Welsh civic engagement 3: Behaviour change needed to save planet

Helen Nelson says we must collaborate to reduce carbon emissions

There are more than 30,000 third sector organisations in Wales and more than 1.5 million people volunteer. We have 5,000 town and community councillors. There are 1,809 schools, of which 1,500 are already registered as eco-schools. We also have excellent universities which are addressing sustainability through their curriculum and estates management.

The first challenge facing civil society in the transition to a low carbon economy is to take the issues out to this much wider audience to harness their potential. There are a large number of community and civil society networks across Wales and a good deal of latent potential to involve them in practical action. We must work with the ‘cultural networks’ that exist across Wales to achieve the social and behavioural changes and sustainable lifestyle choices we all need to make. These include sports clubs, farming co-operatives, business, art and music societies, voluntary groups, and trade unions.

This is the third of a series of essays on ClickonWales this week exploring initiatives within the Welsh economy, environment, media, and politics. They are taken from Growing Wales’ Civil Society, published by the IWA earlier this year.

Tomorrow: Lee Waters on the misconceptions motorists have about their cars.

Cynnal Cymru – Sustain Wales has been working with organisations such as the Wales Co-op Centre, the Community Councils network One Voice Wales, arts organisations, and the Women’s Institute in reaching out to this wider audience. Together we are exploring new ways of changing behaviour, including peer to peer communication and community based social marketing. This work is time-consuming and resource intensive, but can be effective. In its own way it is just as important as investing in, for example, new technology around renewable energy schemes.

However, in the next few years many community groups working in this area which are dependent on Welsh Government support will be affected by budget cuts. So we will need to find new ways to generate income.

One major opportunity is being presented by the introduction of the Feed-in-Tariff community energy schemes. These are an attractive proposition for communities looking to generate an independent source of income which can be guaranteed for 20 years. They also present an opportunity for communities to directly contribute to developing a low carbon economy by contributing to the Welsh Government’s target of reducing greenhouse gases by 3 per cent per annum in areas of devolved competence.

There are a number of successful examples of small-scale schemes being put into practice across Wales, including the Brecon-based Green Valleys project, Cwm Arian in Pembrokeshire, and Cwm Clydach in the Rhondda. The Welsh Government’s Ynni’r Fro programme is using European Structural Funds to provide support and funding of up to £30,000 for feasibility studies and £300,000 for capital costs to encourage the development of community scale renewable energy schemes.

There is real income that can be gained for communities to be ploughed back into other community projects. We need to move quickly to identify resources, broker private-public sector investment, overcome barriers, and deliver projects that maximise benefits for communities right across both urban and rural  Wales.

We also need to build on the work being undertaken across our Universities and further education colleges in promoting a low carbon economy through their estates management and also in parts of their curriculum. However, there is no clear agenda for them to support civil society groups. The few examples where this has been tried, for example the Science Shops Wales initiative at the University of Glamorgan have had their funding cut. One exception is the Centre for Business Relationships, Accountability, Sustainability and Society (BRASS) at Cardiff University. We need to bring together theoretical understanding with practical hands-on experience, as is being achieved at the Centre for Alternative Technology near Machynlleth.

Cynnal Cymru – Sustain Wales is unique in that we seek to make connections on sustainable development issues across all sectors. We were established in 2003 by the Welsh Government against the background of its legal duty to promote sustainable development in the exercise of all its functions. Our remit is to advise government, promote best practice, and facilitate engagement and behaviour change.

A wide range of organisations collaborate with Cynnal Cymru, including WWF, RSPB, Oxfam and Sustrans. NGO’s like these have had an effective impact on the policy debate. For example, it was combined lobbying of NGOs that led directly to the Welsh Government’s legal duty to promote sustainable development, and to the fact that eco-foot-printing underpins One Wales: One Planet, the Welsh Government’s sustainable development scheme.

Earlier this year Cynnal Cymru and the Sustainable Development Commission in Wales come together to create a new body. Essentially, however, the main features of our role will continue. As a ‘network of networks’ the main challenge will continue to be enabling action and cultural change around sustainable development and climate change. In this context being a civil society body is important so that there can be ownership of our work from the stakeholders that we seek to involve and represent.

Helen Nelson is Executive Director of Cynnal Cymru.

2 thoughts on “Welsh civic engagement 3: Behaviour change needed to save planet

  1. Why not insist that all new build in Wales is required to have solar panels on the roof?

    Why not build more dams which can convert our high levels of precipitation and unique geography into a means of creating hydroelectricity and water which can then be either sold to the people of Wales at a discounted rate or exported to garner funds for the Welsh Government?

    Why not use the multitude of Welsh rivers to create a network of micro power stations; small turbines which can feed into local electrical grids and provide Welsh businesses and consumers with cheap power?

    Just some ideas.

  2. This green “racket” is the latest device when REALLY smart people can convince the rest of us that dubious science is “sacrosanct” and that our whole life experience is about to go down the tube. If you add recent Welsh obsessions like “GM free Wales”, and “Nuclear Free Wales” then we can see where we are going and it’s back to 18th century – Welsh speaking of course. The current “masters” down in the bay don’t seem to mind subsidising air transport to obscure islands for their own benefit but paid for by us serfs, or flying around the globe to save it!! As Lord Lawson stated we are becoming obsessed about matters that we cannot control, and the “clever” ones are creating their own empires, again mainly paid for by ordinary people. If we really want to be GREEN why don’t we stop all inward tourism as people must be using up the earth’s resources to get here, now that’s radical ain’t it?!

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