Emergency: n. A serious situation or occurrence that demands immediate action.
Climate: n. The meteorological conditions, including temperature, precipitation, and wind, that characteristically prevail in a particular region.
On 29 April, Scotland proudly announced itself as the first nation to declare a Climate Emergency. This statement was closely followed by our own from Environment Minister, Lesley Griffiths, who added the voice of Welsh Government to the growing list of towns and cities that have signed up to acknowledge the need for urgent and drastic measures to combat climate change.
The arrival of National Governments to the Climate Emergency declaration ‘party’ is hugely significant; not just for the undoubted symbolism it provides, and for the political heft that it gives to campaigners within Wales and Scotland, but also because it heralds the likelihood that other countries will follow suit.
As Lesley Griffiths said, government has a role in making collective action possible. And we certainly do require collective action – both individually and at the nation-state level – if we are to arrest runaway climate change and to ensure that the planet we bequeath to our children and grandchildren is habitable.
It was interesting to note that the following day saw the First Minister outline the timetable for making a decision on the fate of the proposed new M4 relief road. The first week of June will see Mark Drakeford setting out whether he will grant the legal orders necessary to allow the project to proceed.
📰 @NicolaSturgeon was the first world leader to declare a climate emergency and Westminster now needs to follow suit.
🌍 From setting world-leading targets to empowering communities, here’s how Scotland is leading the way in tackling climate change.https://t.co/RkO58iQjJm
— The SNP (@theSNP) May 1, 2019
M4 – Not a done deal?
Although a decision to issue Transport Orders in June would not necessarily guarantee that the project commences – it is still subject to a confirmatory vote in the National Assembly – it would signal that Welsh Government believes that attempting to ease the flow of traffic by building additional road capacity is a potentially higher priority than tackling climate change.
It would also put Welsh Government in direct conflict with the Office of the Commissioner for Future Generations which has stated that the proposed scheme does not properly take into account the needs of future generations.
Whilst I have no doubt that our government could produce a narrative which demonstrates that a new piece of motorway is exactly what our young and yet-to-be-born citizens need, it feels to me as though this decision is totemic for what we, as the people of Wales, see as of value. Do we truly value the ability of our future citizens, innocent of blame, to live in a climate which resembles that which we ourselves have experienced? Or do we value more highly the convenience of private car owners in a small corner of Wales to shave a few minutes from their journey time?
It is Business as Usual, with modest tweaks, which has got us into this emergency. And if it really is, as Welsh Government states, an emergency, then we need drastic, radical measures, individually and collectively, to avoid tragic outcomes for our ecosystems.
As you know there’s a legal process that has to be gone through. The decision in early June is whether to issue Transport Orders – in effect outline planning permission. The final decision won’t come until there’s a full debate in the Assembly, as promised.
— Lee Waters AM (@Amanwy) April 30, 2019
Credit where it’s due
I applaud Welsh Government for making such a brave statement of intent on the Climate Emergency, as I have consistently applauded the creation and implementation of the Well-being of Future Generations Act. But if intent is to have meaning, we must make decisions differently. We must prioritise accordingly. And we must take every opportunity to decide against projects and systems which increase poor outcomes for the environment.
In giving credit to Welsh Government for their statement, I would also like to pay homage to the thousands of Welsh campaigners who have become part of the Extinction Rebellion movement, which has undoubtedly played an immense role in raising the issue within the national consciousness. Their bravery, tenacity and self-sacrifice is both humbling and heartening. We owe a debt of gratitude to our fellow citizens for campaigning on behalf of our future generations, and on behalf of the ecosystems which will continue to support them in the decades to come.
This post was first published by the Institute of Welsh Affairs