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Could a small nation teach the world something about tackling climate change?

 

Just a stone’s throw from Paris, a small country is taking a distinctive approach to tackling climate change.

It’s taken six hours or so by train for me to travel to the climate talks from Cardiff, Wales. I’m here with colleagues from Stop Climate Chaos Cymru – a coalition of NGOs – to explain how Wales’ experience could offer some answers to countries looking for solutions to the climate crisis.

For those of you following the COP from further afield, Wales is part of the United Kingdom, with a population of around 3 million.

Our distinct language, love of rugby and hilly landscape are among the things that set us apart from our larger neighbour, England. Since 1999 we’ve also had a degree of elected political autonomy, through the National Assembly for Wales and the Welsh Government.

Of course, in terms of global emissions, Wales is a tiny player. But our approach, and our links to other countries, could have a much bigger impact.

Snowdonia-Photo-by-Denis-Egan-from-Flickr-Creative-Commons-username-theancientbritCenturies of industry have shaped the Welsh landscape. The Wellbeing of Future Generations Act will help determine the country’s future. © Denis Egan (theancientbrit) on Flickr Creative Commons

Passing a strong sustainable development law

Earlier this year, Wales passed the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act (WFG Act). Through this law, the Welsh Government chose to legislate for a duty on all public bodies to carry out sustainable development.

The Act also means that these bodies must work towards Wales’ own sustainable development goals, including action to tackle climate change. This builds on the approach by the United Nations, where there are international agreements on SDGs now being followed up by specific climate mitigation agreements at COP 21 in Paris.

And don’t just take my word for it when I say this is significant globally:

“We hope what Wales is doing today, others will do tomorrow”

– Nikhil Seth, UN Director of Sustainable Development.

Diolch_webMembers of the Wales Sustainable Development Alliance – a broad coalition of social, cultural and environmental organisations – celebrate the passing of the Well-being of Future Generations Act. ‘Diolch!’ is Welsh for ‘thanks!’. © Louise Clarke / WWF Cymru.

The WFG Act places a duty on Government and public bodies to work for the long term benefit of our children and grandchildren, as well as meeting the needs of today.

It includes:

A duty on all public bodies to carry out sustainable development
A set of long term goals for them to achieve, which incorporate action on reducing emissions and adapting to climate change
Governance principles – a set of ways of working, such as giving more weight to the long term impact of decisions
A process for planning and reporting on progress
The establishment of a Future Generations Commissioner

Although we have some way to go in terms of turning this into action, I’m delighted to be able to come to Paris and share such positive progress.

“The Future Generations Act’s message to the world is ‘it can be done!’”

– Dr M Niamir-Fuller, Special Adviser to the UNEP Executive Director on Sustainable Development Goals.

A new approach on climate change

Wales had a duty on sustainable development for over a decade before Government auditors reported it had not resulted in a real shift in decision making. So a legislative approach provides clarity and leadership as well as a process for scrutiny.

With the Goals now in place, the Welsh Government is now developing a further piece of legislation to ensure effective delivery, including on climate change.

The Environment Bill sets out a clear process for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It should drive a shift to a low carbon economy, as well as ensuring we manage all our natural resources in a more sustainable way.

As the world seeks a new climate deal in Paris, I hope what we are doing in Wales will inspire Governments that we can indeed cut emissions to benefit people and nature.

Do you have any questions on how Wales is putting sustainable development into action? Leave your comments below.

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Comments


  • Nigel Pugh

    Isn’t energy not being devolved a huge sticking point, especially when the national drive, is to slash renewables in favour of new out-sourced nuclear, and a drive for shale gas. Energy is our biggest emitter? Community energy combined mixed renewables, sited locally, delivered locally first, smart micro interconnected grids….

    • Richard Nosworthy

      Good question Nigel – a ;lack of joint action from Welsh and UK Governments is a barrier to cutting emissions. We want Welsh Government to do everything it can within the powers it has to address climate change, e.g. scale up action to insulate homes. But it also needs to use its influence on UK Government on areas not devolved e.g. large energy projects, in a positive way that will bring emissions down – Richard at WWF Cymru

      • Nigel Pugh

        Are not energy schemes below 350MW devolved? If this is correct, doesn’t that allow for a heck of a lot of community energy schemes, based on combined mixed renewables, which delivery to that community first? Surplus going to micro smart interconnected grids. Making the most of what is devolved?