• Climate Change

A coordinated approach to tackling climate mitigation and adaptation 

Wales is a country of some 8,000 square miles (20,722 km²) that is part of the United Kingdom and the island of Great Britain. Areas of policy devolved to Wales include health, education, economic development, transport, agriculture, housing, planning and the environment. 

Wales has a significant share of the UK’s emissions intensive heavy industry and is also a net exporter of energy. As a small but industrialised nation, Wales is striving to demonstrate that action on climate change is possible. This is why the 2010 Climate Change Strategy for Wales was important in not only providing leadership, but also in showcasing concrete processes for tackling emission reduction and adapting to the unavoidable consequences we already face.

The 2010 Climate Change Strategy was ambitious for several reasons. Firstly, it set annual emission reduction targets of 3% every year to 2020 – in areas with devolved responsibility. On the baseline of 34MtCO2e (from the average of 2006-8), an annual 3% reduction equates to 27% in savings by 2020 (or some 9 MtCO2e). The 3% target includes all ‘direct’ greenhouse gas emissions in Wales except those from heavy industry and power generation. The strategy also set target ranges for the emission reduction of particular sectors, outlines how the Welsh Government will work in partnership with different organisations to deliver on the strategy. Finally it includes a Climate Change Adaptation strategy as an integral pillar of the main approach.

The strategy and delivery plans were seen as a foundation to build on over the medium and long term, but the original strategy was intended to be updated. As well as the annual targets, the strategy also sets a 40% reduction target on 1990 levels by 2020. The Climate Change Commission is responsible for successful delivery of the targets, but also that the strategy continues to drive ambition across all elements of Welsh society, from government to communities, businesses and individuals, as well as the production of annual progress reports and recommendations.

The Climate Change Strategy for Wales seeks to embrace the following:

  • A comprehensive approach to behaviour change;
  • The consideration of climate change in all decision making;
  • Delivering increased energy efficiency, making low carbon transport a reality and building the skills to ensure that Wales makes the most of the opportunities associated with a low carbon economy;
  • Ensuring R&D, technology and skills are aligned to maximise potential of climate change business and research;
  • Creating a framework to help us adapt to climate change;
  • Using land use and spatial planning towards a low carbon economy
  • Emission reduction targets for 2020 in the transport, agriculture, waste, residential, business and the public sector.

The Climate Change Strategy for Wales was complimented by the Adaptation Framework, which focused on a national, coordinated response to the impacts of climate change. It works by

  • Building the evidence base on future impacts
  • Capacity building to mainstream adaptation  
  • Communicating the risks and opportunities on adaptation so decision makers are equipped to manage them.

The Adaptation Delivery Plan set out 24 actions that would implement the Adaptation Framework and covers areas including natural environment, infrastructure, health and communities amongst others. 

The Environment (Wales) Act 2016 set a new statutory emission reduction target of a minimum of 80% in 2050 on 1990 levels and provisions to set carbon budgets and interim targets to act as stepping stones towards the long term target.

Wales successfully met its 3% annual emissions target for each year to 2014 and positive progress was made in areas such as domestic energy efficiency and waste management. In 2015 emissions had been reduced against the 40% target by 19% on 1990 levels. However in 2018 the Climate Change Commission confirmed that progress against the goals had been disappointing. Three reasons were cited for the failure of the strategy – namely the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (under which a lot of Welsh heavy industry is covered, the economic make-up of the state and weather patterns, which were not adequately taken into consideration when the plan was first devised.

Other lessons learned highlighted that there was a lack of engagement with the Cabinet on climate change and there was evidence of a lack of collaboration across departments. 

The UK Committee on Climate Change has subsequently advised the Welsh Government to set newer, lower targets for the short term, aligned with the Environment (Wales) Act 2016. The difficulties that the Welsh Climate Change Strategy has encountered highlights the difficulties with taking action in devolved governments, many of the levers and policy areas are reserved at the nationwide (UK) level and therefore achieving tangible, overarching change in this context can be difficult. 

The Climate Strategy for Wales was an ambitious policy direction and setting annual and sectoral targets was something that had not been tried very much elsewhere at the time. Wales has played an important role in experimenting with new policy ideas and approaches and has been challenged largely because the competencies to affect real change are not devolved and there will also be limits to what Wales can do alone in this context. 

Nonetheless, Wales continues to innovate with both the Wellbeing of Future Generations (2015) Act and it’s new Environment (Wales) Act 2016. Framing goals in these new settings is important to tackle some of the issues of buy-in outlined above in order for emission reduction and adaptation responses to continue effectively. 


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