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Environment Minister Edwin Poots under fire over climate change comments

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Stormont Environment Minister Edwin Poots (Niall Carson/PA)

Stormont Environment Minister Edwin Poots (Niall Carson/PA)

PA

Stormont Environment Minister Edwin Poots (Niall Carson/PA)

Environment Minister Edwin Poots has come under fire for stating that officials in his department do not believe there is a climate change crisis.

His comments come after the Assembly passed a motion earlier this week calling for the introduction of a Climate Change Act, with carbon reduction targets, within three months.

During the debate on the motion on Tuesday, Mr Poots said it was "ludicrous" to suggest such legislation could be drafted in three months and rejected the use of the terms "emergency" or "crisis" when it came to the climate change issue.

Speaking to the BBC on Thursday, the veteran DUP man said his views are shared by officials in his department.

"[Language such as 'emergency' or 'crisis'] is actually something that my department doesn't accept, leaving myself to one side, the officials in my department do not feel that that is the appropriate language. There is a course of work to be done, we need to focus on doing that work," he said.

When asked whether he was stating that officials in his department do not believe we are facing a climate emergency or a climate crisis, Mr Poots responded: "Correct. The advice that I received from my officials is that that language is not helpful and that there is a course of work that we need to engage in and actions that we need to take and we, as a department, will not be found wanting in doing that.

"I as a minister will not be found wanting in doing that. We will make real, tangible change."

Mr Poots rejected suggestions this stance amounted to "scientific denial".

"People recognise that there is climate change that exits and we need to deal with that and we have to deal with it in a rational way, a sensible way, and get results," he added.

"That's what we are about, it's not about creating hysteria, it's about dealing sensibly and rationally with a problem that we know exists."

In response, Sinn Fein environment spokesperson Philip McGuigan, who table the climate change motion earlier this week, called on the Environment Minister to clarify his comments.

"Today Minister Poots repeatedly stated that the department he is responsible for does not accept the overwhelming body of international climate science that we are facing a climate emergency," he said.

"Either the minister does not understand or he does not accept climate science. He now immediately needs to make his position clear. Given the scale and immediacy of the climate emergency we are facing, these remarks are little short of climate change denial.

"Indeed, it explains the Minister's repeated refusal to introduce a Climate Change Act."

Mr McGuigan said the our "economy, society and way of life" is "existentially threatened" by climate breakdown.

"We appear to be left with a minister who does not accept this fact. Minister Poots must explain his comments today. Do his officials not accept the climate emergency, or is it his own beliefs?" he added.

"I am requesting that Departmental officials come before the AERA committee as a matter of urgency in order to clarify their position immediately."

A spokesperson for environmental campaign group Friends of the Earth branded Minister Poots’ admission that his officials don’t believe we are facing a climate emergency "astonishing and worrying".

"The minster says he wants to be guided by the science, but a refusal to accept the urgency of the climate breakdown is nothing less than a denial of the science," they said.

"His officials are public servants. Their job is to serve the public. If they are giving the minister dangerously poor advice then they are doing the public a disservice. We need to know what advice the minister has received, and who has given it. The Agriculture, Environment, and Rural Affairs Committee should investigate this as a matter of urgency.

"It is imperative that the minister’s decisions are informed by the best available evidence. The evidence clearly points to dangerous climate breakdown that requires prompt and ambitious action by the minister. To ignore that is a dereliction of duty, both on the part of the minister and of his officials.”

The Department for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs has been contacted for a comment.

Belfast Telegraph