Welsh Climate Change Challenge

Cathy McLean provides a reality check on the Assembly Government’s carbon emission targets:

Nineteen solar panels per home in Swansea and 28 per cent fewer cars on the road in Bangor are just some of the methods Wales will need to achieve government carbon reduction targets, according to a report launched by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS).

The report, The Climate Challenge – Your City, Your Responsibility (available as a PDF in English and Welsh), uses scenario planning and statistical data sources to demonstrate the lengths three Welsh cities will need to go in transport, energy supply and energy demands of the built environment to meet the Assembly Government’s 20 per cent carbon reduction targets by 2010.

Wales was the first government in the world to legally embed sustainability in all its actions and the Assembly Government has ambitions to achieve the UK’s 60 per cent target for reduction in carbon emissions by 2050 – even bettering this with latest target now being at an 80 per cent reduction. They have also recently pledged to achieve annual 3 per cent reductions in green house gas emissions from 2011 onwards. These targets demonstrate the Government’s commitment to lead by example. While these aspirations should be applauded, the RICS research highlights the significant challenges needed to meet them.

According to the National Assembly’s Members Research Service, Wales is currently producing more carbon dioxide per person than the rest of the UK and is the 12th highest producer in the world. Given Wales’s history of mineral extraction and manufacturing, and our ongoing presence of heavy industry, these statistics reflect an infrastructure that has traditionally relied on high carbon use.

Transport is also a hot topic for businesses, cities and public services. Strategies outlined in the RICS report highlight the extent we will need to go to make an impact in this area. One example is persuading the people of Bangor to drive 28 per cent fewer miles or collectively owning 28 per cent fewer cars. Moreover, every car in Bangor would have to perform significantly better than the best model currently available – the Honda Insight – of which there are only 500 in the UK.

A further recommendation stems from the issue of energy demand from the built environment. This section of the report, based on Cardiff, looks at domestic, industrial and commercial buildings. Regulations driving change in buildings and energy efficiency will produce some change. However, every business site will need to significantly reduce carbon dioxide emissions per square metre. Yet as things stand it is considered ‘good practice’ for average non-industrial emissions to be brought down to a level currently achieved by office buildings.

Energy supply analysis was based in Swansea where research showed that on a household basis each home in Swansea would need 19 solar panels to help reach the 60 per cent target.

On a broader note, energy supply changes are likely to affect green belt policy, biodiversity and areas of outstanding natural beauty. Interestingly, industry developments in waste reprocessing technology, eco and resource parks may reflect the commercial opportunities.

With the Severn Barrage still in the frame, together with Defra’s comment that “Wales has tremendous natural potential for alternative energy”, the governments in both Westminster and Cardiff regard Wales as a major future resource for renewable energy.

Ultimately the Welsh Assembly Government has a role in developing Wales’s infrastructure in a sustainable and efficient way that can reach the ambitious targets for carbon emissions. The RICS research into these practicalities underlines that businesses, local authorities and the person in the street should be under no illusions about the scale of the challenge.

As David Fell, Managing Director of Brooke Lyndhurst, which produced the report on behalf RICS Wales, commented:

“It is relatively easy to set a future target for carbon reduction but the difficulty comes in addressing how to practically achieve this. 2010 is only two years away and so actions need implementing as soon as possible. As is demonstrated by the scenario planning in this report, small steps will not be enough to reduce our carbon dependency in Wales. A number of large measures need to be taken to achieve results. Whilst some of the measures may seem extreme or impractical this RICS report does not hide from that fact that it will take this level of commitment to reduce carbon by 60 per cent across Wales.”

Cathy McLean is Director of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors Wales.

Also within Politics and Policy