Climate change: Wales 'must take advantage of COP26'

By Steffan Messenger
BBC Wales environment correspondent

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Wales must take advantage of the major UN climate change conference set to take place on its doorstep, a top government advisor says.

Glasgow is due to host the global gathering - known as COP26 - in November.

Future Generations Commissioner Sophie Howe said it should motivate Wales' efforts to cut emissions.

The Welsh Government said its officials were working closely with event organisers.

Ms Howe said there were "significant opportunities" for Wales to showcase achievements in fighting climate change "on a global platform".

She told BBC Radio Cymru "lots of discussions" were taking place, including on hosting fringe events.

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The original venue - Scottish Events Campus in Glasgow - was due to host the event in November 2020, before it was delayed by the Covid pandemic

Wales' position in global recycling league tables - second in Europe and third in the world - is another area to "shout about," she said.

"What we've seen across the world is it's actually the smallest states and regions that are doing the really interesting things," said Ms Howe.

"It's at that level where many of the levers to address climate change, such as transport, farming, food and our housing stock, lie.

"Those things are within the grasp of the Welsh Government and it's their opportunity to shout about what we're doing, but also to learn from others in terms of addressing the areas where they're not doing so well."

Overall progress on levels of greenhouse gas emissions has been too slow, she emphasised, with "significant challenges" ahead to meet targets for steep reductions in the coming decades.

Climate 'must be central to election'

The latest figures suggest Wales has seen a 31% drop in the emissions driving climate change since 1990, but government advisers at the Climate Change Committee want a 63% fall by 2030 and 89% by 2040.

With a new plan for cutting Wales' emissions due before the end of 2021 and a Senedd election on the horizon too, Ms Howe said the environment needed to be central to the upcoming political campaign.

"I think if political parties are not putting addressing the climate and nature emergencies right at the top of their manifesto agenda then they will be letting down both the current and future generations in Wales," she said.

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Image caption,
Environment Minister Lesley Griffiths said Wales is a "big player" when it comes to climate

Haf Elgar, director of Friends of the Earth Cymru, said she believed the fact COP26 was being held in Scotland, rather than London, would mean "more interest than ever before in action at a devolved and community level".

Comparisons may be made between Scottish and Welsh efforts, she said, urging the next government in Cardiff to produce a "really ambitious" low-carbon delivery plan to take to Glasgow.

Keith Jones, the National Trust's climate change adviser and a veteran on several COPs, described it as "like being in Cardiff during a Six Nations match, but for 10 days" with thousands of presentations and events.

'We're a big player'

"When I was there representing global national trusts I'd often find myself referring to work that's happening in Wales - especially out in the community from the ground up," he said.

"Being a small country means we can move quickly. Everybody's looking for answers and we have some strong lessons to learn but also to teach."

Environment Minister Lesley Griffiths said her officials were "working really closely with their counterparts in the UK government to make sure we're really in the middle of it all."

She pointed to plans for a national forest for Wales and efforts to prevent fracking and fossil fuel extraction as examples to highlight, and said the Welsh parliament had been the first in the world to declare a climate emergency.

"I think for a small country we're a big player," she said.

"Certainly in the states and regions tiers of government everyone wants to know what we're doing in Wales, because they recognise that to go from next to bottom in the recycling league to third in the world then you're doing some really ambitious, innovative things."

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