Will the Climate Emergency lead to emergency actions?

Every decision we make needs to be one made through the lens of climate change argues Bleddyn Lake

Corporal Jones from Dad’s Army used to say ‘Don’t panic, don’t panic’. The message from our planet, our home, is: do panic! We have until 2030 to act decisively and that is not long. On 1st May 2019, two days after the Welsh Government declared a climate emergency, the National  Assembly for Wales became the first parliament in the world to vote to declare a climate emergency.


So that’s it now is it? All sorted? I hate to say it, but we’ve been in a climate emergency for decades. Political inaction at all levels, public lack of knowledge and active political lobbying by businesses and vested interests have all helped to dump us in this very fine mess. What we need now, finally, is action. No excuses, no looking at others to take the lead, no half measures, no exemptions and exceptions. Just action.


How does the climate emergency compare to the financial crisis a decade ago? Which is more important? Will the UK Treasury find £123 billion to pump into climate solutions? Is this emergency ‘big’ enough for the world’s major central banks to create $15 trillion of new money through quantitative easing to help us finance climate solutions? If we are to really get to grips with where our energy comes from, how it is stored and used, how we deal with our natural resources and waste and to revamp our food and agriculture systems and sort out how we move around and live our lives, then that is the scale of action we need to see, right now.


So having a climate emergency in Wales is fine in theory, but that ‘now’ has to be translated into action via actual decisions. It can’t be a theoretical exercise or expressed as a desire that slowly gets pushed further down the track. In Wales, it has to mean that the Welsh Government says no to the M4 Relief Road. If ministers give this policy the go ahead, they may as well just rip up their climate emergency declaration immediately.


Public bodies in Wales need to take their pension fund investments out of fossil fuel companies. The scale of inaction on this issue alone, despite our pushing it with organisations over the last five or so years, has been staggering.


We also need to see plans such as Towards Zero Waste being revised and brought forwards. Bringing this strategy in line with the 2030 deadline (rather than the current 2050 one) would facilitate a major shift, very quickly, in how we act on resource use in Wales. We can’t be building incinerators now: they burn stuff, dress it up as renewable energy and then demand a constant supply of more stuff to burn every year. This approach puts an artificial ceiling on the amount of material we can ever reuse or recycle, as a certain percentage will have to be sent for incineration for the length of the contracts. We need to be thinking about reducing what we use, produce and consume and moving to a circular economy.


Action on all sectors that contribute to climate change needs to be brought forward nationally and locally. It is vital that we keep on pushing our elected representatives to do more and more, but we also need to look at what we can do locally. Maybe a good way to think about your local area is to imagine you have access to Doc Brown’s DeLorean car from Back to the Future and that you type in ‘May 2030’ and suddenly reappear in your area in eleven years’ time. What does it look like? If it looks no different from now, then we haven’t been successful in tackling climate change.


If, however, tree cover is increased, there are healthy air zones around our local schools and nurseries, paper, water and chemical use have been dramatically reduced, single use plastics are a thing of the past, houses have been retrofitted to make them energy efficient and healthier and new homes are being constructed to at least carbon neutral standards, your area is a zero waste community, there are more nature friendly green spaces, how people move around the area has been changed by better public transport, electric vehicles and more active travel, the planning system has changed to encourage carbon neutral lifestyle infrastructure, soil degradation has been addressed, community owned renewables with associated storage and local heat grids are commonplace, the impact of fashion and textile production is minimal, supermarkets and shops are zero waste and have doors on all fridges and freezers (surely this is an easy, quick win? come on!), the food and drink we all buy comes with an environmental footprint code so we can make sustainable choices in what we consume and areas have their own versions of a green new deal, then maybe we will have been successful in averting the worst aspects of the climate and biodiversity emergencies.  


These actions and many, many more solutions all reduce climate emissions, help ease pressure on biodiversity and ecosystems around the world, whilst having other knock on positive benefits for communities and local job creation too. And, helpfully, we can help drive these solutions. We can demand that our politicians provide the framework and help to make these solutions possible and then we need to be prepared to roll our sleeves up and get stuck in.


Climate change, the biodiversity crisis where one million species are at risk and soil degradation leaving us with around 50-60 harvests left worldwide are all coming together in an environmental vortex of pain. This is the fight of our generation. This is our emergency. We know the solutions, we have just about enough time to act if we get on with it now, but we need action. The solutions are many and varied and definitely do not include the M4 Relief Road, a scheme that would increase emissions and trash Wales’ equivalent of the Amazon rainforest in terms of diversity of wildlife. If we say we are in a climate emergency, we have to mean it. Now every decision we make needs to be one made through the lens of climate change and we need crystal clear 20:20 vision, or maybe we should change that to 2030 vision instead.


All articles published on Click on Wales are subject to IWA’s disclaimer.

Bleddyn Lake is Campaigns and Development Manager at Friends of the Earth Cymru

Also within Politics and Policy