Jessica McQuade says climate change is a social and economic issue as well as an environmental one

October 24th, 2013

Amid all the noise about economic growth, jobs, public sector cuts and energy prices, all of us in Wales would do well to re-engage with the issue of climate change and its impact on our current priorities as a nation.

I’ve recently joined WWF Cymru as Policy and Advocacy Officer, at a critical time for climate change policy in Wales. I am a member of the Climate Change Commission for Wales and attended the Rio+20 Earth Summit so I have a particular interest in how we tackle climate change from a social justice perspective.

September saw the publication of the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change  5th Assessment Report that confirmed the science. The scientists are 95 per cent certain that humans have caused the majority of climate change since the 1950s.

They also have a far clearer picture of the toll climate change is already taking on our environment: Sea level rise is accelerating, our oceans are acidifying, and the rate of Arctic sea ice retreat has doubled.

There is a strong economic argument for tackling climate change. The Stern Review demonstrated that the benefits of strong, early action far outweighs the costs of not acting. Stern showed how emissions are driven by economic growth. Yet stabilisation of greenhouse gases is feasible and consistent with continued growth – it depends on what kind of growth we choose.

Importantly, the Stern Review also showed how climate change will impact disproportionally on the poorest people in the world. This also applies to the poorest people in Wales. Climate change is a social and economic issue as well as an environmental one.

In my first week in post it was good to see that the Minister responsible for Wales’ efforts on climate change, Alun Davies, tweeting: “The #IPCC report shows the evidence is clear. We’re committed to continuing our action to tackle climate change.”

The Minister certainly ‘gets’ the science – in contrast to some Westminster politicians. His recent budget statement to committee included references to green growth – strongly suggesting he also ‘gets’ the economic argument. The question is now whether he and his colleagues also ‘get’ the sort of climate policy that we need to respond to the science.

In terms of our progress, we’ll soon get a good indication of how Welsh Government is doing in terms of bringing down our emissions – in the first ever report on Welsh Government’s progress against its 2010 Climate Change Strategy.

It’s likely the report will show the government is on target to meet its 3 per cent reduction in ‘areas of devolved responsibility’. It will be interesting to see how much of this is to do with the direct impact of Welsh Government climate change policy and how much is due to external factors such as the recession.

The other government target is for a 40 per cent reduction of all greenhouse gas emissions in Wales by 2020. This is arguably a more important target than the 3 per cent one, as this is the total impact from Wales on the world.

Achieving this 40 per cent cut will mean reducing emissions from buildings, transport and industry in Wales. Welsh, UK and EU policies, regulations and laws all have an impact.

Approximately two-fifths of this target needs to be met by EU or UK Government measures, and 30 per cent by specific Welsh Government policies.

Some of this 40 per cent target is therefore tied up in UK Government energy policy. Wales’ lack of devolved energy powers is a big challenge for Welsh Government but should not be an excuse for inaction.

Welsh Government has announced that it is reviewing its Climate Change Strategy early next year. In it, the Minister needs to set out a clear plan to achieve the 40 per cent reduction, including what is needed from the UK Government under the current arrangements.

All government policies must be aligned with bringing down emissions – yet decisions such as the recent watering down of energy efficiency standards in new homes suggest there is currently an inconsistent cross-government commitment.

There is plenty of scope for ‘win-win’ solutions which tackle climate change as well as creating jobs and bringing down poverty. For example, the WWF Cymru report Cutting Carbon Emissions in Welsh Homes identified how targeting home improvements at the poorest quality houses in Wales would slash energy bills, cut fuel poverty by 40 per cent, reduce our impact on climate change and create thousands of jobs.

Wales must not duck its international responsibility to play its part. A recent visit to Cardiff from Limin Wang, our colleague from WWF China, was a strong reminder that all countries, big or small, need to act.

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Jessica McQuade is Policy and Advocacy Officer with WWF Cymru.

6 Responses to:“Welsh benefits from cutting carbon emissions”

  1. Natalie says:

    A brilliant piece, but I must add that there is no strong focus on people and their behaviour here. The IPCC report said that human activity was to blame for the rapid climate change we have seen since the 1950′s and when we say “Achieving this 40 per cent cut will mean reducing emissions from buildings, transport and industry in Wales”. We must remember that it is the people in these buildings, the people who use transport and the people who use resources from industry who are creating these emissions and its people who need to change so that the 40% target can be achieved. The Minister must emphasise the importance of behaviour change in the forthcoming strategy.

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  2. Ken Richards says:

    It is encouraging to know that WWF thinks the Welsh Government is headed in the right direction in its response and approach to climate change. Some governments recognise that the challenge of climate change is unavoidable while others have not, despite the muscle flexiing that takes place at Rio-like world events. The adoption of sustainability as a central oorganising principle put the Welsh government into the position of addressing climate change and other problems in a comprehensive way.

    I am not entirely convinced that the approach is working yet, and would feel more comfortable when the current slate of proposed laws is adopted in full. Until then, Ministers are placed in the awkward position of defending positions that may be rooted in well-articulated policies which are based on public consultation, but lack the weight of Wales’ own laws to support them. The question of control over large-scale energy mega projects is also a matter of concern which needs to be addressed, as Dafydd Elis Thomas reminded us a few days ago (http://www.clickonwales.org/2013/10/wales-needs-level-playing-field-on-energy-policy).

    It is also a puzzle as to whether or not the “joined up” approach between departments is actually working. My reading of the recent draft Pollicy Statement for Protected Landscapes in Wales (http://wales.gov.uk/consultations/cultureandsport/landscape/?lang=en) suggests that there is a long way to go before the civil servants emerge from their silos. Early days in the formation of new departments perhaps, but the sooner departments work together as a matter of course the better it will be for their ministers and the public at large.

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  3. R.Tredwyn says:

    I fear policy in this area has reflected the abiding weakness of government in Wales since devolution. A ‘strategy’ document is produced and there is debate over the words – are they strong enough or over-committed? There is a promise to ‘pay regard’ to the strategy in all areas of policy. Meanwhile there are few or no concrete measures set out to implement the strategy. Departmental ministers then proceed as before with their own priorities. Surprise, surprise little or no progress is made to realise the aspirations of the ‘strategy’. Oh dear, think the politicians, the ‘strategy’ has failed, what is the answer? Evidently time for a new ‘strategy’. Return to go.

    You can get good odds from me that this will be no different. If you will means you must will ends. Commitment must be to specific measures. Ministers must be held responsible by the Cabinet for their part in delivering a programme.

    None of that will happen. I think the Welsh Government is vaguely well meaning over ecological sustainability but for them it ranks low compared with material well-being in the here and now and with getting re-elected.

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  4. leigh richards says:

    jessica mcquade writes “Wales must not duck its international responsibility to play its part” with regards to world climate change……and nothing wrong with those entirely laudibe sentiments, but isnt it the case that the entire population of wales could abandon modern civilisation and decamp enmasse to live in caves tomorrow and it would not make an iota of difference to world climate change….not when the world’s major contributors to climate change – notably the united states and china – refuse to observe or ratify international agreements to limit greenhouse gas emmissions. Indeed between them the us and china account for almost half of all greenhouse gases in the world. I would then respectfully suggest to jessica that her energies might be better spent re-engaging on climate change with united states senators and the ruling elite in china.

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  5. John R Walker says:

    “all of us in Wales would do well to re-engage with the issue of climate change and its impact on our current priorities as a nation.”

    That’s right but all the snouts in the fatally flawed carbon dioxide trough are still looking the wrong way – we’re not going to fry we’re going to freeze and a large number of vulnerable people are going to die…

    EVEN the BBC has started to notice we’re heading into either a Dalton or a more serious Maunder solar minimum over the next 20+ years and our current infrastructure and energy policy is woefully inadequate. We’re already 4-5 years into this cooling cycle with no significant warming for 202 months.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/paulhudson/posts/Real-risk-of-a-Maunder-minimum-Little-Ice-Age-says-leading-scientist

    Forget carbon mitigation, forget global warming and start preparing the infra-structure for significant cooling and erratic weather conditions in the northern hemisphere caused by large swings in the Jet Stream which the failed computerised general circulation climate models used by the Met Office and the IPCC cannot simulate. Time is now of the essence to bring the expertise of the astro-physics based weather and climate forecasters into the determination of public policy – like Piers Corbyn of WeatherAction…

    http://www.weatheraction.com/

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  6. John Nicholson says:

    What ever people may think about the short-term, the fact is that digging up millions of tons of fossil carbon and releasing it into the atmosphere as CO2 is going to make a huge change in global carbon positioning. This will inevitably affect our climate sooner or later.

    Add to this the fact that there is a finite amount of fossil derived carbon and the cost of extracting it – be that as coal, oil or gas, will become more and more expensive. Fuel costs will go up – there is no escape.

    I enjoy making my own transport fuel from vegetable oil, I also have a 10 KVA generator capable of providing all my energy needs plus giving me plenty of heat. I can export the surplus power to the grid. I did not buy this equipment with any grant or by robbing those who suffer fuel poverty. I get the same rate as any electricity provider, and it is profitable.

    What sadens me is that the Welsh government have shown such a poor understanding of various proposal I have made to implement realistic renewable energy projects that could have developed existing physical infrastructure. Instead, I now work with partners in China and Africa to take forward ideas that cannot get any support in the UK.

    In my view Britain is falling further and further behind in the development of real alternatives to fossil fuels. This is largely the fault of the British government which is controled by the vested interests of big players.

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