Towards a Greener Future

John Osmond takes a look at the man who is leading Wales towards sustainable development

There was a public outing today for a remarkable new civil servant with the Welsh Government in Cathays Park. His name is Clive Bates and he is Director General for Sustainable Futures, a remarkable title in itself. It means he is responsible for bringing joined-up policy making to the environment, housing, planning, rural affairs, culture and heritage portfolios in the government.

The term Director General is a new one in Cathays Park. Clive Bateman holds just one of six of these  positions which together with Permanent Secretary Dame Gillian Morgan form the civil service core management team. In Whitehall-speak Clive Bates is a Deputy Permanent Secretary, which puts him pretty high up in the bureaucratic pecking order.

He was speaking about Wales’s response to Climate Change at a conference in Cardiff on Towards a Greener Future, organised by the Countryside Council for Wales to mark the 60th anniversary of the 1949 National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act.

He was pretty blunt about what Wales could do in contributing to the global need for reducing greenhouse gas emissions: not much in practice, because we’re so small. The main contribution in terms of scale is going to come from countries like China. As he put it, “The numbers around the impact on CO2 emissions due to beer consumption in China are eye popping.”

However, what Wales could do was to become an exemplar nation for adapting to the realities of climate change, he argued. “Our contribution can be to demonstrate how it is possible for a community to reverse the patterns of energy use and CO2 emissions,” he said. “We need to become a future oriented country, setting out a marker of where the rest of the world needs to be by 2050.”

In this ambitious endeavour he said we need to rethink what we mean by the over-generalised objective of sustainable development.  We need to think about in terms of well-being, and looking for ways of working and living that contribute to that rather than out-dated notions around economic growth which often work against the well-being of the population. It means, too, that we need to adjust policy thinking to a longer-term perspective that the one habitually adopted by politicians. And we must become  focused on practical outcomes.

This is a condensation of his speech, but you can see from it that it is pretty challenging stuff coming from a civil servant. But, then Clive Bates is no ordinary civil servant. A quick glance at his CV will tell you that. Following a degree in Engineering at Cambridge he joined IBM, working in marketing for seven years.

Then, in a career switch he took a Masters in Environmental technology at Imperial College, London, and went to work for Greenpeace. In 1997 he became Director of Ash, Action on Smoking and health.

In early 2003 he became a senior adviser in a civil service role in the No 10 Strategy Unit, running projects as diverse as cities, police reform, NHS modernisation, housing growth, and productivity. In 2005 he moved to the Environment Agency as head of Policy responsible for climate change, economics, planning and sustainable development.

For the year or so prior joining the Welsh Government in March he established the UN Environment programme presence in Sudan, running a programme focused on improving natural resource management to address extreme poverty and conflict. It may be he finds Wales something of a doddle compared with that arena. In his speech today he sang the praises of the Pembrokeshire, Snowdonia and Brecon Beacons National Parks where, he said, he was spending as much time as possible soaking up the well-being they exude. Let’s hope he can off-load a bit of it amongst the musty corridors in Cathays Park.

John Osmond is Director of the IWA.

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