Emergency: serious situation requiring immediate action
“If we're in nature and climate emergencies, where's the urgency?” writes Delyth Jewell MS
This article was published in Wales Online on 13 October 2021
The image of someone stood knee deep in water looking despairingly at the flooded ruins of their home is something that is becoming all too familiar here in Wales. Whether it’s rising groundwater levels, issues with mine shaft blow outs during storms, or sheer volume of rain water – if our climate continues to change, these sights will only become more familiar.
In fact, this change in climate was recognised by the Welsh Government back in 2019, when a Plaid Cymru debate prompted the Welsh Government to call a climate emergency.
The word ‘emergency’ according to the dictionary, is a ‘serious, unexpected, and often dangerous situation requiring immediate action.’
It’s that part – ‘requiring immediate action’ – that stands out for all the wrong reasons, two and a half years after the emergency was declared. How many floods have happened in that time?
I’m not saying that every flood could have been stopped, but I’m questioning whether we’ve seen ‘immediate action’. Actually, I have heard that some of the action taken – like tree felling on the hills – may have contributed to flooding in areas that hadn’t previously seen it.
So with this in mind, perhaps you can forgive me for wondering what will be done following the nature emergency declared in June of this year. Another emergency that, by definition, requires immediate action. Yet here we are three and a half months later, wondering whether anything has happened.
To remind readers of why the emergency was declared in the first place: 30% of mammals are at risk of disappearing from Wales, more than half of our butterflies have disappeared since the 1970s and we’re currently in the bottom 7% of countries in terms of biodiversity intactness - that’s the measure of how much nature is left compared with a pristine state.
This is why I’m bringing a new debate to the Senedd this week, to call on the Welsh Government to do everything in its power to act for climate and nature.
The timing is crucial – as we’re at a turning point in human history. Wales must take the initiative and set an example ahead of, during, and following COP26 on Climate and COP15 on Biodiversity. If we are ambitious, we can pave the way, by truly leading on actions to halt disaster, rather than languishing at the bottoms of biodiversity tables.
Nature and climate are inextricably linked. The causes of each emergency are intertwined, and it follows that their solutions should be similarly connected. That’s why I’ll also be calling on the Welsh Government to pledge parity in their approach taken to tackle climate change and biodiversity decline.
So what should the Welsh Government be doing?
As I see it, their action should be twofold. Firstly, there is much they can do in terms of developing our grid, energy projects and ports. It is no overstatement to say that Wales has not yet fully realised its potential to be a world-start player in renewable energy. This really is the purpose of my debate: to push for radical action from the Welsh Government so that our country can reach its potential and play its part in the world’s green future.
The Welsh Government must develop port infrastructure to help with local supply chains, and to support the emerging offshore wind sector. Moreover, they must address the lack of grid capacity which is stopping us being able to deploy and develop renewable energy installations of all sizes. Addressing these two factors – the grid and ports – will allow us to explore the potential for energy projects and allow Wales to be an active player in clean energy for the benefit of our economy, environment and health.
The second key point is that not every lever is actually in their hands. Welsh Government must seek the full devolution of energy powers and powers over the crown estate. If we are to maximise our renewable potential, we must do so on our own two feet, with powers at our disposal.
The Crown Estate functions as a publicly owned property business with significant assets in Wales and far-reaching control, including over our seabed, with revenues disappearing into HM Treasury after a twenty five percent cut for the Royal family. The Crown Estate’s control over our seabed means we’re on the verge of missing out on the green economic rents of our own natural resources.
The Crown Estate in Scotland was devolved to the Scottish Government in 2017, why not to Wales? After all, the resources of Wales, should be governed by the Government of Wales, for the people of Wales. It’s as simple as that, surely?
We must all recognise Wales’s historical and current role in global climate change and biodiversity decline, but it is the Welsh Government that must act on behalf of Wales and its people, so we can play our part in global efforts to avert further disasters. Crucially, they must act with the urgency that the act of declaring an emergency demands.