Delivering Wales’ sustainable future

Anne Meikle says the next government must put the emphasis on delivery in terms of sustainability.

Around a year ago, the National Assembly for Wales passed the Well-being of Future Generations Act into law. It’s a pioneering piece of legislation that makes sustainable development the central organising principle of the Welsh public sector.

Wales is the first country in the world that has such a comprehensive governance structure enshrining sustainable development principles in law. That really is a cause for celebration.

The challenge now, however, is properly implementing the Act. The next Welsh Government must take concrete steps to deliver Wales’ sustainable future. The next Programme for Government must be dedicated to delivering on the long-term goals set out in the Act. It is the first test of the new way of doing things and must stand as an example for the rest of the public sector.

We hope that this challenge has been considered by all parties when developing their manifestos. Regardless, the new Welsh Ministers must pursue their new duties with clarity, vision and focus. This Act requires a major culture change. It will require, in all probability, between five and ten years to embed the new ways of doing things.

So WWF Cymru believes the First Minister must set a challenge to Cabinet colleagues to identify three key areas of focus in delivery. They must look at their proposed policies and programmes and identify which have the most potential to maximise the achievement of the goals. They must identify the key levers of change. These may be policy but could also be financial incentives or regulation. They should also identify the key barriers to change in their control. For example, is the financial assessment methodology – their cost/benefit analysis – fit for purpose when trying to give more weight to longer term impacts?

We have identified four key policy areas that we believe must be tackled to demonstrate a proper and serious commitment to delivery.

Warm homes for everyone

A comprehensive programme of energy efficiency measures for our housing stock should be a priority. By upgrading the entire Welsh housing stock to Energy Efficiency Performance Certificate Band C by 2025, we will cut emissions, help tackle climate change, contribute to economic growth and job creation and tackle fuel poverty and its associated health inequalities.

Research by the Energy Savings Trust, which we commissioned last year, showed that we are currently on track to meet our annual 3% emissions reduction target, but that only 8% of reduction in residential emissions between 2007 and 2014 was a result of the Welsh Government’s flagship Nest and Arbed schemes. These must be scaled up, so we believe that energy efficiency should be a National Infrastructure Priority, backed up with a Capital Investment Programme.

A sustainable economy

In today’s connected world, the success and long-term resilience of any nation’s economy depends on being low-carbon and resource-efficient. The Act seeks a prosperous, resilient, and globally-responsible Wales, which has a low-carbon economy that respects environmental limits.

The economy shouldn’t be considered as a silo; the protection and improvement of our natural resources need to be built into the National Infrastructure Plan. We need innovation and investment in resource efficiency, and public procurement which promotes sustainability. We also need to think very seriously about how we’re going to deliver a just transition to a low-carbon economy. That is crucial to Wales’ long-term well-being, so that people who work in carbon- and fossil fuel-intensive industries can take up opportunities in the natural resource and renewable energy sectors. We need the next Welsh Government to develop a clear and credible delivery plan for this.

Healthy and productive seas

Our seas deliver so many benefits: resources in the form of food and energy, jobs, and improvements in health and well-being. But as they get increasingly busy, we need to adequately protect them.

That’s why the next Welsh Government must immediately implement measures that will help Welsh seas reach Good Environmental Status by 2020, as required by the Marine Strategy Framework Directive. We need the ecosystem approach embedded in the way that we plan our marine environment. We must move away from fragmented sectoral planning and consider the seas and all their users together. We need to improve the protection of species and habitats by completing a network of Marine Protected Areas, including in the offshore area, and improve the management of existing protected marine sites. Existing legislation provides the framework for this but we still lack a well-resourced delivery mechanism for these changes.

A Sustainable Development change programme for government

The entire government and public sector need to change the way they think and work. Sustainable development should now be core to everything they do, so the Welsh Government Permanent Secretary should drive and monitor a Sustainable Development change programme for government under the First Minister’s leadership.

People working at all levels should be trained in how they ought to be working differently. Budgetary and financial systems need reviewing so that they reflect the principles of sustainable development – including developing carbon impact assessments. We also need to reform individuals’ and departments’ performance management systems to reflect the changing way that they work.

With just seven or so weeks until we go to the polls, we have been inviting politicians to make ‘Earth Hour pledges’ based on these four key areas for change.

Earth Hour is WWF’s annual global celebration of everything we love about our planet. It’s the world’s largest grassroots environmental movement where millions of people across the world switch their lights off for an hour in a symbolic gesture of appreciation for the Earth, and all the communities, species, and habitats that rely on it.

This year’s Earth Hour takes place at 8.30pm this Saturday 19th March. We’re pleased to have cross-party support for the campaign, including the leaders of all four parties currently represented in the Assembly, as well as grassroots support across the country.

We need to keep up the pressure on politicians and keep the environment on their agenda. By supporting Earth Hour, we can show them that protecting our environment and delivering on the Well-being of Future Generations Act are things we care about.

Anne Meikle is Head of WWF Cymru. Everyone can sign up to WWF’s Earth Hour by visiting and joining the global lights-out at 8.30pm this Saturday 19th March.

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