsibility for those. The Executive have only recently agreed a mechanism under which the lead Department will take a particular role in monitoring and implementation, and bring together the various Departments that are part of the process.
Mr D Ford:
You said “monitoring and implementation”, and that is where I am getting lost. Can you monitor what other Departments are doing?
Yes, and report.
Mr D Ford:
You can report. Is it the case that you cannot enforce anything even though this particular PSA is your Department’s responsibility?
That is the responsibility of the Executive. The Executive have given a commitment that they will do something, and that is the mechanism by which they do it. We will report to the Executive, and if there is not sufficient progress and implementation, then it is for the Executive to decide what needs to be done next.
Mr D Ford:
Is that the same Executive that took responsibility for sustainable development away from the DOE and tucked it into a corner of OFMDFM?
I believe that that was done by the Secretary of State, rather than the Executive.
You say that if you conclude that something has not been done satisfactorily by a Department, it then becomes the responsibility of the Executive. How does that mechanism work to bring that situation to the Executive’s attention? Is that your responsibility?
No. OFMDFM gathers the monitoring returns on all of the PSAs from each lead Department, and it will then advise the Executive on the adequacy or otherwise of Departments’ responses.
Have you carried out a monitoring return recently?
Yes; we do them on a quarterly basis.
Mr D Ford:
The DOE has responsibility for the co-ordination of the PSA. Does that include giving specific advice to other Departments and other public agencies on how they should play their part in reaching the 2025 target?
Yes, where it is relevant to do so. The main purpose of Brendan’s unit is to give advice.
Mr D Ford:
I understood the example that Brendan gave of advice to DARD was at a more general level. Who tells DRD that its responsibility is to cut carbon emissions by x percent by 2015 as part of the overall 2025 reduction target, which we trust will be somewhat larger than 25%?
There is a ministerial responsibility; there is an agreed strategy in the Executive, and each Minister is then responsible for his or her Department’s action under the PFG. Therefore, it is a Minister’s responsibility to drive activity in his or her Department. We will certainly provide advice, but it is not for us to drive another Department’s work.
Mr D Ford:
I accept that. However, the problem is that it does not appear to be anyone’s responsibility. I appreciate the difficulties that you have as permanent secretary of the DOE, but I am trying to establish what is not happening.
We operate within the political system that exists; we will work the system to the best of our ability, and we will certainly support our colleagues. However, the Northern Ireland Executive has corporate responsibility on the issue, because of the structures that we have.
Mr D Ford:
Are you aware of that corporate responsibility being assumed through the setting of specific annual or five-yearly targets towards 2025 anywhere within the structure of Government, other than the relatively informal advice that Brendan’s unit gives?
No, but I am not close enough to other Departments to know their activities. In earlier evidence to the Committee, reference was made to the work being done in DETI on the energy strategy. Such work is an important element, but DETI is the Department to comment on energy matters and DRD is the Department to comment on transport.
Mr D Ford:
As permanent secretary of the Department with overall co-ordinating responsibility for this particular PSA, you do not have that level of detail and cannot tell me where anyone in the system of Government does have that level of detail?
The Executive only recently agreed the arrangements for monitoring, and they are yet to be fully embedded. When those arrangements are embedded, I should be in a better position to tell you how Departments are progressing against their PSA targets.
Mr D Ford:
If the embedding of those arrangements happens at the same speed as the appointment of a sustainable development commissioner for Northern Ireland, we will not hold our breath for progress during the course of this inquiry. However, thank you for your help.
In your submission Mr Forde, you referred to obvious EU and UK policy directives. I know about the SNIFFER report, but do you have any policies on climate change that have been initiated here, as opposed to those that are done in collaboration with the UK or EU?
Mr B Forde:
Although it is not the responsibility of my Department, the target for the Government estate to be carbon neutral by 2015 is a Northern Ireland target that was set in advance of similar commitments that have since been made by other parts of the United Kingdom. That is an obvious example.
Another commitment in DOE is to be carbon neutral by 2012, rather than 2015. Although it is a broad issue, waste management is important in that context, because the recycling of waste is an important element in the reuse and prevention of waste. We were the first region in the UK to have a comprehensive waste strategy, which has been revised. We were the first region to have comprehensive waste-management plans for each of our areas. All the Departments have waste-management action plans, and we bring those together to feed back into the Strategic Waste Board, which the Minister chairs. Therefore, there are examples where we are ahead of other regions in the UK in our actions.
We heard earlier from the Committee on Climate Change, and I am sure that Mr Forde listened to that, because it was very interesting. Will the DOE ask the Committee on Climate Change for assistance in developing the sectoral targets for Northern Ireland?
Mr B Forde:
As the Committee on Climate Change made clear, that facility does exist.
We have to compete against UK, Scottish and Welsh demands. Although it may not have been referred to in the evidence, at the moment matters relate mostly the UK situation in relation to carbon targets and so on. However, we have not closed our minds. We have not yet made any specific requests, but I imagine that we will in the future.
That answers my question. Thank you for your time today, Mr Peover. I thank you and your officials for being with us.