Guest blog by Rosie Murdock, RSPB NI Communications Officer

Time to make history. Ask your MLAs to vote in favour of the Climate Change Bill

Do you feel that the scale of the climate emergency is overwhelming? Are you worried that it’s too late to turn it around? Well, we have good news for you; there are solutions, and right now work is being undertaken to create a sustainable future for everyone.

One of the most important solutions is to ensure that we have our own climate laws in Northern Ireland. Law-making and policies may seem complex and daunting, but they are also critical if we want to help protect and restore our natural world.

That's why this blog is going to make things easy by explaining the legislative process and identifying areas where we, and you, can influence it and give nature a voice when important decisions are being made.

Speak up for nature

Our climate is changing at an alarming rate with an increase in extreme weather, air pollution and rising sea levels threatening life as we know it. Yet Northern Ireland remains the only part of the UK without its own climate legislation. That’s why RSPB NI, as part of our Revive Our World campaign, asked for your help to change this.

Thanks to over 900 of you speaking up for nature and sending emails to your local MLAs urging them to vote in favour of the Climate Change Bill, it passed its crucial Second Stage debate!

This was a key step in the process of helping the Climate Change Bill become law in Northern Ireland. Read on to find out what happens next....

How will the Climate Change Bill become law in Northern Ireland?

As a devolved institution the NI Assembly can make laws for Northern Ireland, but how is this done and where can we influence how those laws are shaped?

A bill has six stages as it passes through the Assembly, and there are points at which the public can influence the decisions being made in regard to the shape and progress of the Bill.

Stormont by Simon Graham

Stormont: Photo credit Simon Graham

The First stage of a Bill is its introduction into The Assembly:

The Climate Change Bill was introduced in the NI Assembly by Clare Bailey MLA on 22 March 2021.

This Bill, which includes a proposed target of net zero by 2045, was drafted by Climate Coalition NI. It was brought forward as a cross-party Private Members’ Bill by the Green Party, Sinn Féin, the Ulster Unionist Party, Alliance, the SDLP, People before Profit and a number of Independent MLAs.

When legislation to change the law is proposed it is referred to as a ‘Bill’ until it has passed all stages of the legislative process and gained Royal Assent, at which point it will become an ‘Act’.

When the Climate Change Bill was introduced to the NI Assembly it was the first stage of the Bill becoming law.

The Second Stage of the Bill

The Climate Change Bill reached its Second Stage on the May 10 2021.

The Second Stage is a debate followed by a vote on the principles of the Bill. The Bill’s objectives will be outlined by the MLA in charge of the Bill (it's Sponsor), Claire Bailey MLA. This is the first opportunity that members of the Assembly will have to debate the proposals contained within the Bill.

The Assembly will have a single vote to pass or dismiss the Bill at this stage.

This is a critical stage for the Climate Change Bill because if it does not pass this stage it will fail and it will progress no further in the legislative process.

That is why RSPB NI, as part of our Revive Our World campaign, created an action for you to take to contact your MLAs asking them to vote in favour of the Bill to help ensure it passes.

3rd: Committee Stage

At this stage, RSPB NI and other stakeholders give evidence to the Committee. At this stage RSPB NI intends to brief the Committee on the state of nature and climate in Northern Ireland and how we can protect and enhance nature, mitigate climate change through nature-based solutions, and ongoing restoration projects.

Committee members will scrutinise each clause and schedule of the Bill and discuss possible amendments to it.
The Bill is not amended at Committee Stage but the Committee shall prepare a report for the Assembly including any proposals for amendments.

4th: Consideration Stage

This is the first opportunity MLAs have to amend the Bill.
The Bill is voted on by the Assembly, with each clause and amendment being voted on separately. Amendments will be grouped together by subject matter and this stage will feature several mini debates. 

5th: Further Consideration Stage

This is the final chance to amend the Bill. Only new amendments are debated at this stage.

6th: Final Stage

Assembly Members will debate and have a single vote on the Bill as it has been amended.

The Bill is then brought to the Attorney-General and Advocate-General and it will be considered to see if it remains within the ‘Assembly’s Competence’ with the amendments.

Royal Assent

This is a formal process all Bills must pass through, where the Queen agrees to make the Bill into an Act. The Act will be in force from midnight of the day of Royal Assent.

I'm speaking up for nature

Together, we can make history in Northern Ireland.