Last updated: 02 December 2009
Angharad Penrhyn Jones is an environmental campaigner and freelance writer who lives in Machynlleth in Mid Wales. As part of the BBC Green Wales Season, she's written an analysis of what she sees as the challenges facing Wales in the fight against climate change. You can read other opinion pieces giving a Welsh perspective on environmental questions being raised in the run-up to the Copenhagen Summit - and you can also send us your comments and join the debate.
Until a few years ago, Welsh politicians didn't do themselves any favours by referring to 'the environment' in a public speech.
Though there is a tradition in Wales of opposing nuclear power, we have generally been more interested in pursuing socialist ideals than in confronting ecological problems.
But in the last decade things have changed. Our politicians now mention 'sustainability' at every opportunity and are not so afraid of the 'E' word.
There are good reasons for this. The Welsh Assembly is one of only three administrations in the world with a legal duty to promote sustainable development.
One of the main principles of sustainable development, as outlined by the Welsh Assembly Government, is that we must live "within environmental limits".
But despite the change in political rhetoric, the fact remains that if everyone in the world lived like the Welsh we would need 2.7 planets to sustain us.
And unless we take action, this figure is projected to rise to 3.3 planets by 2020.
Small country, dirty legacy
Our small country has done a surprising amount of damage
Over the past three centuries, our economic activities have helped to destroy the natural resources on which we depend.
With the discovery of iron ore, we led the world into the Industrial Revolution. The furnaces at the ironworks were fuelled by charcoal and caused the rapid deforestation of our countryside.
But we didn't just trash the lush green valleys of South-East Wales. Our revolution had far-reaching implications for every country on earth.
Coal is the dirtiest fossil fuel known to mankind, and our 'black gold' fed the engines of industrial activity all over the world. This activity played a key role in causing the climate crisis we now face.
Wales's 'historic emissions' - the carbon dioxide we have been pumping into the atmosphere since the beginning of the eighteenth century - have helped to destabilise a climate which for the last ten thousand years has been relatively benign.
According to US scientist and member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Robert Corell, we are now "climbing rapidly out of mankind's safe zone into new territory, and we have no idea if we can live in it."
In other words, our small country has done a surprising amount of damage. And this damage continues.
Our energy-intensive manufacturing industry and large-scale power stations mean that C02 emissions per capita are higher in Wales than in the rest of the UK. We rank 18th in the world, with Northern Ireland in 43rd place, Scotland in 47th and England in 56th.
Facing the future
In November 2008, under intense pressure from environmental groups, the UK government passed the landmark Climate Change Act.
This makes it the duty of the government to ensure that our greenhouse gas emissions for the year 2050 are at least 80% lower than the 1990 baseline.
In view of this Act, the Welsh Assembly Government (WAG) has committed to a reduction of greenhouse gases, by 2011, of 3% a year in "areas of devolved competence". It has promised to set sectoral targets to achieve this.
This will include emissions from all sectors except those from heavy industry and power generation, which are broadly defined as those installations covered by the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS).
But our track record on reaching targets is poor.
As a signatory to the Kyoto Protocol, the UK government is legally bound to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 12.5% below 1990 levels in 2008-2012.
Yet since the protocol was ratified, emissions in Wales - from sectors not covered by the EU ETS - have decreased only by 0.35%, and they have remained almost unchanged since 2002.
Emissions from transport have actually been increasing.
So translating the language of sustainability into action will perhaps be the biggest challenge of our times.
Wales faces a bigger challenge than the rest of the UK in making its housing stock energy efficient
Home sweet home
Sadly, our homes do not provide a refuge from the environmental crisis. Domestic emissions account for a massive 27% of our overall emissions.
Our housing stock poses significant problems: Wales has the largest percentage of houses built before 1919 in the UK, at around 36%.
These dwellings were not designed to conserve energy. The average existing home requires four times more energy than a house built to the latest building regulations.
To compound the problem, many rural homes are not connected to the mains gas network, so they rely on oil, bottled gas and electricity. These are very inefficient sources of energy.
So Wales faces a bigger challenge than the rest of the UK in making its housing stock energy efficient.
And things are not going to get easier. Our hunger for halogen spotlights, home computers and consumer electronics means that our demand for electricity is growing.
So is the Assembly Government, with its limited powers, really able to radically reduce emissions from our homes?
The power to act
The report Residential Carbon Reduction in Wales by the Assembly's Sustainability Committee, published in March 2008 and based on the findings of a two-year inquiry, states that the residential sector is an area in which the WAG has many powers to influence C02 emissions.
The government already has a number of schemes in place. It provides grants and other financial incentives to enable us to insulate our lofts and cavity walls.
It is also increasing the use of renewable energy in new-builds and attempting to change the energy source for our space and water heating to gas and biomass, which is more carbon-efficient.
The Heads of the Valleys scheme - the largest 'low carbon zone' in Europe - will improve energy efficiency in 40,000 homes.
The Assembly government has also called for all new homes to be carbon neutral by 2011 - five years ahead of England - and it has successfully negotiated the devolution of building regulations with the UK government to ensure this target is met.
Yet despite the scope to make big reductions in domestic emissions, the Assembly's Sustainability Committee said in its report published in March 2008 that it received "overwhelming evidence" from environmental organisations, building companies and local authorities, that the Assembly government is failing to make full use of its powers.
The committee's inquiry into Residential Carbon Reduction in Wales recommended that the government should fund a programme of retrofitting all existing hard-to-heat homes, and that it should provide more grants for microgeneration technologies, such as solar panels and small wind turbines.
It also believes that in order to reach its targets, WAG needs to show a much stronger lead to planners, local councils, the building industry and consumers.
Research released by Friends of the Earth Cymru in June 2009 suggested that up to 6,000 new jobs could be created as a result of making Welsh homes more energy efficient.
Written by Angharad Penrhyn Jones, environmental campaigner
Find more Welsh perspectives on environmental questions below.
If oil runs out, what are the alternative sources of energy for Wales and the world?
Do we need to be more sustainable in the way we produce, eat and shop for food?
A look at the changes people are making to try to live in a more sustainable way.
Can new technology provide a sustainable solution to driving and flying?
Drier summers and wetter winters are forecast for Welsh weather in the future.
Reduce, reuse, recycle has become a green mantra but how well are the Welsh doing?