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Climate change and Covid economy 'must be tackled together'

By Steffan Messenger
BBC Wales Environment Correspondent

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image copyrightGetty Images
image captionA taskforce is looking at whether projects such as tree planting could offer work and training opportunities

Offering young people work on nature projects and converting empty offices into eco-homes are among the ideas being considered by a "green recovery" Welsh Government taskforce.

Its boss Sir David Henshaw said it was "absolutely critical" climate change was tackled alongside coronavirus.

This also means investing "heavily" to enable long-term homeworking, he said.

His team has received more than 180 ideas for policies and projects and are deciding which to take forward.

"Some of the ideas are challenging but I think we're going to have to be quite brave," he said.

"The danger is that we reach back and use the old levers, if you like, as we try to restart [after Covid-19] and miss what's actually facing us in terms of the [climate] crisis.

"It's an existential threat and we can't just leave it, put it to one side of the desk and wait to catch up with it. We have to take the two together."

image captionSir David Henshaw is leading the "green recovery" taskforce for the Welsh Government

Sir David - chairman of environment watchdog Natural Resources Wales and formerly chief executive of Liverpool City Council - was asked by the Welsh Government to lead its green recovery taskforce.

As well as working out how to help cash-strapped environmental charities and voluntary groups continue their work, they were told to come up with ideas to fight climate change and nature loss while creating jobs and strengthening the economy.

They are set to report to Environment Minister Lesley Griffiths later this autumn.

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionBoosting local food production is another idea for a "green recovery"

Ideas being considered range from "small local projects to very big ones across the whole of Wales," Sir David said.

They include measures to boost horticulture farming so fruit and vegetables can be sourced more locally.

They are also looking at volunteering, work experience and apprenticeship opportunities, for example in nature conservation, energy efficiency, woodland planting, or peatland restoration.

Sir David said improving infrastructure that allows people to work from home - which he described as "not good enough" - was a key priority.

'A very different future'

image copyrightBlack Mountains College
image captionLearning about ecology will be a core part of Black Mountains College's planned degree course

The hope for a greener future is driving the team behind a new college in Talgarth, Powys.

"Black Mountains College came about as an idea specifically in response to the climate and nature emergencies in order to produce new kinds of graduates," said director Ben Rawlence.

With a focus on teaching sustainability, ecology, heritage skills and implementing Wales' Wellbeing of Future Generations Act, they hope the courses will prepare students for "a very different net zero future".

image captionThe economy needs to work within the boundaries of strong environmental protections, says Ben Rawlence from Black Mountains College

While vocational courses on topics such as regenerative horticulture - which helps keep soil healthy - will start next year, the college hopes to offer a programme for undergraduate students from 2022, working towards taking on 600 students a year.

"We hope we can be a catalyst for regeneration for mid Wales as a whole - helping stem the brain drain of young people over the border to England to study further and higher education," Mr Rawlence added.

He said society needed to think differently about how the economy works.

"The economy is about the relationship between people and the environment, and if there's no environment there's no relationship."

'Young people want change'

Ffion Storer Jones, of the Rural Youth Project, echoed this sentiment and said the last few months had highlighted how quickly changes can be achieved.

"Young people have been on the streets for years now asking for change and the pandemic has shown us that a different way of life is possible - where we work within the boundaries of the planet to create a world that's better both for the environment and people."

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