Regeneration through the recession

John Osmond argues that an economic Plan B for Wales should rely on a Welsh green new deal

Mal Williams, chief executive of Cylch, the Community Recycling Network, penned a clever letter to the Observer a week ago. He said he had been intrigued to read in the paper an account of a Plan B for the UK economy referred to as a ‘green New Deal’. “We have an approach of the same name, developed here in Wales,” he claimed:

“Our contention is that pursuing economic policies that promote environmentally beneficial activities will help regenerate communities, reduce unemployment and create new opportunities, provided that the proceeds of these activities are invested in the Welsh economy and are not siphoned off by corporations and financial institutions which will disburse profits to wealthy and remote shareholders.”

Mal Williams was correct to say that this is an ‘approach’ characteristic of some thinking in Wales, but it is questionable how far it has penetrated into mainstream policymaking, for instance in Edwina Hart’s Department for Business, Enterprise, Technology, and Science. Nevertheless, it provides an opening to squaring what on the face of it seems an impossible circle: how to reconcile economic growth with sustainable development.

This puts an IWA conference on Regeneration through the Recession that we’re organising a week today at the centre stage of the debate. One of our keynote speakers is Colin Hines, a founder of the Green New Deal Group. Their 2008 report of the same name (published here) opens with the declaration:

“The global economy is facing a ‘triple crunch’. It is a combination of a credit-fuelled financial crisis, accelerating climate change and soaring energy prices underpinned by an encroaching peak in oil production. These three overlapping events threaten to develop into a perfect storm, the like of which has not been seen since the Great Depression. To help prevent this from happening we are proposing a Green New Deal…

“Drawing our inspiration from Franklin D. Roosevelt’s courageous programme launched in the wake of the Great Crash of 1929, we believe that a positive course of action can pull the world back from economic and environmental meltdown. The Green New Deal that we are proposing consists of two main strands. First, it outlines a structural transformation of the regulation of national and international financial systems, and major changes to taxation systems. And, second, it calls for a sustained programme to invest in and deploy energy conservation and renewable energies, coupled with effective demand management.

“In this way we believe we can begin to stabilise the current triple-crunch crisis. We can also lay the foundations for the emergence of a set of resilient low carbon economies, rich in jobs and based on independent sources of energy supply. This will create a more stable economic environment in which there is a lot more local production and distribution, and enhanced national security.”

Our conference is very much inspired by these sentiments, but taking a highly practical look at how initiatives on the ground in Wales is turning aspiration into reality. So Nigel Draper, Head of Neighbourhoods with the Valleys to Coast housing association will be describing how the Welsh Government’s Arbed energy investment programme is making homes more energy efficient across Wales, in the process tackling fuel poverty and reducing CO2 emissions. Chris Blake, Director of Green Valleys will be talking about small-scale how localised renewable energy production can assist communities. And Steve Garret, of the Riverside Community Market, will be emphasising the contribution of local food production.

Other sessions will deal with how our procurement process in the Welsh public sector can help with such initiatives. We’ll be looking at the role of social enterprise in giving a lift to poorer communities and providing opportunities for hard to reach parts of the labour market. We’ll also be addressing the difficult issue of integrating private investment with green economic development.

The overarching theme is reconciling economic and sustainable development. My main hope as a constructive outcome from the conference is that we will begin to flesh out what we really mean by the economic dimension of sustainable development –reconciling the needs of both – that after all is now “the central organising principle” of the Welsh Government’s policy programme.

Of course, though essential, local bottom-up initiatives of the kind we will be exploring at the conference will not be enough. We also need a strategic all-Wales policy. As the Green New Deal also argued back in 2oo8 (though in relation to the UK), we need a national plan for a low-energy future and its provision on the ground:

“The absence of any such plan at present leaves the country very vulnerable. There is no risk analysis of the peak-oil threat, and there is no contingency plan for what would happen if oil and/or gas supplies collapsed rapidly. Our plan would include oversight and coordination for generating the funding from government, the energy industry and a range of private savings vehicles for investment in a vital multi-decade programme for the transition to a low-energy future.”

The Welsh Government can begin to flesh out an all-Wales approach along these lines through such policies as investing in electrification of the Valley lines in south east Wales to create the essential infrastructure for the creation of a Metro system to get the cars off the road and commuters onto a light rail system (see our Metro report here).

When we’ve done all this, and more, we will be able to truly say that we have developed a Plan B in Wales.

John Osmond is Director of the IWA

3 thoughts on “Regeneration through the recession

  1. Completely agree that Wales can outstrip England on this. In particular I’d like WG to consider whether to subsidise the FIT reduction to April so that those of us who are attempting to install community renewable energy schemes are not thwarted at the last hurdle. The way that we raise money for these schemes – through local micro-loans – means that the higher FIT rate is essential to make them viable. Without it, many – including my own – will fall.

  2. It is our duty to resist global warming but talk of “peak oil” is uninformed. In a few years the US will be self-sufficient in oil for the first time in many decades. There is an oilfield under the Dakotas as big as those of Saudi Arabia. It is deep and in non-porous rock, requiring “fracking” but with advances in technology and at current oil prices it is being brought into production. Brazilian offshore oilfields could well be as big as those of Venezuela. Even the North Sea is good for many more years than earlier thought. There is no imminent peak oil and no oil shortage. All the more reason for governments to put a price on carbon emissions to discourage use – but can you see it happening in the US?

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