Wales’ playing catch-up on climate change targets

The Environment Bill offers a perfect opportunity for Wales to establish statutory climate change targets and catch up with the rest of the UK says Llyr Gruffydd AM.

This week is Climate Week and the Welsh Government should use the opportunity to strengthen its commitment to tackling climate change in Wales.

Plaid Cymru has long called for establishing statutory climate change targets for Wales to help drive the change we all want to see. Wales is currently the only UK nation with no targets or proposed targets in place, and I believe the forthcoming Environment Bill offers a perfect opportunity for us to finally catch up with the rest of the UK.

When I challenged the Natural Resources Minister on this very issue last week his rambling answer left me wondering how committed his Government really is to tackling climate change. I offered him two opportunities to make clear his aspirations, but on both occasions he was less than committal.

There is already cross-party agreement to the aim of cutting emissions by 40% from 1990 levels by 2020. Plaid Cymru believes we must now enshrine this, or an even more ambitious target, in law. So far, as was painfully demonstrated by the Minister last week, he and his predecessors have been fudging the issue.

Wales has led the rest of the UK on environmental policies and legislation in the past as the first nation to introduce statutory recycling targets and the first UK nation to introduce a plastic bag charge. As stated by the Minister for Natural Resources when the latest recycling figures were released in November 2014: “We are still the only UK government that has set statutory recycling targets and this focus is delivering results.”

Wales is not performing as well on cutting carbon emissions as it is on increasing recycling and a number of the Welsh Government’s recent decisions have called into question its commitment to this issue. These include its decision on the M4 corridor and its roll-back on improving the energy efficiency of new homes. The Government’s recent Climate Change Annual Report showed carbon emissions up 3.3% – missing its own target of a 3% annual reduction. There was also an increase of 5% against the target of a 40% reduction in emissions by 2020. These decisions coupled with the missed target calls into question the Government’s commitment to tackling climate change and its reasons for opposing statutory targets.

In the meantime, the Northern Ireland Executive is taking forward proposals for a Northern Ireland Climate Change Act and the Scottish Government has put statutory targets in place through the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009. Scotland’s targets are to reduce emissions by 2050 by 80% compared to 1990 levels, with an interim 42% target for 2020. Underneath this, it sets annual targets through secondary legislation. It also has targets in place to generate the equivalent of 100% of Scotland’s gross annual electricity consumption through renewable sources by 2020 and for renewable sources to provide the equivalent of 11% of Scotland’s heat demand by 2020.

An ambitious government could cut emissions and make Wales fully self-sufficient in renewable electricity by 2035 through increasing generation from renewable sources, cutting generation from fossil fuels, and an ambitious programme to lower energy consumption through rolling out a nationwide retrofitting scheme and raising the efficiency standards for new builds.

The current trajectory suggests Wales is falling short on climate change. Introducing statutory climate change targets in the proposed Environment Bill would be a clear and unequivocal national statement that Wales is serious about tackling climate change.

Llyr Gruffydd AM is a Plaid Cymru Assembly Member for the north Wales region and Shadow Minister for Sustainable Communities, Energy and Food.

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