Jess McQuade is clear that changing to a low carbon economy in Wales will involve a major restructuring of production and employment
WWF’s Earth Hour, the annual global event that sees millions worldwide switch off their lights, is this year focusing on climate change. Over the last few weeks WWF Cymru has been gathering messages from around Wales about what people want to see happen in Wales to tackle climate change as part of our #WWFMessageinaBottle campaign. We wanted to give people an opportunity to demonstrate the strength of feeling across Wales for tackling climate change which we can then share with politicians with the hope that it will increase the priority given to this challenge in Wales.
Climate change needs to take a more prominent position on the political agenda and be integral to any future investment in Wales. We have some excellent legislation in place but despite well-documented rhetoric, the issue is not given the attention it deserves and the prioritisation needed to meet the challenging transition to a low carbon Wales.
As a result, WWF Cymru feels it is necessary to remind our politicians that climate must now become a priority and be integrated into everything they do. No longer is it a distant, far away environmental issue, but a major economic and social challenge that is keenly felt by the people of Wales – now, but increasingly so in the future.
By responding progressively now, through restructuring our economy and society to be low carbon, we will be able to make the most of the opportunities this could provide, transitioning in a way that will benefit the people of Wales, including those most vulnerable to the impacts.
We have found from our current campaign, Wales We Want and research, including Cardiff University’s European Perceptions of Climate Change, that many people – beyond the usual suspects – want this shift to happen.
So where are we currently in our transition to a low carbon Wales via reducing our greenhouse gas emissions? Latest figures show we are performing poorly. We are not where we should be. Wales only reduced emissions by 18% from 1990 baseline compared to 46% in Scotland. This is largely due to our highly polluting industries and energy generation.
The better news is that we are now in a stronger position than a few years ago to face this challenge thanks to the Welsh Government. We have in place brand new legislation to help change the way decisions are made. The Environment Act has introduced statutory targets for Welsh Ministers to reduce emissions and provides a clear plan for implementation. The Wellbeing of Future Generations Act requires climate considerations to be integrated into decisions made by public bodies.
However, as explained in my previous blog, we are lacking immediate action. For example, the Environment Act’s mechanisms will not be in place until halfway through the Fifth Assembly. This may potentially lead to delayed action and investment, further increasing the gap between ambition and reality on emission reduction in Wales.
It was therefore welcome when Welsh Government recommitted to 40% reductions by 2020. WWF Cymru also welcomed the Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Rural Affairs’ recent Energy Statement, which highlighted the direction of travel. The statement however lacked the detail many environmental campaigners and politicians had hoped for. And that’s what matters: it is the scale and pace of the programmes that will prove vital in meeting our emission reduction targets in Wales.
For example, the £104m over 4 years for Warm Homes was a step in the right direction but steps are not enough, we need a giant leap. Research by WWF Cymru demonstrated that at least 3 times the amount of homes need to be treated than previously undertaken in Wales, in order to reduce emissions from the housing sector at the scale needed.
WWF Cymru and many others have called for a national energy efficiency retrofitting programme for the residential sector to be a priority in the infrastructure plan for Wales. This could provide the financial leverage and joined up programming needed for such a substantial scheme. We are therefore pleased to see the issue raised this week in the National Assembly with recognition from Welsh Government.
Other positive signals that Welsh Government it is starting to prepare for low carbon transition include Tata steel support which will include emission reduction; and the funding of Cardiff University to develop a tool to forecast Wales’s emission pathways over the next 30 years. And there’s more – with councils provided with £3m to boost recycling rates, as well as a £6.5m ‘Circular Economy’ fund to be introduced. But, again, there is no information provided on the emission impact of these schemes, making it particularly hard to assess the efficacy against the targets.
Welsh Government also needs emission reduction to be integrated as a priority across all departments and government programmes. A big test is whether a low carbon economy is at the heart of the anticipated economic strategy from the Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Infrastructure. Investment in a circular and green economy is not a discrete side feature, it is the economic development model for all sectors.
Changing to a low carbon economy will involve major restructuring of production and employment and we need a roadmap for how we will manage our current reliance on high emitting industries and power generation, while simultaneously providing clean green jobs and skills development for people across Wales for this and future generations. It also means we don’t just use GDP as our measure of success, with natural capital indicators taking prominence.
This transition can seem challenging and risky but succumbing to this hesitation will only increase the risk and impact. Other countries across the world are showing how large scale change can be achieved. A new report, Cities100: 100 Solutions for Climate Action in Cities and the Green Economy Coalition showcase many examples. These innovative solutions offer hope and inspiration for Wales.
What is now clear is that environmental organisations are not the only ones seeking these changes. Many people in Wales want this change too. The messages gathered in our ‘Message in a Bottle’ campaign backs this up.
Our campaign is based on the age-old, romantic practice, of sending a message in a bottle, which traditionally inspires the finder to take action and fulfil the wishes of the sender. WWF-Cymru hopes Welsh politicians – who will receive this message – become similarly energised, stirring within them a deep commitment to take urgent action on climate change.
#WWFMessageinaBottle is a project supported by the Arts Council of Wales and players of People’s Postcode Lottery
To submit your message on what action you want to see Wales take on tackling climate change, visit: www.wwf.org.uk/messageinabottle