Legislating for a greener Wales

Gordon James calls for the next Assembly to deliver an Environmental Rights Law

Sustainable development is supposed to be at the centre of policy for the Welsh Government. But legally, it means no more than making it the duty of ministers to talk about it. An Environmental Rights Law would ensure that no decision made by the Welsh Government, or other public authorities in Wales, would be allowed to violate the right of people in Wales to live in a healthy environment.

An Environmental Rights Law could protect people in Port Talbot from dangerous air pollution, and communities in the Valleys from more opencast mines on their doorsteps. And it could give our best wildlife sites the protection that laws from Europe and London are currently failing to provide.

The Welsh Government led the world in committing to greenhouse gas emission reductions of 3 percent a year. But now as more countries are following our lead, the scientific evidence is showing that cuts of 9 percent are needed to avoid dangerous climate change. This needs to be the new target here in Wales, and we need the policies and action that will achieve it.

Housing produces about a fifth of greenhouse gas emissions in Wales, and fuel poverty blights one in four households. New legislation should ensure minimum standards of energy efficiency in all homes. At least 400,000 homes in Wales should be refurbished to cut their carbon emissions by 60 percent over the next 10 years – reducing fuel bills, creating new local jobs, improving health and cutting carbon emissions.

The new powers, and the coming fourth term of the National Assembly, offer a great opportunity to deliver ambitious policies that work for people and the environment – and help Wales reap the benefits of the rapidly expanding green economy.

Gordon James is Director of Friends of the Earth Cymru.

2 thoughts on “Legislating for a greener Wales

  1. I think it would be a very good law.

    I have been campaigning in a small way for stationary buses at bus stations to turn off their engines. They sometimes stand for 5-10 mins.
    This may not seem like much but there are a lot of harmful inhalants from diesel engines and the pollution is concentrated in a small area where people wait for their respective bus.

    Complete and total indignation from the council why I should be wanting such a thing. An Envirornmental law would also educate them as well as this bringing them into line.

  2. It would be intersting to see how this pans out.

    There has been a trend since 2007 for Welsh legislation to be described grandly in terms of conferring or protecting “rights” when the reality is a bit more prosaic. Examples are the Children’s Rights Measure (as introduced), the Welsh Language Measure and the Mental Health Measure. More often than not, Welsh legislation of this sort has tended to involve the creation of a more or less soft regulatory framework with no, or inadequate, individual redress.

    This is not necessarily to criticise this approach. In many cases it may guarantee the best outcomes in terms of the policy objectives being pursued, but it doesn’t help credibility if you proudly proclaim legislation to be about rights, when it’s largely about process, bureacracy and non-justiciable “duties” placed on public bodies.

    A noble exception is the Children’s Rights Measure, where a non-duty on Welsh Ministers in the original draft was replaced following some fearsome scrutiny by AMs at the Committee stage with a real duty on Welsh Ministers to comply with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child when exercising their functions.

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