A time for delivery on climate change

Jessica McQuade explains how Wales can play its part in tackling global climate change at COP21.

Climate change has consequences for all spheres of existence on our planet. It either impacts on – or is impacted by – global issues and environmental degradation. It threatens the species, places and communities that matter most to us.

We must address climate change if we are to ensure the livelihoods of people and the survival of species all over the world. At the very heart of the response to climate change lays the need to reduce emissions.

The UN climate negotiations starting in a week’s time will be a key milestone in the climate change struggle, representing the most important global moment for progress on climate action since COP15 in Copenhagen in 2009. The climate movement must capture this window of opportunity.

WWF wants the outcome of COP21 to be a fair, ambitious and transformational international agreement that lays the foundation for increasing ambition over time.

But what does this mean to Wales? How does Wales, a very small country, play its part in a very big global problem?

Over the last 5 years Wales has made continuous statements on the importance of tackling climate change and the need for us to play our part in the global challenge.  The outcome of COP21 is therefore important as we want the world to be best-placed prevent the devastating impact on people and planet of the temperature rising more than 2°c above pre-industrial levels.

The Welsh Government’s most important role in run-up to and after COP21 is to demonstrate how we are standing alongside other countries in the world committing to serious, fast and fair emission reduction. Our policy commitment to 40% reduction by 2020 demonstrates that and is important to maintain, particularly within the Environment Bill currently going through National Assembly scrutiny.

The Welsh Government is part of a regional government collective nrg4SD which provides a platform for sub-state governments to showcase their activity and have a collective voice at COP21. Wales is not influential as a devolved nation in UK government negotiations but we can shout loudly to everyone who wants to listen about we are doing alongside Scotland and other progressive, regional governments and try get everyone to do the same.

Of course this all means nothing unless we actually deliver against the rhetoric. The development of the Welsh Government’s sustainable development governance framework should really help.

With the Well-being of Future Generations Act’s requirement for sustainable development to be our primary organising principle, we should be able to go a long way to putting emission reduction in the mix of decision-making.  This should mean, for example, the next government’s infrastructure plan should have low-carbon developments as the main bulk of capital spend – more spending on public transport and energy efficiency of homes should follow.

The Environment Bill provides the level of detail under the Well-being of Future Generations Act to help ensure reducing emissions is given momentum. This Bill brings Wales up to speed with the UK and Scotland’s legal frameworks. It introduces statutory climate change targets for Wales, a requirement to produce a plan for how to meet these targets and report on progress. WWF Cymru is calling for improvements to the Bill to bring it up to the standard, if not more progressive in parts, than the Scottish or UK climates acts. A statutory commitment to preserve their policy commitment of reduction of 40% by 2020 is one of these asks. This will allow Wales to stand alongside them at COP21 as forerunners in climate governance and demonstrate we are serious about taking meaning action

The big challenge for the Welsh Government will be delivery within this strong framework. The next Programme for Government needs to have substantive emission abatement programmes and a shift away from over reliance on UK Government energy polices dictating progress. Energy production in Wales has a big effect on our emissions, which the Welsh Government currently has limited control over, but there are many activities the Welsh Government needs to do to mitigate this. We can no longer continue to wait until full devolved energy powers. We need a more proactive strategy.

For example, WWF Cymru is calling for a large scale-up of Welsh Government energy efficiency programmes. Our research by the Energy Savings Trust showed Arbed and Nest accounted for only 8% of overall emission reduction in the residential sector. The Welsh Government can take control and make a commitment to substantial programmes in energy efficiency which will drive emissions in Wales down. (You can find out more by reading my blog on our research).

As we approach COP21, there is a lot of international talk about the ‘ambition gap’ and the need to identify concrete steps to close it. Along with other countries, there is a real danger that the Welsh Government falls into this. Despite the great framework we are creating in Wales, which we should celebrate and share, we also need to come back and deliver. It is what’s being termed as ‘beyond Paris’.

The Welsh Government need to makes sure that ‘beyond Paris’, Wales, along with the rest of the world, creates a better planet for future generations.

Jessica McQuade is Policy and Advocacy Officer at WWF Cymru.

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