Welsh benefits from cutting carbon emissions

Jessica McQuade says climate change is a social and economic issue as well as an environmental one


Amid all the noise about economic growth, jobs, public sector cuts and energy prices, all of us in Wales would do well to re-engage with the issue of climate change and its impact on our current priorities as a nation.

I’ve recently joined WWF Cymru as Policy and Advocacy Officer, at a critical time for climate change policy in Wales. I am a member of the Climate Change Commission for Wales and attended the Rio+20 Earth Summit so I have a particular interest in how we tackle climate change from a social justice perspective.

September saw the publication of the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change  5th Assessment Report that confirmed the science. The scientists are 95 per cent certain that humans have caused the majority of climate change since the 1950s.

They also have a far clearer picture of the toll climate change is already taking on our environment: Sea level rise is accelerating, our oceans are acidifying, and the rate of Arctic sea ice retreat has doubled.

There is a strong economic argument for tackling climate change. The Stern Review demonstrated that the benefits of strong, early action far outweighs the costs of not acting. Stern showed how emissions are driven by economic growth. Yet stabilisation of greenhouse gases is feasible and consistent with continued growth – it depends on what kind of growth we choose.

Importantly, the Stern Review also showed how climate change will impact disproportionally on the poorest people in the world. This also applies to the poorest people in Wales. Climate change is a social and economic issue as well as an environmental one.

In my first week in post it was good to see that the Minister responsible for Wales’ efforts on climate change, Alun Davies, tweeting: “The #IPCC report shows the evidence is clear. We’re committed to continuing our action to tackle climate change.”

The Minister certainly ‘gets’ the science – in contrast to some Westminster politicians. His recent budget statement to committee included references to green growth – strongly suggesting he also ‘gets’ the economic argument. The question is now whether he and his colleagues also ‘get’ the sort of climate policy that we need to respond to the science.

In terms of our progress, we’ll soon get a good indication of how Welsh Government is doing in terms of bringing down our emissions – in the first ever report on Welsh Government’s progress against its 2010 Climate Change Strategy.

It’s likely the report will show the government is on target to meet its 3 per cent reduction in ‘areas of devolved responsibility’. It will be interesting to see how much of this is to do with the direct impact of Welsh Government climate change policy and how much is due to external factors such as the recession.

The other government target is for a 40 per cent reduction of all greenhouse gas emissions in Wales by 2020. This is arguably a more important target than the 3 per cent one, as this is the total impact from Wales on the world.

Achieving this 40 per cent cut will mean reducing emissions from buildings, transport and industry in Wales. Welsh, UK and EU policies, regulations and laws all have an impact.

Approximately two-fifths of this target needs to be met by EU or UK Government measures, and 30 per cent by specific Welsh Government policies.

Some of this 40 per cent target is therefore tied up in UK Government energy policy. Wales’ lack of devolved energy powers is a big challenge for Welsh Government but should not be an excuse for inaction.

Welsh Government has announced that it is reviewing its Climate Change Strategy early next year. In it, the Minister needs to set out a clear plan to achieve the 40 per cent reduction, including what is needed from the UK Government under the current arrangements.

All government policies must be aligned with bringing down emissions – yet decisions such as the recent watering down of energy efficiency standards in new homes suggest there is currently an inconsistent cross-government commitment.

There is plenty of scope for ‘win-win’ solutions which tackle climate change as well as creating jobs and bringing down poverty. For example, the WWF Cymru report Cutting Carbon Emissions in Welsh Homes identified how targeting home improvements at the poorest quality houses in Wales would slash energy bills, cut fuel poverty by 40 per cent, reduce our impact on climate change and create thousands of jobs.

Wales must not duck its international responsibility to play its part. A recent visit to Cardiff from Limin Wang, our colleague from WWF China, was a strong reminder that all countries, big or small, need to act.

Jessica McQuade is Policy and Advocacy Officer with WWF Cymru.