It’s time for Wales to pass its own climate law

Jessica McQuade says that Wales is in danger of falling behind on its commitments to tackle climate change.

Climate change policy in Wales is at a cross roads.

John Griffiths, as the Minister in charge, returns to his former cabinet position with the responsibility to resolve two conflicting issues.

On one hand, the Welsh Government has committed to a ‘refresh’ of the 2010 Climate Change Strategy, having recognised the need to do more to meet the target of cutting emissions by 40% by 2020, as well as the seriousness of the warnings given by the International Panel on Climate Change.

Yet the flipside to this is that the same Government has shown very little progress in explaining how it will deliver on its climate commitments.

Climate change can be a tricky policy area. Welsh Government has limited powers when it comes to tackling some of the big sources of greenhouse gas emissions, such as energy and transport. It is probably also an uphill struggle to convince fellow Ministers that climate change needs to be integrated into the government priorities of economic development, tackling poverty and health.

There is little evidence to suggest that this integration of climate change impacts into government policy and programmes has been achieved.

A recent example is ‘Towards Sustainable Growth: An Action Plan for the Food and Drink Industry 2014-2020’ – where there is no obvious analysis of the emissions impact.

Other recent Government decisions to go ahead with a new M4 motorway and roll back on energy efficiency requirements for new buildings seem to raise questions about its claimed commitment to tackle climate change.

Together with the Climate Change Commission for Wales and the coalition of organisations that make up Stop Climate Chaos Cymru, we are calling on the Welsh Government to show leadership and strengthen its governance.

The key ways identified to do this are: have statutory emission reduction targets for Wales and develop an action plan for how its policies and programmes will get to those targets.

These are practical solutions that have already found favour in the UK’s other devolved nations.

On the legislation front, both Scotland and Northern Ireland are ahead of Wales.

Through the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009 Scotland has recognised that a key way to drive action on emission reduction is provide a clear political statement of intent.

Northern Ireland is currently considering a Climate Change Bill. Should this happen, Wales will be the only UK devolved nation not to have statutory climate change targets.

Using legislation to push environmental action has already proven successful in Wales. The plastic bag charge led the rest of UK and was innovative and popular. Legislation is also an important tool for implementing the waste strategy, an environmental policy that Welsh Government is rightly proud of for achieving its intended results.

So we now have the right conditions for Wales to pass its own climate law. The IPCC has called for urgent action from governments if we are to avoid dangerous climate change. The Welsh Government says it wants to act and meet its targets – but a stronger approach is needed to actually deliver. We have precedents in Scotland and potentially Northern Ireland. Wales has a track record in successful environmental legislation. And Ministers have the golden opportunity to legislate through the Wellbeing of Future Generations Bill and the Environment Bill.

It is surely now or never if this Government is to show how serious it is about tackling the climate question.

The Welsh Government has put forward arguments against statutory targets. The main one is that Wales does not have the necessary powers over big emitters, such as energy and transport.

Whilst there is some rationale for this position over the 40% by 2020 target, it is not a wholly convincing one for other targets.

The 2010 Climate Change Strategy outlines the 3% annual reduction target which was largely designed for emission reduction within policy areas which are devolved to Wales.

Why not, therefore, have a statutory target for areas over which the Welsh Government has power?

Wales has legal competency to set such statutory emission reduction targets within the bounds of its devolved authority. Therefore, it makes practical and political sense for Wales to follow the lead of Scotland and Northern Ireland in giving legislative expression to that policy ambition.

These targets will need to be supported with a package of measures, such as:

  • Developing an action plan every 5 years to achieve these targets
  • A requirement for an emission impact assessment on large scale infrastructure and strategies
  • A duty on the public sector to contribute to these targets
  • Measuring the emissions impact of annual budgets

Within this package, the action plan stands out as vital. In Scotland, this has played a key role in ‘mainstreaming’ action on climate change throughout Government and also providing accountability and transparency.

For Wales, this action plan would also need to outline the impact of UK Government decisions on progress towards the Welsh Government’s emissions targets. This is especially for the 40% reduction by 2020 which is heavily impacted by UK energy policy.  This analysis would provide greater clarity of Wales’ limitations and opportunities.

With an anticipated ‘Refresh’ statement and a new Minister, the challenge is amplified.   We hope to see Welsh Government’s ‘refresh’ statement providing a commitment to statutory targets in forthcoming legislation and clear plan to accelerate action not just a high level statement of intention. Without this commitment to delivery on its political ambition, Wales is in real danger of being a laggard not a leader.

Jessica McQuade is Policy and Advocacy Officer for WWF Cymru

14 thoughts on “It’s time for Wales to pass its own climate law

  1. Double speak from WG & Local Government politicians who supported out of town supermarket and Medical Centre here in Llangollen AONB & UNESCO World Heritage Site to endanger vibrancy and viable Town Centre. Such schemes force residents to us vehicles and make a mockery of Sustainability Policies.

  2. Surely you jest? Isn’t anyone in Wales following the climate hoax? One of the 21st century’s greatest. Sheesh.

  3. Carbon dioxide is plant food – without it we will all die!

    How unfortunate we are to have the WWF and its partners in crime in Big Green to tell us it is a dangerous pollutant responsible for overheating the planet when all CO2 does is feed the plants so they can make the food we eat and the oxygen we breathe. I tried to do without oxygen for a while and I didn’t like it very much… I got the impression it really is life threatening…

    In 2013 the EU handed out €6,261,730 to the WWF over 8 projects. In 2012 it was €16,973,963 over 10 projects plus another €2,405,679 from the 10th European Development Fund for 1 project. Big Green is a pretty good business to be in these days – the unelected and unaccountable NGO governance most people don’t even know they’ve got…

  4. Difficult to see what the Welsh Government can do really, without control over Wales’ natural resources (e.g. water) and energy policy, so as to make a comprehensive approach possible. But for that to happen Wales would need to be a country …

  5. Lance Miller, the flat earth society is looking for members. You sound like ideal material.

    I’m not at all sure we need another law. In Wales ‘action plans’ are all too often a substitute for action. And laws seem to be a substitute for policies, simply passing responsibilities to other bodies who often do not have the means to discharge them. Why doesn’t the Welsh government decide to do a few specific things about carbon emissions and devote the resources to doing them?

  6. John Walker. Somehow the plants got along with historical atmospheric concentrations of CO2. Currently we have levels higher than anything in recorded history and higher, the geological evidence suggests,, than anything for hundreds of thousands of years. You can have too much of a good thing.

  7. Inasmuch I want to say “Go for it,” the other part of my environmental conscience says “Wait a minute, blunt tools don’t work.” The devolution process is not a race to see who passes the most stringent greenhouse gas emission test first. It’s more subtle than that. In any case, does Wales carbon footprint justify the setting of targets in law when the current deck of proposed laws has barely passed the starting gate?

    The time for proselytism is past. WWF is better positioned to influence the law-making process to ensure that the current deck of laws provides a satisfactory foundation for the implementation of sound environmental policy. Time for hard thinking about outputs and outcomes instead of sound bites.

  8. @Ross Tredwyn

    I was being a bit tongue-in-cheek about the plants but somebody was bound to fall for it! As for the “recorded history” of carbon dioxide it only goes back to March 1958 at Mauna Loa

    and even then it is not an exact science as the readings all have to be ‘quality controlled’ using a variety of correction factors.

    Before that CO2 has been ESTIMATED from a variety of proxies not all of which have turned out to be all that reliable – e.g. due to gas diffusion in ice cores. Not that it matters in the current scientific fraud surrounding climate because the greenhouse effect of CO2 is logarithmic with virtually all its heating effect coming from the first 200ppm and after that the effect for each doubling of CO2 is so small it can safely be ignored compared with water vapour which is actually the only greenhouse gas that matters. So it doesn’t matter whether CO2 is 200ppm or 1600ppm the effective greenhouse effect is functionally the same. There is ZERO empirical evidence from any source that current CO2 concentrations affect climate. ZERO. Correlation does not mean causation! Every predictive computer model the IPCC uses has been shown to be WRONG – most of them by a significant margin! And they are getting more and more wrong as time goes on and the cooling from 2 weak solar cycles starts to impact on the atmosphere.

    But you stick with your CO2 groupthink and I’ll keep trying to figure out how far south I need to move to stay warm in the next 2 decades… The sun’s vengeance is likely to be swift…

  9. The atmosphere of Venus has very high concentrations of CO2 and its surface temperature would vaporize lead so your faith in the non-linearity of the greenhouse effect is exaggerated. Warming Arctic regions also release trapped methane from the tundra and that is a still more effective greenhouse gas. What is perverse about sceptics like yourself is that they demand impossible levels of certainty from the science before taking precautionary measures,some of which are good things to do anyway, like economizing on energy use.

  10. @Ross Tredwyn

    Venus isn’t Earth and correlation still isn’t causation! I’m sure the EU will be paying WWF-Venus to do their lobbying on Venus but I’ve never had any great desire to go there… No idea what language they speak on Venus but maybe you can get this sun/climate idea here on Earth when it’s written in Chinese (with an English abstract)?

    Periodicities of solar activity and the surface temperature variation of the Earth and their correlations

    Maybe not… You’ll probably freeze before you but the horse back in front of the cart! Or don’t they do that on Venus?

  11. @ R Tredwyn
    “What is perverse about sceptics like yourself… ”
    “skeptic” is way too flattering a term. Skepticism is part and parcel of scientific approach.
    The denial displayed on this thread is akin to fundamentalism and generally speaking ( when there isn’t a hidden agenda) accompanied by a profound lack of understanding of scientific principles.

  12. JRW – let’s make progress instead of bandying words. What probability do you assign to the emission of greenhouse gases contributing to global warming, given that the greenhouse effect exists – 0 %, 20%, 50%? What would the probability have to be before it made sense to take precautionary measures to restrict emissions? Evidently certainty is impossible but the best climate models we have that are consistent with past trends make me assign, let’s say an 80 per cent probability. To take action,in view of the consequences, I would need a 10 per cent probability. So my calculus is heavily in favour of doing something. I’d be interested to know what probabilities you have that could justify doing nothing

  13. We not only need an Action Plan we need ACTION. The ideas etc are all there, the resources needed are there, we just need to DO IT. WAG can help by encouraging community scale renewables in urban areas, changing building regs, being at the forefront of tidal power, creating low carbon transport infrastructure etc. We have feasibility studies, policy reports etc coming out of our ears. I think that we should re-direct some consultancy money into action. If this is difficult due to policy / laws etc then we should spend a little time changing them!

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