WLGA Leader Cllr Andrew Morgan’s address to Wales Climate Week 2020
6 November 2020
The impact of climate change is increasingly being felt by the people of Wales, be it through the impact on coastal communities like Fairbourne in the north, or through the devastating floods seen recently in south Wales. Action on climate change is no longer a ‘nice to have’, it is an expectation of the public and society at large. But as well as the significant and immediate challenges of dealing with climate change, government at all levels must take a lead in reducing carbon emissions—recognising the significant investment required but also the opportunities this represents.
To meet the ambitious target of creating a net-zero carbon public sector in Wales by 2030, we need an increased level of commitment and speed of change across the whole of government and the private sector. To achieve this, we need:
Leadership: Decarbonisation must be embedded in the DNA of LAs. This requires leadership that understands the seriousness of not acting on climate change, but also the significant opportunities decarbonisation can bring, through the co-benefits to health and the economy. Authorities are already rising to this challenge and decisions and investments are increasingly being made in consideration with their impact on carbon. There must be a recognition that this is a collective challenge across the whole of the public sector, and that we must share resources and knowledge to achieve it.
Investment: With the significant, immediate, and long-lasting impacts of COVID on local authority budgets, delivery of frontline services is of course a priority. As we look to recovery however, it is clear that Wales wants a ‘green’ approach to be taken, and that this period provides a moment of change in which we can look to address ongoing social and environmental issues and build a truly sustainable future. This will require significant investment from government, and it is positive to see the signs of this. Local authorities are uniquely well placed to deliver energy, transport, land use, and buildings projects, generating economic growth and employment, whilst helping to decarbonise Wales. Many authorities have projects planned that can be delivered with the required investment and support.
Long-term planning: In keeping with the Well Being of Future Generation Act’s five way of working, it is crucial that we think long-term when considering interventions for reducing carbon emissions. Without thinking about the impact on future generations, trends, and new and emerging technology, we are at risk of investing in solutions that are not fit for purpose and do not deliver value for money. The WLGA wants to work with its members, Welsh Government, and the third sector, to develop funding and support programmes that are flexible and adaptable and will deliver results long into the future. Authorities themselves are developing long-term decarbonisation actions plans that will guide investment decisions over the next ten years, and it’s important that the whole of government aligns priorities and pulls together in the same direction, as is the emphasis of a ‘Team Wales’ approach to the decarbonisation challenge. We must also ensure authorities are provided with the tools and resources to accurately and consistently baseline and measure progress against the 2030 target. Without data to inform decisions, there is a risk that efforts are not focused in areas that will have the most impact.
Place-based solutions: There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution to reducing carbon emissions in the public sector. Each authority is unique in terms of its landscape, infrastructure, demography, resources, and economy, and it is only by recognising this that we will find solutions that are appropriate. Although we know that the biggest impacts will come from decarbonising energy, transport, buildings, and procurement, the balance of investment in these areas will differ from authority to authority. Rural communities may be able to offer more in terms of land management for carbon sequestration and building on the already substantial renewable energy capacity they offer. In more urban areas, heat networks and active travel may deliver the best returns. Across the whole of wales, retrofitting inefficient housing is a priority, but the solutions used must be appropriate for the specific type of housing stock. There is a balance therefore between achieving economies of scale, whilst ensuring solutions are appropriate to specific, place-based needs.
SUMMARY AND CONCLUSIONS
- There is increasing support from the public to take action on climate change. It is no longer a ‘nice to have’, but an expectation
- Local authorities have a key role to play in decarbonising the Welsh public sector, through the services they deliver, the estate they manage, and the example they can set
- The public sector must continue to develop a clear pathway and framework for achieving the 2030 goal. This requires:
- Strong leadership: without this, we cannot give this the commitment and significant investment
- Collaboration: by the whole public sector, with engagement with the third and private sector — a shared challenge needs shared solutions
- Data and priority-driven decisions: informed and providing value for money in terms of their impact on carbon, co-benefits, and cost
- Sustainable, long-term solutions in line with the WBFGA
- Supported through resources, funding, and policy
For further information contact: Ben Sears