We now know that most of us living today will almost certainly witness the disastrous effects of climate change by 2050. In just 34 short years, our planet will cross the two degree Celsius ‘red line’ for dangerous global warming. And we will no longer wonder what it is like to live on a dangerously overheated planet.
Fooling ourselves into thinking that global warming is ‘abstract’, ‘distant’ or ‘controversial’ will not be an option, because droughts, floods, wildfires and storms will escalate. We will see crops threatened and species go extinct.
This devastating news comes in the form of a report entitled The Truth About Climate Change, published on Thursday 29 September, by seven distinguished climate scientists, led by Robert Watson, a former chairman of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (the leading consensus body of international climate science).
Only last December, at the Paris Climate Summit (COP21), 195 nations vowed to cap global warming ‘well under’ 2C, and at 1.5C if possible. But less than a year later, Watson et al now warn that the latter target has ‘almost certainly already been missed’, predicting that 1.5C will be the planet’s average temperature increase by the early 2030s, rising to 2C by 2050.
This report reiterates what many of us know already: in order to avert climate catastrophe, we need to ‘double and redouble efforts’, reassessing current pledges under the Paris agreement, so we may rapidly and radically slash emissions. This applies to the UK, including Wales.
But can Wales offer a realistic and meaningful response to this global crisis? Can Wales make any difference when dealing with a problem at this scale?
Certainly, over the years, Wales has played its role in describing the problem. ‘Roughly the size of Wales’ has become a commonplace unit of measurement used by journalists and academics to describe negative developments: meteorites that threaten life as we know it, cities in China polluting the atmosphere and the global rate of forest destruction.
I believe Wales can and must play an important role in fighting global warming. Despite being a small country, Wales has already been making steady headway and is leading the way for others. Wales was the first nation within the UK to raise a plastic bag charge; the first Fair Trade nation; and has impressive recycling rates. It also has in place the pioneering Well-being of Future Generations Act. This legislation seeks to make Wales a more sustainable and responsible nation, and has been commended by the United Nations as an exemplar to other countries, having succeeded in capturing “the spirit and essence of two decades of UN work in the area of sustainable development”.
We are also the first – and currently only – country in the world to help protect an area of rainforest the size of itself. The destruction and degradation of tropical forests release more CO2 emissions than the entire world’s transportation, so taking steps to reduce global deforestation and to plant more trees is vital.
Wales must continue to change its behaviours domestically. Our emissions remain far too high and we continue to rely on fossil fuels. But the truth of the matter is that climate change does not respect country borders and we must also support others elsewhere in the world.
As the Director of Cardiff-based, environmental charity Size of Wales, I have been fortunate enough to see the impact of our forest projects. Partly funded by Welsh Government, we assist sustainable management of forest resources, helping to conserve existing tropical forests across Africa and South America, as well as supporting local communities to increase forest cover for the benefit of people, wildlife and soils.
Size of Wales unites communities, businesses, organisations and schools, and together we have already helped protect 2 million hectares of rainforest – roughly the size of Wales – forging lasting links with some of the world’s poorest people. One project we support, facilitated by Natural Resources Wales and The Woodland Trust, is the Welsh Government’s Plant! Scheme, which plants two trees for every child born or adopted in Wales.
In ‘doubling and redoubling’ our efforts, as the report urges all nations to do immediately, we have as a charity already set a target to help protect an area of rainforest twice the size of Wales. As a country, how will we be ‘doubling and redoubling’ our efforts? The Environment (Wales) Act 2016 has a legal framework for cutting emissions, but we must ensure that we deliver on these targets.
With all the best will in the world, our small country can only do so much in the fight to stop global warming. Nonetheless, Wales does have the potential to influence other countries’ policies, showcasing what can be done when fighting climate change is prioritised. Wales could absolutely make a name for itself on the world stage, and for all the right reasons.
Now is the time to turn ‘roughly the size of Wales’ – and its negative connotations – on its head, and become part of the solution, rather than simply a measure of the problem.