The Living Planet Report, which was published recently by the global conservation organisation WWF, highlighted the alarming rate at which species all over the world are declining.
Iconic animals like African elephants, polar bears, and mountain gorillas are all at risk. So are ones that we may be more familiar with like salmon, butterflies, and hedgehogs.
The report found that, unless we take urgent action to turn this around, we could see a shocking 67% decline in vertebrate species by 2020—just four years away.
This isn’t just happening in a far-away land. This is happening here at home in Wales too. Another recent report, the State of Nature, found a third of priority species declined during the last decade.
The most shocking thing is that human activity is driving this. WWF’s report warned that the most serious threats are things like overfishing, unsustainable agriculture, pollution, and climate change.
The truth is that our use of natural resources has grown so dramatically that we are endangering the key environmental systems that are relied upon not only by wildlife but by humans too.
So what does this mean for Wales? And how can we stop this decline in nature so that our grandchildren benefit from a rich and diverse natural environment just as we have done?
The good news is that the last Assembly foresaw this problem when it passed both the Well-being of Future Generations Act and the Environment Act.
Together they set a strong legal system to protect our natural environment both for ourselves and future generations.
Those Acts now need to be delivered. The Government must now consider the effect that all of its decisions and strategies have on the use of natural resources in Wales and globally.
And, in fact, the Living Planet Report suggests we meet that challenge by transforming the way our economy works.
To achieve that, the development strategies and economic models of Government and businesses alike must recognise just how vital our natural resources are.
Not only do they provide us with the food, energy, and materials that are so vital to economic growth, but they’re also essential to flood prevention, crop pollination, and clean air and water.
The Welsh Government recently published its Programme for Government. In it, developing the renewable energy sector and the ‘green economy’ were identified as priorities.
It also recently published its well-being objectives, which build on the Programme for Government by pledging to foster sustainable economic development and a modern, low-carbon economy.
The scale and pace of these programmes will be critical to determining whether the change will be as transformational as it needs to be to address the problems highlighted in the Living Planet Report.
For example, during the previous Assembly, the Environment and Sustainability Committee published ‘A Smarter Energy Future for Wales’.
It suggested Wales should aim to meet all of its energy needs from renewables and, in the context of the need to reduce carbon emissions by at least 80% by 2050, set a target date for achieving this.
My colleagues and I on the current Climate Change, Environment, and Rural Affairs Committee will be exploring this issue over the next Assembly term.
The green economy cannot sit, or be thought of, separately from the economic development strategy. Low carbon and resource-efficiency must be the very essence of the Welsh economy.
Procurement is a key lever to sustainable economic growth. That’s why Wales needs a National Procurement Policy that supports local economies and helps maintain our natural environment.
So I welcome the recent commitment made by the National Procurement Service for Wales to only serve sustainably-sourced fish in public sector venues.
I hope to see them building on that commitment by pledging to only use FSC-certified wood in the public sector.
It is imperative that the public sector leads by example, giving business and industry the incentive to operate in a way that respects the natural environment.
I don’t dispute that this is a significant challenge. That’s why we can’t afford to wait. Faced with the prospect of a 67% decline in species, we must remember that 2020 is only four years away.
Government and politicians must work with businesses and environmental organisations to plan for a low-carbon and resource-efficient economy.
Both the Welsh Government and the National Assembly have recognised the gravity of the problem. Now we need wholehearted commitment from them, and from business, to making change happen.
Tomorrow, WWF Cymru will host Assembly Members and business voices in an event in the Pierhead Building in Cardiff Bay to discuss Wales’ response to the Living Planet Report and building a sustainable Welsh economy. For more information, visit the event web page.
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