Welsh Government conflicted over CO2 emissions

Whoever takes on role of independent chair of the Climate Commission for Wales faces a tough task

Environment Minister Jane Davidson should have plenty of choice when she comes to select her successor as chair of the Climate Change Commission for Wales. More than 200 people responded to the advert for the role that appeared a few months ago. Shortlisting is currently taking place and the appointment will be made towards the end of July.

The Climate Change Commission for Wales, which met yesterday, was set up in December 2007 to support the Welsh Government in delivering action on reducing carbon emissions. The decision to appointment an independent chair marks a step change, as the notice advertising the position acknowledges:

“Tackling climate change is a key priority of the Welsh Government and its partners on the Climate Change Commission for Wales and this is reflected in the decision to appoint an independent chair to lead the Commission and drive action on climate change in Wales.”

What this means is that the Commission is moving from being a body that merely advises the Welsh Government on climate change to one that acts as a public advocate for change. The Welsh Government is looking for a personality who combines some profile and recognition in Welsh society, who has a deep understanding of the issues, and who also has the ability to communicate, especially with the business world. It’s a tough proposition.

And one made doubly problematic because carbon reduction is proving one of the most intractable tasks facing the One Wales coalition Government in Cardiff Bay. The agreement between Labour and Plaid in 2007 committed the Government to reducing its carbon reduction-equivalent emissions by three per cent year on year by 2011. But there seems no chance the Government will achieve this. At present it is hitting around 1 per cent, perhaps as high as 1.4 per cent, but still far short of the aspiration set out in the One Wales agreement three years ago.

One reason is that there is no central drive and no real ownership of the climate change agenda within the Welsh Government. First Minister Carwyn Jones did attend the Copenhagen climate change summit at the end of last year, shortly after he became leader, but since then has made no major utterance on the matter. Officials in Deputy First Minister Ieuan Wyn Jones’s Economic Development and Transport Department are not really signed up for it. The cancellation of the proposed M4 relief road, for instance, was due more to a lack of money than consideration of the environmental impact.

In short, the Welsh Government is conflicted about climate change and the green agenda more widely. Policies for economic growth have far greater priority. As she has herself declared, Jane Davidson is a lone voice trying to be “the Green conscience of the cabinet”. The fact that as Environment Minister she has been given the task of leading on climate change means that, in practice, it is heavily skewed towards her portfolio and to all intents and purposes remains lie in it in a  silo. As Einir Young, Head of Sustainable Development at the Welsh Institute of Natural Resources in Bangor University, put it, writing in the Spring 2008 issue of the IWA’s journal Agenda:

“Who are the economic and social justice consciences in relation to sustainable development? More importantly, who is integrating these activities? Unless we succeed in answering these questions we will have a lot of good intentions, many disjointed actions but few examples of true integration of social, economic and environmental policies”.

An additional concern is the number of organisations now jostling in the field of advocacy around climate change and sustainable development issues. As well as the Commission, there is the promotional organisation Cynnal Cymru: Sustain Wales which describes itself as “an independent, not-for-profit organisation that promotes sustainable development and provides practical information to help people live sustainably.” In practice, it was created in the early 2000s as a result of a Welsh Government initiative to put some flesh on the bones of the responsibility to promote sustainable development that was built into the 1998 Wales Act, and it continues to be dependent on funding from it.

In addition to Cynnal Cymru, there is the Welsh office of the London-based Sustainable Development Commission which has an overlapping role of both advising government, including all the devolved institutions, and being a public advocate for change.

So, in Wales we have three related bodies, all of which have distinctive roles but in one way or another overlap. Given the looming spending cuts it is difficult to see them all surviving. The new Coalition government in London may simply axe the Sustainable Development Commission, though the Liberal Democrats would find that hard to swallow. Meanwhile, the Welsh Government is wondering how it can bring some rationalisation to the advocacy organisations for climate change and sustainable development commitment in Wales. A related issue is that the Climate Change Commission for Wales’s secretariat is currently provided by the Welsh Government, which undoubtedly compromises its independence. So, as well as an independent chair it is going to need an independent secretariat.

All of which makes the task of the new chair at the very least challenging, and at worst a dead-end role of leading an unknown quango with no influence. So who might be in line for the job? As the number of inquiries demonstrates, there is no shortage of interest, despite the relatively poor remuneration. The job specification says £114 a day with a requirement to work up to 35 days per year.

Someone from the current membership, shown in the table below, is likely to be a possibility. The smart money is on Peter Davies, the Sustainable Development Commissioner for Wales. He combines independence, a business background – he was formerly Deputy Chief Executive of Business in the Community UK – with many other roles in Welsh life. He co-ordinates the work of the Prince’s charities in Wales and, as the Welsh member of the Sustainable Development Commission, has an inside track on the operations of the Welsh Government. Above all, and unlike many in the climate change lobby, he has a keen sense of the art of the possible.

The last qualification might prove the most important given the intractable character of the sustainable development debate in Welsh policy circles. But if anyone can break through the conflicted perceptions within the Welsh Government about whether anything can, or even should, be done about climate change in the policy fields such as economic development, transport, health, and education its probably Peter Davies. Certainly, if he is appointed it will be a clear sign that the advocacy structure around climate change and sustainable development in Wales is likely to be in for a shake-up. One way forward would be to merge the the Sustainable Development Commission’s operation in Wales with Cynnal Cymru and make the new organisation the executive arm of the Climate Change Commission for Wales.

Membership of the Climate Change Commission for Wales

Jane Davidson AM, Chair

Minister for Environment, Sustainability and Housing

Cllr Matt Wright Conservative Party
Peter Randerson Liberal Democrats
Jill Evans MEP Plaid Cymru
Mike Batt Carbon Trust in Wales
David Proctor CBI Wales
Non Rhys Federation of Small Businesses
Paul Allen Centre for Alternative Technology
Morgan Parry Countryside Council for Wales
Helen Nelson Cynnal Cymru: Sustain Wales
Helen Northmore Energy Saving Trust Wales
Chris Mills Environment Agency Wales
Russell Lawson Federation of Small Businesses
Cllr Aled Roberts Welsh Local Government Association
Graham Benfield Wales Council for Voluntary Action
Martin Mansfield Wales TUC
Peter Davies Sustainable Development Commission Wales
Rose Stevens Climate Change Champion
Gerry Metcalf UK Climate Change Projections
Gareth Wyn Jones Land Use and Climate Change sub-group
Professor Hywel Thomas Cardiff University / Higher Education Wales
Peter Jones Wales Environment Link
Dr Kevin Anderson Tyndall Centre
Clive Bates Welsh Government
Claire Bennett Welsh Government
Matthew Quinn Welsh Government
Claire Bennett Welsh Government – Secretariat
Andy Fraser Welsh Government
Owain Edwards Welsh Government

John Osmond is Director of the IWA and a member of the Board of Cynnal Cymru : Sustain Wales.

One thought on “Welsh Government conflicted over CO2 emissions

  1. 29 people on one Commission. no wonder Americans often argue if you don’t want to do anything form a committee. Welcome to Wales the land of the Committee. Meanwhile in the real world the Chinese open another coal fired power station.

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