Welsh Green Dragon

‘Cymru @ Copenhagen’ – What role can Wales play? by Chris Halpin

Well things are looking ever gloomier for a legally binding political treaty being signed at the UN Copenhagen Summit in 18 days time. With the US declaring they won’t be bringing any tangible targets to the negotiating table, people are starting to ask if there is much point to Copenhagen at all. A massive anticlimax is looming with Denmark stepping up to the plate to suggest delaying a legally binding treaty until 2010.

Obama has said it’s too late to reach an agreement this year, and despite all the rhetoric it all seems the US is being as slippery as it always has been in defining how much to reduce their carbon emissions. African nations were none too pleased at the prospect of a political fudge, and 55 developing nations walked out of the pre talks in Barcelona when cracks began to appear in who was going to shoulder the cost of the environmental disaster that is right on their doorstep.

So theres the most recent global context, but how about a bit closer to home.

On Tuesday the 10th I attended a panel meeting held by the National Assembly Sustainable Energy Group (or NASEG for short), discussing exactly how renewable energy in Wales could play a key part in reducing carbon emissions, but how that must be underpinned by massive cultural change. Hosted by an impressive panel of key stakeholders, academics and politicians including Jane Davidson (Minister for Environment Sustainability and Housing), Kevin Anderson (Director of the Tyndall Centre and Climate Change Commissioner) and Dr Calvin Jones (Economist Cardiff University Business School) many ideas were thrashed about the room, swinging violently from apocalyptic to inspirational.

Collectively we have a massive task on our hands to reverse the warming effect that humans have upon the atmosphere, and alarmingly our behaviour and consumption must change rapidly in order to try and stem significant rises in global temperature. Dr Calvin Jones, who’s self confessed to being one of the few economists he knows that doesn’t believe in traditional economic growth, thinks we have a long way to go until an international consensus can be made.

As the western world has impressed upon developing nations for the last 60 years that a materialistic and capitalist economic growth model is the way forward, we have a huge diplomatic challenge on our hands. It will be pretty hard for countries currently experiencing unparalleled economic growth, like China and India, to stomach when we turn around and forbid them to slash and burn as we have done to get where we are today. Very much a case of ‘Do as we say, not as we have done’ it seems.

We’re in dire need to completely overhaul our attitude to consumption, travel and our throwaway culture. In Wales we are currently consume 2.7 planets worth of resources, by 2020 that will be 3.3 planets worth if we continue to  consume as we do now, according to the One Wales : One Planet report from a year ago. To be fair, Wales has been in the right frame of mind for a while.

The NASEG event threw up some interesting debate. Is there a role for Nuclear Energy in Wales? How can Ffos-y-fran be justified when as yet there is no such thing as ‘clean coal’ or carbon capture technology? Could people be given individual annual carbon allowances and taxed accordingly to limit their emissions, or is this too draconian and should conscientious behaviour be incentivised instead?

What is clear is that out of any other nation in the UK, Wales is perfectly poised to take advantage of pretty much any renewable technology available, be that wind, tidal, hydro-electric, biofuel development or biomass.

At a separate event as part of Cardiff University’s Sustainability Week that I went to last night (another post to follow), Jane Davidson who was again on the panel arrived fashionably late. However it seems for good reason, with news hot from the Senedd that the Welsh Assembly have just agreed to aim for a target of 40% reduction in Carbon emissions by 2020.

If only the other nations could be more decisive in time for Copenhagen, thats if it’s not all hot air – no one wants anymore of that.


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