By Northern Ireland Minister for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, Edwin Poots.

In January 2020, 'The New Decade, New Approach' called on the Northern Ireland Executive to tackle climate change head on. This was shortly followed by the Northern Ireland Assembly declaring a climate emergency.

Climate change is the defining crisis of our time on a global and national scale and Northern Ireland is not immune.

We have seen first-hand how climate change can lead to more frequent severe weather events, such as the northwest flooding in August 2017, and we face numerous other challenges asides from tackling climate change including improving air quality, tackling plastic pollution, achieving zero waste and the development of a circular economy.

We simply cannot continue with a ‘business as usual’ approach - we must act now before it is too late. There is still time to make a difference, but we must act now and we must do it together with a shared vision of the future and a plan to make it a reality.

COP26

Next week, I will attend the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties in Glasgow. COP26 will bring together Signatory Parties to the Convention from across the globe with the aim of accelerating action towards the goals of the Paris Agreement.

The UK Government, in supporting the UN, has outlined four key aims: secure global 'net zero' by mid-century, keeping a 1.5°C temperature rise within reach; adapt to protect communities and natural habitats; mobilise finance; and work together to deliver.

Leadership must be shown at all levels, including devolved administrations and local government, as well as also across all sectors, businesses and industry.

Realising this vision of a cleaner, more sustainable world must be a priority - failing to do so would be irresponsible and the consequences unthinkable.

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Green Growth Strategy

My department has recently, on behalf of the Northern Ireland Executive, launched a public consultation on a Green Growth Strategy for Northern Ireland.

This cross-cutting multi-decade strategy will set out the long-term vision and a solid framework for tackling the climate crisis by balancing climate action with a clean environment and the economy.

It provides us with an important opportunity to embed wider climate change, a green economy and environmental considerations, into decision making.

This would ensure that new policies and programmes align with the need to address climate change, develop green jobs and address biodiversity commitments.

This strategy represents a significant step forward for Northern Ireland as we move from a high to a low emissions society and as we balance climate action with environmental and economic considerations.

I believe that this 'green growth' approach is right for Northern Ireland; a Northern Ireland where we can all enjoy the longer term economic, social, health and environmental benefits that this brings.

I look forward to being able to promote the Green Growth Strategy and the positive work already underway in Northern Ireland to tackle climate change, on the global stage at COP26.

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Climate Change Bill

Climate change is central to our green growth approach. My draft Climate Change Bill has now passed Second Stage in the Assembly and I am confident that, through this bill, we can achieve the right balance between safeguarding the environment, the economy and society.

It is steeped in science, is evidence-based and takes a common sense and realistic approach to what is an extremely complex issue, that can only be addressed successfully by bringing those who can make the change along with us.

Northern Ireland will play its important part in reaching UK 'net zero' by 2050, if not before.

However, the green growth approach is about more than just climate targets - it also considers how we deliver sustainable development and safeguard our natural environment for our health, well-being and long-term prosperity.

Consumer demand

Continuing to meet consumption by traditional methods is damaging our environment and we must address this to restore and protect the natural assets we rely on, whilst supporting their sustainable use.

This is something that starts with each one of us - we can all make a difference.

Across all sectors, businesses, organisations and as individuals, we will have choices ahead of us where we must decide on how our decisions impact the environment around us."

We must create green jobs, end our reliance on fossil fuels and find less harmful ways of heating our homes and businesses and fuelling our cars, and provide opportunities through investment in innovation to help us develop new ways of working.

Many businesses in Northern Ireland have already begun to lead on these issues - the latest greenhouse gas [GHG] statistics show that emissions from business has declined by 25% since 1990.

Government cooperation and COP26

I have recently led on obtaining the agreement of my Executive colleagues for Northern Ireland to join the Under2 Coalition, a coalition of subnational governments committed to ambitious climate action in line with the Paris Agreement, to show our commitment on the global stage to tackling climate change, as well as the information exchange opportunities it can bring.

I look forward to being able to engage with other members of the Under2 Coalition at COP26 to listen to their experiences.

COP26 will be a key moment for all governments. The eyes of the world will be on Glasgow over the next fortnight – we need to show that we are committed to tackling all these vital issues head on."

Collectively we must lay the foundations for a more sustainable society before irreparable damage is done - through innovation, research and development; and investment we can lay the foundations for a green revolution, which can rejuvenate our economy following the Covid-19 crisis.

Our planet is at crisis point and this decade, the 2020s, has to be one of urgent action. It is not too late. Today we act. Tomorrow we thrive. We can, we will and we must.