Llyr Gruffydd argues Wales must play its full part to stop climate change
Climate change is the single biggest challenge facing humanity. That is now a fact.
Earlier this month, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published a landmark report that concluded that governments must take urgent, unprecedented and far-reaching action by 2030 in order to limit global warming to a maximum of 1.5 degrees Celsius.
The consequences of global inaction could lead to dangerous heat levels, drought, floods and extreme poverty for millions of people all around the world.
Wales is not exempt from this however the Welsh Government is currently demonstrating a serious lack of leadership on reaching environmental targets.
In January this year the Welsh Government, along with the UK Government, was taken to court by ClientEarth for failing to both tackle illegal levels of nitrogen dioxide and to draw up a compliant air pollution plan. There are still no targets set for reducing energy demand and the Welsh Government is also unlikely to reach its targets for reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 2020.
Plaid Cymru believes that all decisions over energy and the use of our natural resources should be made in Wales. Whilst this is not currently the case, it does not provide the Labour Welsh Government with an excuse not to take action now in the areas they can.
For example, Plaid Cymru would look to establish a national energy company, Ynni Cymru, to help achieve the goal of generating as much electricity as is consumed in Wales from renewable energy by 2035.
Ynni Cymru could use profit from Welsh resources to cut the cost of energy for Welsh consumers, improve the energy efficiency of Welsh homes and businesses to cut energy bills; invest in home and municipal battery storage; and provide mass installation, outsourced to local companies, of solar panels on the roofs of households, business premises and lampposts in Wales.
Uruguay, which has a population similar to Wales, has succeeded in ensuring, in less than 10 years, that 95% of their electricity is generated from renewable energy, reducing their carbon footprint and reducing people’s bills simultaneously. Germany has committed by 2050 to ensure that 80% of its energy comes from renewable sources, and that it cuts its use of energy in buildings by 80% and creates millions of jobs in so doing.
Increasing energy supply through renewable energy is also crucial in achieving energy self-sufficiency and to do this we need to move away from the hub-and-spoke model of energy produced in large power stations and transferred across the nation through an ineffective, costly grid and move to a model of decentralised energy and a nationwide network of smarter local grids that can prioritise use of renewable energy with the energy produced closer to where it is used.
Under this system, which is increasingly the norm in countries such as Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands, local communities are in greater control of energy generation and distribution, cutting out energy companies and generating lower bills for local people.
Reducing the demand for energy is the most important aspect of switching to a smarter energy future. Households in the UK spend 80% of energy costs in heating homes. We therefore need to ensure that homes are as efficient as possible in terms of energy usage. Under the EU’s energy performance and building directive, every building, has to be close to zero emissions by the end of 2020.
Plaid Cymru would opt for near zero energy buildings and roll-out energy positive houses which are capable of exporting more energy to the electricity grid than they use and ensure a significant increase in investment in retrofitting housing and strengthening building regulations to achieve the objective of near-zero energy buildings. Retrofitting the existing housing stock must also be done as a matter of urgency and the positive work carried out through Welsh Government programs such as Arbed and Nest need to be upscaled as a matter of urgency.
The Assembly Environment and Sustainability Committee report A Smarter Energy Future for Wales outlined a vision that received cross-party support on the future of energy in Wales. This vision sets out how we can achieve our ethical and legal responsibilities to tackle climate change but also how taking charge of responsibly harnessing our natural resources could generate wealth for the people of Wales and empower local communities to be more proactive in deciding their own energy futures.
The report sets out how Wales should set annual targets to reduce energy demand and to help people use energy more efficiently as well as targets for increasing renewable energy production in Wales, including a date for energy self-sufficiency.
Welsh resources must be used sustainably.
We need to implement a fracking ban in Wales and Clean Air Act for Wales to phase out the sale of diesel and petrol only vehicles by 2030 in the fight against air pollution – much like China is considering. Air pollution causes 2,000 early deaths in Wales per year with Port Talbot, Chepstow, Cardiff, Newport, and Swansea reporting illegal and damaging levels of air pollution in 2015. Through such an Act we could create clean air zones in towns and cities, with communities having the right to place pollution-monitoring equipment outside schools and hospitals, and local authorities enabled to introduce pollution and congestion charges.
Plaid Cymru have been clear from the beginning that the M4 black route is not the right option as the Future Generations Commissioner’s report, published in September, confirms. The government’s support for the black route is based on a flawed options appraisal conducted in 2013 which the report describes as being ‘limited in scope and ambition’. Crucially, if such an appraisal was carried out today using Welsh Government’s own updated 2017 transport guidelines, then the black route option would be discredited. It is not fit for the Wales we are building for our future generations and it must be reconsidered at once.
Plaid Cymru would look to create plans that are both acceptable for residents in the Newport area and part of a nation-wide transport package to create a connected, sustainable, and green transport system for the whole of Wales. This must be coupled with charging points for electric vehicles and ‘active travel’ and increased use of public transport.
Plaid Cymru are proud of our radical and innovative green policies that are pillars of a vision of the New Wales that we champion. But, when facing the climate change challenge we need everyone to pull their weight.
The Welsh Government must report back to the Assembly on what significant action it will take in response to the report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The Welsh Government, the National Assembly for Wales and all public organisations in Wales all must play our part in the global movement to meet the climate change challenge.
Climate change is the single biggest challenge facing humanity. We all have a collective responsibility to prevent it.
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