Nathan Stewart

The 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference (or COP21) started in Paris today, and it’s vital that Northern Ireland makes the most of this historic opportunity. It really is a now or never type situation. This conference is possibly the last chance we have at getting all of the major actors together at once to bash out a deal to limit the worst effects of climate change in the future.

Northern Ireland isn’t just some place that the rest of the planet gets to forget about, left to our own devices and trusted to just sort of muddle through sorting our own stuff out in our own time. As much as we like to pretend otherwise, Northern Ireland is actually part of the wider world. Global warming couldn’t care less about national borders, and we have a responsibility to act just like everyone else.

We almost get away with being a bit behind on a lot of things as we’ve had other stuff to worry about for the past few years. Though, unfortunately, inaction on climate change doesn’t count. There isn’t some convenient narrative that allows us to talk our way out of taking action, and if you want to continue playing the blame game well we’re all to blame for this one.

Not having a dedicated Climate Change Bill in 2015 is ridiculous, and yet again we’re the only part of the the United Kingdom or the island of Ireland not to have anything in place. Environment Minister Mark H Durkan said we should be “a wee bit embarrassed” on BBC Talkback today, and we hope that he comes back from Paris even more motivated to sort something out soon. It can’t just be the Green Party banging on about this all the time.

Today, in the context of COP21, the Assembly voted to show its commitment to bringing in a Northern Ireland climate bill. Now this is very different from the Executive actually producing something concrete, and who knows what such a bill would look like or how long it would take to get sorted, but there is real reason for optimism from such news.

Northern Ireland loves fussing over local politics, and there’s nothing more local than climate change. It is billions of intensely local problems presented as one huge faraway problem.

The global threat of climate change is in some ways the perfect opportunity for people across Northern Ireland to come together. It’s possible to create an entirely new constituency around this issue, though of course this has existed all along. We are all affected by climate change, regardless of the traditions or history or any of the many other complex factors that divide our society.

Northern Ireland loves fussing over local politics, and there’s nothing more local than climate change. It is billions of intensely local problems presented as one huge faraway problem. Any solution to such a global issue has to come from a combination of communities, cities and regions acting on a local level to drive change from below. Northern Ireland has the opportunity to be a global leader in the type of local-led approaches to the biggest (and smallest) problem around.

Our small population and unique form of devolved government could be the perfect testing ground for the type of innovation that is sorely needed. We are massively overrepresented in Stormont and although this has been cause for concern, the sheer number of MLAs in proportion to the population allows for more voices to be heard from the local constituencies. We have commissions and committees and consultations on almost everything as it is. Instead of seeing our unique political system as a hindrance to progress, we should try to make the most of it while we have it.

Given our track record with things like this, it’s obviously going to be hard for Stormont to move forward, but we hope that the next two weeks in Paris are going to show our leaders how important it is that we actually do something concrete now.

Nathan Stewart is from Belfast and is currently based in Paris.
Follow him on Twitter.

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Photo credit: COP21


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