Fourth term special 6: Low carbon economy non-negotiable

Anne Meikle says a major test for the Welsh Government will be delivering sustainable development

The next nine years – to 2020 – are critical if we are to live sustainably on this planet. The global population is consuming the earth’s resources at a faster rate than they can be replenished. If Welsh lifestyles were replicated around the world, we would need around two and a half planets worth of resources. So we are fortunate that, in its sustainable development scheme One Wales: One Planet, the last Government aimed for Wales to live within its fair share of the earth’s resources. This would mean reducing the area of biologically productive land needed to support our lifestyles, our ‘ecological footprint’, by 75 per cent, within the ‘lifetime of a generation’. It set Wales on an ambitious path.

By 2020, we must have made significant progress on this goal. Therefore this agenda must be central to the work of the First Minister’s new Delivery Unit. WWF Cymru’s recent report Progress in embedding the ‘One Planet’ aspiration in Welsh Government suggests that the Welsh Government has made a promising start but has much more to do.

Ahead of the forthcoming review of its Sustainable Development Scheme, the report sets out lessons and priorities for the Government. A key finding is that not all policies and departments have recognised the ‘One Planet’ goal. Yet as the Sustainable Development Commission said: “Living within ecological limits is the non-negotiable basis for our social and economic development”.

Carwyn Jones has already announced that there will be a Sustainable Development Bill, so there is an opportunity to clarify and strengthen the Welsh Government’s sustainable development duty. Legislation should make it absolutely clear that sustainable development is the central organising principle of government, which explicitly includes living within environmental limits.

The ‘One Planet Wales’ goal needs to be embedded in the purposes and functions of the public sector, and especially any new single environmental delivery organisation.

On climate change, the United Nations Environment Programme has issued a stark warning. It says that global emissions of greenhouse gases must have peaked by the middle of this decade and be on a steep downward path by 2020 if we are to have a reasonable prospect of keeping the rise in global warming to less than 2°C and avoiding catastrophic climate change.

Fortunately, all political parties in the Assembly are committed to cutting our territorial emissions by 40 per cent by 2020. However, that’s only nine years away and although our emissions have been falling, the Welsh Government will need to ensure that recovery from economic recession is done without increasing emissions. WWF Cymru is urging the new Minister for Business, Enterprise, Technology and Science, Edwina Hart, to review economic development plans and ensure they are more focussed on a low carbon economy.

The Welsh Government will also need to meet its share of the European requirement on the UK that 15 per cent of energy used is from renewable sources by 2020. That is a major challenge for the First Minister himself. Before the election he said that Wales needs to “do a lot more” to make the most of its renewable energy resources. There must be a clear delivery plan with a commitment of how much electricity and heat will be generated from renewable sources by 2020. This should be the framework against which the future of the planning system and decisions on grid infrastructure are made.

Energy prices will continue to rise as oil resources dwindle and other countries compete for fossil fuels. To avoid more people falling into fuel poverty, it is crucial the Government scales up retro-fitting to make buildings more energy efficient. The Welsh Government must also promote and support any Green Deal from the UK government.

Another significant challenge for the new Welsh administration will be managing our natural environment. The previous Government had begun to radically change the way we manage and protect our natural environment through A Living Wales, the natural environment framework. This looks at the environment at an ecosystem level, of humans are a part. It will be a major challenge for Government to change our mindset, planning and regulation systems to achieve sustainable development in relation to pollution, soil formation and fresh water.

Despite the difficulties we should see these challenges as an exciting opportunity. We must ensure that people’s expectation of a healthy productive environment is not let down by any drive to ‘deregulation’, accidentally or deliberately removing protection for the environment.  We failed to meet the agreed targets for biodiversity protection by 2010 and we must do better in future.

Wales now has a golden opportunity on this agenda. Carwyn Jones leads a new government with a strong mandate and new powers, and the last administration has laid the foundations for change.

Let’s go to next year’s Rio+20 global sustainability summit with something tangible to show the world – an exemplary Sustainable Development Act and a country actually delivering the One Planet Nation ideal. This will be achieved by supporting sustainable, low carbon businesses, through delivering sustainable procurement making, and in the process making a radical step change towards a low carbon, sustainable Wales.

Anne Meikle is Head of WWF Cymru.

2 thoughts on “Fourth term special 6: Low carbon economy non-negotiable

  1. Unfortunately, anything Wales does to reduce emissions will be wiped out by the so-called ‘greenest government ever’ in London with their apparent irrational desire to commit environmental suicide.

    Their planned reform of the planning system, a default YES to development to try and resurrect ecconomic growth and provide more housing, is insane. It ignores the inconvient truth that it is not just our lifestyles that are unsustainable, growth in the human population is also. The population problem is more to do with the impact on food resources, for example collapsing fish stocks, than it is with climate change. However, as well as being more sustainable on its own terms, a reduced population would have to make fewer or less drastic lifestyle changes, making rising to the climate change challenge slightly easier. If you have fewer humans, you don’t need to build new houses for them to live in or rip up woodland and farmland to build more supermarkets, we’d be able to make do with what we already have.

    It would be like culling certain species of wildlife with no natural predators to prevent them having such a large impact on their prey that they are in danger of causing their prey to become extinct. We are starting to get close to driving some species of fish to extinction, and climate change might cause many more extinctions (including, perhaps, our own). However, unlike wildlife, it is morally impossible to cull humans, how would you select the victims? You can’t do it, so the only option is to somehow limit pregnancies. There would still be moral dilemmas, such as fertility treatment, but it is something that needs looking at.

    On the railways, the so-called green government in Westminster are planning to allow fares to rise faster ‘to pay for investment’. However, the investment they plan is not the greenest option, which would probably be a rolling programme of electrification targeted to cover all the main Intercity routes by the 2035-2045 life-expiry date of the current fleets of diesel trains. Instead, the Department for Transport plan a very half-hearted one-off electrification along with an order for another 70 diesel Intercity trains (although they will also be able to run off electricity on the small sections of the network that are electrified) with a life span stretching to 2050.

  2. Rhydgaled is right. You cannot have a no-growth economy unless you have no population growth. All governments and most of the Green movement duck that basic quandry – except China. The UK government is no more blameworthy than any other.

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