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Sinn Féin outlines key Climate Change issues for Assembly

6 February, 2008

Sinn Féin MEP Bairbre de Brún, who was the guest speaker at an information evening on Climate Change which took place this evening (6th February) in the Civic Centre, Craigavon at 7pm, has outlined what the Assembly and Local government can do on this issue.

The event which included a questions and answers session was hosted by Upper Bann Sinn Féin and chaired by John O'Dowd MLA.

Schools and key stakeholders were especially invited to participate in this awareness raising initiative that was open to all members of the general public.

Speaking at the event, Ms de Brun who is a member of the European Parliament's Climate Change Committee said:

"Climate change is not just the major political challenge of our time; the worst impacts of climate change constitute one of the greatest social, environmental and economic threats to society we have seen.

"In my role as a Member of the European Parliament's Climate Change committee I have seen at first hand the problems and challenges facing us over the coming decades because of climate change. My membership of this committee allows me to access the information and people that we need to learn from so that we can properly prepare our economy and society for the fight against Climate Change.

"In our view there will need to be binding legislation with the target figures included if we are to meet our international obligations. Some of these binding national targets will now come about as a result of the energy and climate package which European Commission President José Manuel Barroso announced in the European Parliament last week. However, all of us here in Ireland need to move proactively to embrace the necessary changes across the range of sectors.

"In terms of energy, the question of security of energy supply is important to any economy and society. Self-sufficiency should be aimed for as much as practicably possible. In Ireland's case this means the greatest possible use of our own resources such as solar, wind and tidal power and the development of energy saving, resource-efficient, renewable and low emission technologies. While we are working towards such self sufficiency, we can and should take simple actions in our own lives to reduce our own "carbon footprints" and lead by example - use energy efficient electrical appliances, low energy light bulbs, resist leaving electrical items on standby, shop locally, avoid over packaged goods, have properly insulated homes, move to renewable energy and, as our Environment spokesperson Daithi McKay does, car share to work where walking, cycling or public transport is not a viable option. We should all of us on this island reject the notion that nuclear energy has any part to play in meeting our energy needs.

"Our natural environment needs to be protected if it is to contribute to reducing our emissions. This means planting trees and protecting vital carbon sinks. The use of biofuels can also play a part if this is through small scale production carried out in a sustainable manner. Agriculture has a part to play and there is a need to find a way to create sustainable livestock production.

"In transport there area number of necessary shifts in policy which we need to get to grips with. Decades of underinvestment in our transport services mean a culture of car dependency has evolved in our country. This dependency must be broken by providing efficient and sustainable public transport networks in cities, towns and rural areas. By arguing for decent and sufficient public investment in our public, and I stress public, transport services we remove the excuse for excessive car usage in every day life. The massive commute by private car to and from Dublin and Belfast every day is unsustainable not just for our families and communities but also for our planet.

"We also need to look at the role of waste management and the contribution that waste prevention, minimisation and recycling can play in reducing emissions.

"So what specifically can the Assembly and local government do? Sinn Féin's view is as follows.

"The Executive should commit to reducing our emissions by at least 30% from their 1990 level by 2020. The rate of reduction should be at least 3% per annum. There need to be periodic targets set by the Executive for the 12 year period leading up to 2020. There needs to be detail in the Programme for Government with regard to how we are going to meet carbon emission targets and how this will affect policy in different departments such as DRD.

"There should be a specific target for low carbon, good quality, well-insulated, energy efficient, affordable housing. High building standards should be set in regard to building new homes, with energy efficiency at the core. The same high standards should apply to new public buildings and other structures. This is important for meeting our emissions targets as well as for tackling fuel poverty. There should be minimum standards for homes and a major programme of insulation and energy efficiency as a first step. Low Carbon Zones should be created, starting with areas where there is a concentration of fuel poverty. Targets should be set as to the number of low energy buildings which are to be built over the lifetime of the Programme for Government and details as to how low energy building design will be progressed.

"Local authorities need to grab hold of this issue as Dublin City Council has done on Sinn Féin's initiative. Dublin has adopted a Climate Change Strategy with a focus on reduction, reuse and recycling. This type of local action needs to be replicated across Ireland. One of the best aspects of this Strategy in the capital is its coherence. Waste management, transport, planning, energy generation and biodiversity are linked within the strategy and not treated as individual phenomena. This type of joined-up thinking needs to be present at national level too and this is where legislation would be useful in encouraging coordination of policy areas by setting a context.

"Attitudinal change is the most important element required in tackling Climate Change. This change can come from the bottom-up as was done by Dublin City Council and the many excellent environmental activists and organisations we have but making this change at the very top at government level can only be ensured through legislation that places the emphasis on action at national and local level." ENDS

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