Wales can do better on climate change

Anne Meikle says it’s time we faced up to the reality of Wales’ progress on sustainable development

On the afternoon that I met the Environment Minister, John Griffiths in November last year, at the launch of the Welsh Government’s Sustainable Development Bill White Paper in Blaenafon, he left for Doha to attend the international climate change negotiations.

The Minister told the Guardian, that the Bill would be “a legal first”. This isn’t the first time the Welsh Government has made impressive-sounding claims about their record on the world stage. After the Rio+20 conference in June, 2012, John Griffiths, speaking about the Bill said:

“It is clear that smaller countries, like Wales, can show a lead and set examples in how to create sustainable places and practices. In Wales, we now have the opportunity to further demonstrate this by creating our own ground breaking legislation on Sustainable Development.”

He was echoing the First Minister Carwyn Jones, who said that his Government “will set Wales apart as a sustainable nation, leading from the front”. This narrative – of Wales taking a leading role on sustainable development – was also part of the Welsh Labour manifesto which got them elected in 2011 and featured prominently in the Programme for Government, which stated their intention “To become a ‘One Planet Nation’, putting sustainable development at the heart of government” and with a core commitment to living within environmental limits.

These fine words have led to high praise and expectation. In June, Jonathon Porritt wrote:

“At the moment it’s Wales that provides a bright light in these gloomy times. In Cardiff the devolved administration, led by First Minister Carwyn Jones, is clearly still committed to the idea of sustainable government.”

So what did the Welsh Government actually unveil at that event in Blaenafon? Was it a White Paper which offered a ‘ground breaking’ plan for legislation which will make Wales a leading light on sustainable development? Having now had time to analyse it, the answer, sadly, is still ‘not yet’. To be ‘ground breaking’ Wales must go further than what we’ve already seen in the UK. In practice, this means that the Welsh Government’s duty on sustainable development must be stronger than duties in existing UK legislation.

There are quite a few examples in the UK already of duties that require bodies to “have regard to” sustainable development. We even have some which “promote” or require the “achievement” of sustainable development. Yet the Welsh Government’s white paper is still proposing something far too weak to be considered ‘ground breaking’. The wording is far from clear, but it seems to propose that:

“…the consideration of the effect on the economic, social and environmental wellbeing of Wales will be a fundamental requirement of the duty, so that decisions are informed by an appreciation of the likely effects on each and the integration between them.”

Everyone knows that considering something is a long way removed from actually doing something. You may consider the impacts of your Government’s policies and actions, but choose to ignore them. Therefore, in our view, ‘considering’ is way too weak a verb to make ground breaking, world- leading legislation.

Overall, the Welsh Government’s White Paper doesn’t simply fall short of what campaigners have been hoping for from the Sustainable Development Bill – it actually falls short of their own ambition. In his interview with the Guardian John Griffiths said:

“Wales will become the first country in the world to make it legally binding for all public bodies…. to take account of the environment and social issues when they make a decision.”

Simply ‘taking account’ of environmental issues is a long way from the ambition voiced in the Labour manifesto and by the Programme for Government. Making Wales a One Planet nation and meeting the aspiration of ‘Living within environmental limits’ will take much more action than ‘considering’ these matters.

Carwyn Jones’ Government cannot deliver the ‘One Planet Wales’ to which they aspire, or put sustainable development at the heart of government, unless they make a renewed effort to substantially strengthen this bill. In June this year, Jonathon Porritt warned that “despite the laudable aims behind Wales’ Sustainable Development Bill, there is now a serious risk that it could be watered down by nervous civil servants and lawyers who are under pressure from backward-looking elements in government, industry, and the public sector”.

This is exactly what I fear we’re seeing with the white paper. A wide range of environmental and third sector organisations in Wales, believes that the duty must be worded as:

“Welsh ministers and public sector bodies, will exercise their duties, powers and functions with the objective of achieving sustainable development.”

That would meet the Government’s promises and be worthy of international praise and be genuinely ground breaking. Let’s hope that the Cabinet stands together and delivers on their promise in 2013.

Anne Meikle is Head of WWF Cymru.

4 thoughts on “Wales can do better on climate change

  1. But more important than firmer-sounding declarations is practicalities. What, concretely are we supposed to do to be sustainable? Specifics please, otherwise there is nothing to talk about or act on.

  2. I suppose it shows the unreal world that the Welsh Government lives in that ANYTHING that’s done in Wales has an impact upon global warning or other countries attitudes to their energy needs for the economy and providing food/employment for their populations. There is an abundance of bodies that are promulgating ‘global warming’ as a form of new religion, however do not tell ordinary people like myself how all this ‘stuff’ is going to be paid for, and how our industries/services going to survive with huge increases in energy prices, particularly if others don’t take similar actions. The USA is beginning to bring industries back to its shores through exploitation of ‘natural gas’ through fracking, while our ‘greenies’ are opposed to anything similar in UK. Nice work for the few, but what about the many!

  3. The Russians are reacting to so called climate change by ordering 3 shiny new ice-breakers from those nice Finnish people in Finland.

    Suffice it to say they are not doing this because they think the Arctic is going to be ice-free anytime soon and all the polar bears are going to die. But, hey, the Russians have numerous correctly sited weather stations which do not show the bogus warming trend fabricated by the IPCC and its warmist academic and NGO co-conspirators. So the Russians probably have a better idea what is really happening with the climate, certainly in the northern hemisphere, than we do in the UK.

    The Russians and the Finns also know all too well what happens when the northern hemisphere is subjected to the prolonged severe winters caused by solar minimums – whether they be of the shallow Dalton variety or the more severe Maunder variety. They know that large numbers of people will die from hypothermia during these Little Ice Ages (LIA). Look up ‘Dalton Minimum’ and ‘Maunder Minimum’ on Google if you don’t know what they are.

    Given that there are enough astro-physicists, and climatologists who study weather patterns over time, who genuinely believe we may enter such a solar minimum in what could be as little as 8-30 years time, then I would expect my government to be seriously considering reinforcing the infrastructure against these additional levels of cold and rain so the roads, railways, airports, power transmission network, ports, telecommunications networks, water supply, sewage systems, and so on will suffer minimal disruption. I would expect them to lay down as a matter of some urgency cheap reliable baseline power generation which is minimally disrupted by adverse weather – that’s nuclear to keep it simple, not bird-chopping windmills.

    What they should not be doing is planning public policy based on the IPCC AR1-4 Reports which have been so substantially discredited that many scientists now regard them as being worse than useless. Or indeed the upcoming AR5 report which concerned scientist-reviewers have already started to leak into the public domain because they are so concerned that the contents are misleading. They should not be demonising, or attempting to tax, that essential plant food known as carbon dioxide. And they certainly shouldn’t be basing public policy on the blatant propaganda in the non peer-reviewed grey literature from red-green campaigning NGOs like WWF, Greenpeace or Friends of the Earth.

    Which means that very little is going to change in Wales because our political class simply isn’t up to the job!

  4. We are now being reminded that back in March 2000 Dr. David Viner, a senior research scientist at the climatic research unit (CRU) of the University of East Anglia, stated that within a few years “children just aren’t going to know what snow is” and winter snowfall will be “a very rare and exciting event.” And David Parker, at the Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research in Berkshire, said that “ultimately, British children could have only virtual experience of snow”.
    Bearing in mind the additional promises in subsequent years of hot, dry summers and mild, wet winters, this winter and that of 2010 certainly seem to be rather extraordinary. Furthermore, the current weather pattern does bear quite a similarity to that of 1963, and with this year’s promised Solar Maximum looking decidedly feeble and with Solar Scientists suggesting that the next cycle might not even happen, we could be entering another little Ice Age.

    However, it is worth bearing in mind that even during the Little Ice Age there were hot, dry summers and mild, wet winters. Indeed, Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn on Jan 25th, 1662 in the middle of one of the worst periods of the Little Ice Age were holding a fast to avert God’s heavy judgement and Pepys noted that ‘It is, both as to warmth and every other thing, just as if it were the middle of May or June.’ Perhaps more interesting than God’s heavy judgement will be the People’s verdict on the performance of Renewables in providing the kind of power needed to keep our modern society warm and working. Just how much energy have the wind farms been contributing during the current cold spell?

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