26 Jan 2021
Wales is at a critical crossroads in its history and needs to address multiple emergencies – COVID-19 recovery, the climate and ecological emergency and ongoing inequalities in our nation. Some may say that GDP and economic growth should be prioritised following the damage caused by COVID-19. But we know what really matters: people, communities, and improving the world for our younger generations. Wales needs a detailed Climate Action Plan which lifts us out of COVID-19 and ensures a fairer, more sustainable future for both people and planet.
We’ve written a detailed plan you can download, or you can read on for a summary of the key policies we believe our next government should pursue, following the 2021 Senedd elections.
Wellbeing above GDP
Wales must follow the lead of New Zealand and prioritise living standards as a measure of progress, rather than GDP. With help from the public, the next government must develop and implement a Welsh Living Standards Framework to ensure wellbeing is the focus of economic policy.
The annual fiscal budget must line up with the framework, as must all major policy announcements (for example, the infrastructure strategy, COVID-19 recovery plans, etc).
Our current carbon reduction pathway – which sets out how and when we should achieve “net zero” carbon emissions – is not ambitious enough and doesn’t properly reflect the commitment in Wales to be globally responsible. The Environment (Wales) Act must be amended by regulation to set an updated pathway in law, with annual progress reports made to the Senedd. This will require reaching net zero well before 2045.
The Welsh government mustn’t invest in (or give permission to) new high-carbon infrastructure such as new roads or gas-fired power plants, which are incompatible with the net zero goal.
Protecting the vulnerable
Wales, like other countries, will suffer from more extreme weather events. Storms Ciara, Dennis and Jorge caused havoc in Wales in the 2019/20 winter with over 1,000 homes flooded, some of which were flooded again in the summer of 2020.
The Welsh government and local authorities should identify neighbourhoods that are at high risk of flooding or extreme heat, are environmentally disadvantaged, and have a high proportion of vulnerable people. They should prioritise working with these communities – in a participatory set up such as citizens’ assemblies or juries – to develop and fund community climate adaptation and prevention plans, including nature-based solutions.
The economy in every part of Wales has suffered because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Prioritising the growth of a green economy will create much-needed jobs, thereby helping those who lost their jobs due to the pandemic as well as increasing Wales’s economic resilience.
The Institute of Welsh Affairs estimates that over 20,000 jobs could be created by investing in home energy efficiency and maximising Wales’s abundant renewable power potential. Work would also be created in strengthening the electricity grid, energy storage and energy management.
While the numbers of fossil fuel jobs lost will be dwarfed by the potential new green economy jobs, it’s important that the Welsh government prioritises retraining for staff in the fossil fuel industry to ensure a just transition to a growing green economy that leaves no-one behind.
Transport is the problem sector in Wales for carbon emissions, with just a small reduction in emissions since 1990.
Positive change for communities and climate is possible if universal service standards are set and public transport (buses, trams and trains) is coordinated and controlled. Rural areas should have a guaranteed hourly service running from 6am to midnight, while denser urban settlements should have a guaranteed 15-minute service. Given the financial impact of COVID-19 on public transport, the Welsh government must fast-track the franchising of buses.
The government must also aim to at least double the proportion of journeys made by walking, cycling and public transport by 2030. It should use fiscal measures and incentives to achieve this, such as:
- free bus travel
- reduced train fares
- grants for e-bikes.
If the Welsh government invests in good segregated pathways and e-bike schemes, the proportion of journeys possible by bike would rise to 21% (even in hilly Wales!).
When cars are needed, for example in very rural areas, car-sharing should be encouraged and supported, including by employers.
Read “A Wales Transport Policy fit for the Climate Emergency” (pdf) for a more detailed breakdown of how to improve the sector.
There are around 2,000 premature deaths in Wales annually because of air pollution, with the worst levels recorded in the poorest areas. The government has committed to a new national air pollution monitoring network by December 2021 and promises to reduce air pollutants to below WHO guidelines, but it must now make that commitment law by introducing a Clean Air Act for Wales.
Achieving those reductions will mean shifting from cars to public transport and active travel, as well as requiring action in some areas on domestic wood burning in open fires and inefficient wood-burning stoves, and agricultural practices, as well as industrial emissions.
Clean Air Zones should rapidly be implemented in pollution hotspots, with immediate targeted action in Cardiff, Swansea, and Newport.
Green space and nature
Good quality green space isn’t just good for the planet – it’s great for our physical and mental wellbeing too.
The provision of good quality public green space within a 5-minute walk of all Welsh households should be a government priority. To help achieve this target, government could:
- make some roads open to pedestrians, cyclists and residents only
- re-purpose car parks
- open access to green space currently closed to the public.
The Welsh government should make the aspiration of 100,000 hectares of new woodland by 2030 an official target and increase funding to ensure the deadline is met. It should also support tree planting in urban areas to a minimum of 20% tree cover and protect existing trees and public green spaces.
Food and farming
Farming is incredibly important to Wales, both culturally and economically. Most farmers understand the climate and ecological emergency and know that change is needed. But in many cases current practices just aren't sustainable enough. The Welsh government must commit to a farming strategy that focuses on quality produce whilst restoring nature and reducing carbon emissions and sequestration. A commitment to maintain the ban on GM crops would form part of this.
The strategy must support farmers in the transition to more sustainable farming methods, as well as support diversification. For example, through increasing Welsh timber production.
All public procurement of food should prioritise the purchase of Welsh-produced food and the meeting of healthy eating standards that require a significant reduction of meat and dairy consumption. This would be helped by establishing a voluntary Welsh eco-label to highlight environmentally friendly produce.
Only a third of properties in Wales are well insulated and 12% of households are in fuel poverty. The Welsh government should make energy efficiency a priority by increasing funding and pushing for more devolved powers to improve efficiency both in owner-occupied homes and the private-rented sector.
New housing developments must be built with climate and sustainability in mind – planning policy must ensure homes are:
- only located where there’s good quality public transport and cycling and walking infrastructure
- free from fossil fuel energy
- energy efficient and future-proofed for more extreme weather.
One of the main ways we can mitigate climate breakdown is to switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy. The Welsh government’s current target is for 70% of electricity to come from renewable energy by 2030, but it should extend that aim to 100% by 2035, including through community-owned renewable energy capacity.
The Welsh government must use the forthcoming National Development Framework to make Wales as attractive as Scotland for new build renewable energy and storage and lobby to ensure barriers are removed. Wales’s renewable energy industrial strategy should capitalise on the expertise of universities and on the dynamism of start-ups, but it also needs strong political commitment to ensure it succeeds.
Consumption and waste
Wales is ahead of the rest of the UK in waste and recycling and boasts the 3rd best recycling levels in the world. But there’s still room for improvement. We should bring the zero-waste goal forward from 2050 to 2030 and develop a more circular economy.
While the government can’t control how products are designed (nor, therefore, how recyclable they are), it can take other measures to encourage a more circular economy and achieve a zero-waste goal by 2030 (instead of the current 2050 target). These include:
- Phasing out the use of the two existing incinerators in south Wales and refusing permission for any new incinerators.
- Using all the policy levers at its disposal to reduce waste and encourage reuse, such as a deposit return scheme for drinks bottles.
- Creating an online “one-stop shop” for public information and advice (to cover issues as diverse as “how to set up a repair shop?” to “how to dispose of an old mattress?”).
- Aiming to be a world-leader in sustainable procurement by using its buying power to reduce negative environmental impacts at home and overseas.
Please contact our team in Wales if you would like to get involved in a campaign to make the Climate Action Plan for Wales happen.