Updated: Oct 4
Lesley Griffiths, the Welsh Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs, outlines the progress of the Welsh Government one year after their declaration of a climate emergency, and reflects on how COVID-19 might change their approach.
It is now more than one year since the Welsh Government declared a climate emergency, in response to the rising threat posed by rapid climate change to our health, economy, infrastructure and our natural environment.
The Welsh Government has committed to achieving a carbon neutral public sector by 2030, and to coordinating action to help other areas of the economy to make a decisive shift away from fossil fuels, involving academia, industry and the third sector.
Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, we have maintained momentum in our response to the climate emergency. This includes new multi-million pound investments in flood and coastal erosion risk management, emergency response capability, active travel schemes, low emissions vehicles, superfast broadband in rural areas, tree planting and a further round of the circular economy fund.
We have been able to press ahead with a number of key environmental improvements and changes, including:
Funding new housing projects across Wales through the Innovative Housing Programme, to encourage the construction of low/zero carbon social housing;
Commencing work on creating the National Forest of Wales; along with the launch of associated community woodland projects, and a new £8million window of the Glastir Woodland Creation Scheme – all of which will contribute to our goal of planting at least 2,000 hectares of new trees each year;
Putting Wales at the forefront of the shift towards active travel, including funding new measures in Rhyl town centre to suspend sections of on-street parking and free up street space for walking and cycling;
Announcing £15m in transport grants to local authorities in support of 18 different schemes across Wales to mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change.
And we are also pleased to note that recent years have also seen Wales either reach or break a number of significant environmental goals:
Remaining on track for the 2020 interim emission reduction target of 27%;
2018 saw a fall in emissions of 31% when compared to base emissions, and eight per cent when compared to the previous year;
In that same year, half of Wales’ demand for electricity was met using renewable energy;
Reducing overall energy usage by 21% since 2005.
While the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted on a number of aspects of public life, and on all of our day-to-day lives, our resolve in tackling these issues and meeting our environmental obligations has only strengthened, not lessened.
As we recover from the aftermath of this pandemic, we are committed to doing so in a way which leads to a fairer, greener and more prosperous Wales, and in line with those commitments set out in our declaration of a climate emergency. This work can only be successful if government, key sectors and the public all work together.
During the pandemic, we have also seen a significant increase in both walking and cycling, and a dramatic increase in home working, which have significantly reduced CO2 emissions.
In repairing the damage to our communities and our economy caused by the pandemic, we want to ensure even more people practise these low-carbon behaviours – and as such, we are on the lookout for Wales’ Low Carbon Heroes.
During lockdown, many people have started practising more environmentally-friendly habits; including things like exercising outdoors, upcycling clothes, growing vegetables and buying local produce.
They can give examples on how they’ve been able to cut down on their own energy use or, whilst having wider benefits to themselves or others during lockdown, and inspire others to follow in their footsteps.
These could be households who have been buying local produce and saving food miles, recycling old clothes, by making a few useful changes, or people who have been cycling and exercising more instead of using their cars.
To support communities to lock-in positive travel habits, Welsh Government has provided £15m new funding for Local Authorities across Wales to reallocate road space, building on record levels of investment in active travel last year.
And in the coming weeks, we will publish a Welsh Government engagement plan, setting out how we will engage all communities and industries in Wales to strengthen our collective efforts. This will include our plans for a digital Climate Week for Wales in November to support the development of our next All-Wales low carbon plan for 2021 to 2026.
I have called on my colleagues in the Senedd to encourage all public bodies, businesses and communities in Wales to be part of creating a truly all-Wales plan to overcome the climate emergency.
We have seen the power of collective action throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, and our response to the climate emergency requires the same collective action.
It is clear that these changes cannot be limited to government, businesses, the third sector or the public alone – we each have distinct responsibilities, and everyone has a role to play in order to ensure our green recovery is effective, and which does not cause any adverse impacts to our environment.