Issues and Challenges for Councils
Climate Change, Decarbonisation & Biodiversity
The Paris Agreement is a legally binding international treaty on climate change. It was adopted by 196 Parties at COP 21 in Paris, in December 2015 and entered into force in November 2016. Its goal is to limit global warming to well below 2, preferably to 1.5 degrees Celsius, compared to pre-industrial levels. Even if the world achieves these aims, the UK will face significant further changes in climate to 2050 and beyond.
By 2050 the heatwave summer of 2018 will be a typical summer, summer rainfall could fall by as much as 24% and winter rainfall increase by as much as 16%, changes that will impact our well-being, the natural environment and the economy.
The impact of climate change is increasingly being felt by the people of Wales, from the impact on coastal communities like Fairbourne in the north, to the devastating floods in South Wales. The public expects councils to take action on climate change.
Through the Environment (Wales) Act 2016 (Amended), Wales has set a legal target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 100% of the 1990 baseline levels by 2050, with interim targets of 63% by 2030 and 89% by 2040. Welsh Government have also set the Welsh public sector the non-statutory target of achieving net zero emissions by 2030.
Welsh Government have also set the Welsh public sector the non-statutory target of achieving net zero emissions by 2030. The Route Map for Decarbonisation across the Welsh Public Sector outlines the priority areas that councils and other public sector organisations should focus on in order to meet net zero greenhouse gas emissions; procurement, land use, mobility and transport, and buildings. It also provides a series of milestones to meet on the journey to 2030.
In 2021 the Welsh Government issued its second carbon budget, Net Zero Wales, for the period of 2021 – 2025. The plan included a series of commitments for local authorities that were co-developed by the Local Government Climate Strategy Panel, Welsh Government and the WLGA.
An example of some of these commitments are;
All public buildings are supplied with low carbon heat by 2030 and generate their own electricity where feasible
Set out carbon reduction specifications in all new or reviewed contracts to accelerate the decarbonisation agenda.
Carbon sequestration seen by leaders as a valid core purpose for use of public land and opportunities actively pursued by local authorities on their own land, including habitat restoration, tree planting etc as appropriate.
Mobility and Transport
All new cars and light goods vehicles being net zero/ultra-low emission by 2025
A full list of the commitments for councils in the Net Zero Wales plan can be found here (p.204-205).
Well Being of Future Generation Act
In keeping with the Well Being of Future Generation Act’s five way of working, councils are thinking long-term when considering interventions for reducing carbon emissions. Solutions will vary according to the local context, however the biggest impacts are likely to be achieved through decarbonising energy, transport, buildings, and procurement. Rural communities may be able to provide carbon sequestration (capturing and storing carbon dioxide) and provide renewable energy from wind or water. In more urban areas, heat networks (distribution of heat from a central source to a number of domestic or non-domestic buildings) and active travel (walking or cycling) 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.
State of Natural Resources Report
Natural Resources Wales’ (NRW) State of Natural Resources Report (SoNaRR) for Wales 2020 shows a significant decline in biodiversity in Wales (as across much of the UK and Wales). It highlights that:
- Of the 6,500 species found in Wales, 523 (8%) were threatened with extinction from Great Britain.
- A total of 666 (17%) were threatened with extinction from Wales, with another 73 having been lost already.
Councils have a clear role in helping to halt the decline in biodiversity in Wales, and under Section 6 of the Environment (Wales) Act 2016 have legal requirement ‘to publish a plan setting out what they propose to do to maintain and enhance biodiversity and promote ecosystem resilience.’