Wales: A small nation with a big ambition to tackle climate change

Reading time: 8 minutes
11 September 2018

by Lesley Griffiths AM, Cabinet Secretary for Energy, Planning and Rural Affairs, Welsh Government

Wales has been a proud Steering Group member of the Under2 Coalition over the last few years, and in that time, I have actively seen the influence, ambition and reach of states and regions increase. In times of global adversity and change, it is even more important as leaders that we act on our global, national and individual responsibility towards climate change.

In 2002, 22 regional governments came together to develop the Gauteng Declaration, which recognised the roles of regional governments in sustainable development, and created the Network of Regional Governments for Sustainable Development (nrg4SD). Now, over 15 years later, states and regions have been formally recognised as key stakeholders by the UN and have developed additional key networks such as the Under2 Coalition to work together to tackle key global challenges we face. As states and regions, we are making our own commitments to climate action and will continue to do so at major global events like the Global Climate Action Summit taking place this month in California. This major summit is not about debating over text, it’s about driving action, implementation and ambition. 

The Paris Agreement has set the context for tackling one of the biggest threats we will ever face: climate change. But it is states and regions that are key to the innovation, ingenuity and delivery. 

I am pleased to see how the Under2 Coalition has, in a short space of time, grown in numbers and ambition. The Under2 Coalition, which now has 206 jurisdictions, from 43 countries and collectively represents nearly $30 trillion in GDP, equivalent to nearly 40% of the global economy. Together, the Under2 Coalition are taking over 2,300 climate actions across key sectors such as buildings, energy, transport, land use and more. However, we recognise the need to do more and continually grow in numbers of members and actions, showing the scale and reach, exemplifying what can be done with joint working and collaboration. It is networks and initiatives like these which are needed if we are going to be successful in the transition.

For a country which was once at the forefront of the industrial revolution with the biggest coal port in the world, in Wales, we recognise we have a major challenge in decarbonising. However, the transition to a low carbon economy brings opportunities around clean growth, quality jobs, as well as wider benefits such as better places to live and work, clean air and water and better health.

Although we are relatively small, we are ensuring Wales plays a major part in the fight against climate change and acknowledge we can have an impact. Wales was the first fair trade nation in the world. We have gone from being nearly at the bottom of the EU recycling league in 2000 to now being first in the UK, second in Europe and if Wales was recognised as a nation state, we would be third in the world.

We’ve planted a staggering 6 million trees in Uganda - improving the lives of more than half a million Ugandans. This project is also linked to the Welsh Government’s Plant! scheme. Plant – meaning child in Welsh – celebrates the birth of every child born or adopted in Wales by planting two trees. One is planted in woodland in Wales ensuring trees for our future generations and the other is planted in Mbale, helping us reach our target of 10 million trees. Most recently, Wales became the first country in the world to legislate for delivering the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015. We’re also implementing our legislative framework to demonstrate how the key workstreams covered by the UN on Climate Change and Biological Diversity can be integrated at the state and regional level to drive real change.

I am so proud to see how states and regions are now being recognised as key to the transformation and opportunities that a low carbon economy brings. Since the Under2 Coalition General Assembly at COP22 in Marrakech and Bonn, I too have been driving action and have set out my ambition to make the Welsh public sector carbon neutral by 2030. Although the public sector plays a small part of Wales’ total emissions, collectively it has one of the largest estates in Wales and enormous collective buying power. We expect to have nearly £70m invested in public sector energy projects by the end of this government term. By 2030, we have committed to 70% of our electricity consumption being generated by renewable energy, with one Gigawatt of renewable electricity capacity in Wales to be locally owned. By the end of the year, I will put in legislation emission levels for Wales to ensure we have a pathway to get us to our 2050 ambition.

However, the success of our transition and everyone else’s transition will only come if we share our learning, ideas and actions. The Global Climate Action Summit provides a perfect opportunity to do this. I look forward to the Under2 Coalition General Assembly and the Summit, working with others and building on the genuine relationships we have, and continue to make, if we are going to transition to a low carbon economy.

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