Category: Environment

  • Nor-way in the lead on electric vehicles

    The European Environment Agency has updated its data on the number of new electric vehicles purchased in Europe. When analysed as a proportion of the total cars, Norway is the out-and-out leader.

    A graph showing proportion of cars sold by electric vehicle in Europe

    The UK is a mid-table player, but this disguises very large variations by country. Northern Ireland and Wales are both poorly served by rapid-charge infrastructure, which impacts significantly on both local use, and the inclination of electric vehicle users to spend time (particularly on holiday) in those countries.

    Welsh Government has recognised this as an issue, and has pledged funding to improve the provision of rapid (and other) charging in Wales.

  • Supporting the vulnerable: Challenge 2050

    This blog post was written for Cymorth Cymru by David Clubb, ahead of him holding a presentation and workshop on climate change at their annual conference on March 26, 2020.

    How about this for irony; those who have contributed least to climate change, stand to suffer the greatest (1). This is as true globally as it is in Wales. 

    The countries which prop up the global per-capita greenhouse gas emissions table (2) include the Democratic Republic of Congo, Chad, Burundi, Uganda and Somalia. Africa is notable for its exceedingly modest contribution to human-induced climate change, yet stands to suffer greatly from changing weather patterns (3), not least increased average temperatures and changes in precipitation which will increase the challenge of desertification across much of the equatorial region.

    As globally, so in the UK. The lowest decile of income produces ⅓ of the greenhouse gas emissions of the top decile (4). Yet those with the lowest incomes typically have much lower resilience to events  which will be far more likely to occur as a result of climate change, such as flooding, wildfires and heatwaves.

    So when it comes to mitigating climate change, I refuse to point the finger at those who have done least to cause the problem. Yes, everyone can, and should, play a part in minimising their own carbon impacts. But the heaviest burden should fall on those with the greatest capacity to bear the cost – and on those who have contributed the greatest to the UK’s carbon emissions.

    Instead, the focus for those of us with personal and professional interests in supporting the most vulnerable in our society should be on how we can adapt our services in order that we are as well equipped as possible to respond to the inevitable challenges and crises that will arise more frequently in a future defined by a breakdown in climate as we have been privileged to know it.

    The Future Generations Act (5) provides us with a useful framework to consider our operations, with both the Well-being Goals and Ways of Working (6) requiring us to take different decisions and produce improved outcomes as a consequence.

    To take one example, the ways of working require a long-term, preventative approach. If we combine that approach with the Goals of prosperity and resilience, we can see that they mandate a careful assessment of the risk of flooding to property and other assets over a long period of time – say 2050. With coastal flooding risk increasing significantly (7), it would seem prudent for those providing services to the vulnerable to assess which of their assets will be in an annual flood risk area by 2050, and to make enquiries to Natural Resources Wales, the local authorities and to Welsh Government about any planned improvements to coastal flood defences.

    Such service providers would almost certainly benefit from also undertaking an assessment of fluvial and surface water flood risk – activity thrown into sharp relief from the recent devastating floods in the valleys, and more widely across south, mid and north Wales.

    And it’s not just the assets of support service organisations that should be considered; what happens if major transport infrastructure routes are disrupted or destroyed? How can support organisations respond to what will inevitably be a large rise in demand for their services in response to an increasingly severe flood risk? 

    Yet within the challenges that face the sector lie opportunities to make changes which will provide multiple benefits. Whilst warmer summers will undoubtedly lead to significant problems for many of our most vulnerable, the opportunity to pre-empt the worst impacts by using green infrastructure to provide natural shade and cooling will simultaneously help reduce rainwater run-off, improve mental and physical well-being, and improve habitats in and around property assets.

    The organisations which are most likely to thrive in conditions of increasing unpredictability will be those which have adopted a strategic approach to embedding resilience and subsidiarity. So the big questions to be answered by the different levels of governance within organisations which provide services for the vulnerable are:

    • Does the Board have the right strategic approach to preparing staff, property and other for a 2050 which will see much increased disruption from climate-influenced natural events?
    • Does senior management have the right tools to embed a culture of resilience and subsidiarity within the organisation?
    • Do front-line delivery staff have the right training, support and autonomy to enable them to react with confidence and good judgement in situations outside ‘normal’ work conditions

    We certainly can’t stop our climate from changing. But we can, and should, think carefully and strategically about how our organisations can play a significant role in making the transition to our new climate reality more sustainable and manageable. We owe no less to those who will depend upon us.

    1.     Extreme Carbon Inequality [Internet]. Oxfam International. 2015 [cited 2020 Mar 7].

    2.     List of countries by carbon dioxide emissions per capita. In: Wikipedia [Internet]. 2020 [cited 2020 Mar 7].

    3.     Girvetz E, Ramirez-Villegas J, Claessens L, Lamanna C, Navarro-Racines C, Nowak A, et al. Future Climate Projections in Africa: Where Are We Headed?: Investigating the Business of a Productive, Resilient and Low Emission Future. In 2019. p. 15–27.

    4.     The distribution of UK household CO2 emissions [Internet]. [cited 2020 Mar 7].

    5.     Well-Being of Future Generations (Wales) Act ’ [Internet]. 2015 anaw 2 Apr 29, 2015 p. 56.

    6.     Well-Being of Future Generations – The Essentials [Internet]. Welsh Government; 2015 [cited 2018 Oct 28].

    7.     Wales underwater? – Afallen [Internet]. [cited 2020 Mar 7].

  • Wales underwater?

    The Wales of 2050 will be a very different place.

    Our society, technology, culture and economy have always changed over generational timescales, so there’s nothing inherently original or insightful in my opening statement. However the changes to come will be manifestly different to those experienced by previous generations.

    That’s because our current and future generations will experience profound geophysical changes, forcing society to react rapidly, and in some cases to discard long-loved, cherished and critical parts of our culture and infrastructure.

    Sea level rise by 2050

    Although it’s impossible to know which of drought, flooding or wildfires will bring most misery to Wales’ inhabitants by 2050 – and each of these are serious issues on their own merit – I hazard that coastal flooding exacerbated by sea level rise will eclipse all of them.

    The latest data, published at the end of October, show graphically what happens to Wales’ coastal conurbations within the next generation. And the implications of this – the best of our global modelling on climate change impacts – deserves serious consideration within Welsh Government, within our local authorities and indeed by us as individuals, householders and communities.

    The data is interpreted in a way that helps us understand the impact in a map format by Climate Central, an independent organisation reporting on the facts of climate change. The modelling is based on the most robust and evidenced data, and although the modelling outputs come with inevitable caveats, they are the best indication we currently have about coastal flood risk for Wales.

    Whilst the modelling is highly customisable depending on your appetite for risk, the version I’ve used for this article is the central scenario for climate change, which incorporates:

    • ‘Average’ sea level rise plus annual flood
    • Moderate cuts to GHG emissions, consistent with 2 Celsius warming
    • Medium ‘luck’ (mid-range result from the range of possible projections of sea-level rise)
    The model is highly customisable for your tastes

    In the images that follow, anywhere coloured red is projected to be “below annual flood level” in 2050. That means that coastal flooding is anticipated to happen annually, with multiple flooding events also possible on an annual basis.

    I’m going to take a place-by-place approach to the potential impacts, starting with my own hometown, Cardiff.

    Cardiff

    Areas of Cardiff which will experience coastal flooding on an annual basis by 2050 in red

    By 2050, much of Cardiff’s urban area will be at risk of annual coastal flood events. Notwithstanding the resilience provided by the Barrage, coastal water ingress is likely to be an issue with much of the low-lying land along Cardiff’s wider seafront and the Afon Rhymni, leading potentially to widespread penetration.

    Many of our institutions will have to consider how they manage this risk, including iconic landmarks such as Cardiff Castle, the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama, the National Assembly, Sophia Gardens, the International Sports Village and the Principality Stadium.

    The Bay and a huge swathe of West Cardiff, including Grangetown, Riverside and Canton, along with the city centre, Bute Park, and huge chunks of east Cardiff such as Roath, Adamsdown and Tremorfa are highlighted as facing significant flooding issues.

    Nationally significant infrastructure such as major electricity substations and railway and road infrastructure is potentially at risk, as are the large chemical and industrial sites which lie along Cardiff Bay and the dock areas.

    Newport

    Newport's annual coastal flood risk by 2050

    Newport’s famous hills, which provide spectacular viewpoints for the city and estuary and are a source of misery for casual cyclists, provide some resilience against coastal flooding.

    Parts of the city centre, including the Royal Gwent hospital, escape the projected risk areas, but the Passport Office and Transporter Bridge, along with much of the riverside past Caerleon and beyond Newbridge-on-Usk fall into the annual coastal flood risk category.

    The Gwent Levels along with several golf courses are at risk of regular inundation of salt water, with the natural habitat presumably being significantly more resilient than the leisure facilities.

    Although not included in the image above, a large swathe of coastal land from Newport to Chepstow is at risk, including the whole of the mainline railway linking south Wales to Bristol and beyond.

    The Vale of Glamorgan

    The Vale of Glamorgan's flood risk by 2050

    The Vale demonstrates more resilience than the coast further east, by virtue of high cliffs along much of the coastline. Penarth faces only a very modest impact at the harbour, but Barry Island, the docks and ports and the Dow chemical plant are all at risk. The danger zone for Barry extends along to Sully and up towards the lowest lying areas of Dinas Powys.

    The most heavily industrial parts of the vale, including around the power station and cement works near Aberthaw are included within the at-risk areas.

    Bridgend

    Porthcawl's annual coastal flood risk by 2050

    The misery of annual flooding for Bridgend County Borough appears to be concentrated on Porthcawl. The low-lying caravans of Trecco Bay are at risk, as are central residential areas of the town.

    Neath Port Talbot

    Flood risk for 2050 for Neath Port Talbot

    The low coastline from Porthcawl to Swansea poses significant potential problems for transport infrastructure, as well as for some industrial and residential sites. Areas impacted include the Kenfig Industrial Estate, the Port Talbot town and the residential areas of Aberavon, Baglan Moor, along with the Tata steelworks.

    The Afon Nedd carries the risk further upstream, potentially impacting settlements along the riverside in Neath itself, nearl as far as Aberdulais.

    Swansea

    Swansea's annual coastal flood risk areas

    The impact for Swansea is mostly felt around the lower part of the town – Sandfields and the Maritime Quarter – and at the new Bay campus to the east of the city. The Amazon distribution centre, along with incoming road and rail links could also be impacted.

    Carmarthen Bay

    The annual coastal flood risk areas around Carmarthen Bay

    The estuary areas around Carmarthen Bay look particularly vulnerable, albeit in regions of low population density. The north Gower coast, along with swathes of the estuary ranging from Pontarddulais down to Pembrey and Kidwelly are at risk, as is the Pembrey West airport. The Afon Tywi is a flood risk factor for parts of Carmarthen and higher up the riverside. Further west Laugharne and St Clears are likely to be impacted.

    Pembrokeshire

    A low coastal flood risk for Pembrokeshire

    Pembrokeshire appears to be spared the worst of the coastal flooding risk, presumably because it has less land area at lower altitude than many other parts of Wales. The small but regionally significant populated centres of Pembroke and Haverfordwest will likely see some impact, and the campsite at Newgale – already a temporary lake-site during times of heavy rain – will be hit hard during high tides and storms.

    Ceredigion

    Ceredigion's annual coastal flood risk

    Whilst the southern part of the county escapes the worst of the coastal flood risk, the north will probably take quite a hit. Lower Aberystwyth, from the harbour up to Glanyrafon, could potentially be inundated, causing problems for transport infrastructure and for regulators and officials in Welsh Government and Natural Resources Wales.

    Borth - a grim prospect by 2050

    Borth is predicted to be particularly vulnerable, with the whole village – and the estuary right up to Machynlleth- predicted to flood on an annual basis. On the other side of the estuary (and into Gwynedd), Aberdyfi and Tywyn also face huge challenges.

    Gwynedd and Ynys Môn

    Gwynedd and Ynys Mon

    Both these iconic counties face probably localised problems with coastal flooding in the decades to come.

    Gwynedd’s problems are in pockets in the south (Aberdyfi, Tywyn) and west (Porthmadog). Môn’s issues will be felt strongest along the Afon Cefni, and in lower lying areas around The Valley in the west.

    Conwy

    Conwy's annual coastal flood risk in 2050

    The risks for Conwy are centred on the Afon Conwy, which could bring coastal floods upstream as far as Llanrwst, Llandudno, and the low-lying areas to the west of the Afon Clwyd. Large areas of agricultural land, as well as numerous coastal communities in this area and regionally significant transport and health infrastructure are vulnerable.

    Denbighshire

    Denbigshire's flood risk

    Denbighshire has a short coastline, but it is low-lying, and therefore all modelled as having a very high risk by 2050.

    The communities of Rhyl and Prestatyn face severe hardship from the impact of coastal flooding on an annual basis in the absence of any major infrastructure to provide coastal protection.

    Flintshire

    Coastal flood risk for Flintshire

    Flintshire’s coast is also modelled as having severe risk. Potentially significant energy and industrial infrastructure including power stations, Tata Steel, the Deeside industrial estate and park and commercial sites at Shotton.

  • Congestion Charge Cardiff – the Future Generations Approach

    Congestion Charge for Cardiff – the Future Generations Approach

    Singapore was first in 1975.

    London’s got one. Stockholm’s got one. Durham, Milan, Gothenburg and Valletta have them.

    Birmingham’s is on the way, as is one for Leeds and Paris.

    Yet, in the ‘land of Future Generations’, we’re still waiting! So we’re setting out here why we think a ‘Clean Air Zone’, or a Congestion Charge, would be a good thing for Cardiff (as a starter – no reason why this shouldn’t be the default for built-up areas with high ambient pollution).

    What is a Clean Air Zone (or Congestion Charge Zone)

    We assume that a Clean Air Zone for Cardiff would charge polluting vehicles to enter city limits – defined as those areas which suffer regularly from high pollution levels.

    We think that all non-resident private motor vehicles – except hydrogen, hybrid or fully electric vehicles – should have to pay a charge.

    And we think that all the money raised from the charge should be used:

    1. To pay the costs of the scheme
    2. To improve ways of entering Cardiff without needing to use a private motor vehicle (such as train, metro, bus, park and ride and bicycle infrastructure and services)
    3. To improve Active Travel infrastructure within Cardiff

    We also believe that Cardiff should follow Nottingham’s example of implementing a Workplace Parking Levy, and that this levy should be directed towards the same expenditure pots.

    The Well-being of Future Generations Act specifies seven Goals which should be attained by public sector organisations, working in partnership with stakeholders across civil society. We think that the scheme we envisage would support six out of the seven goals. The impact that a Congestion or Clean Air Zone charge would have on them each is detailed below.

    A Healthier Wales

    Air pollution is directly responsible for increased morbidity and mortality in the population at large, with particularly damaging effects on the elderly and vulnerable.

    It decreases lung function, causes respiratory infection, and significantly increases the risk of stroke, heart disease and lung cancer. Maternal exposure to high levels of air pollution is associated with adverse birth outcomes. Reducing the number of private motor vehicles entering the city would reduce overall levels of air pollution.

    A More Equal Wales

    Pollution from vehicles does not affect the people of Wales equally. People with high wealth can choose more easily where they live, and are able to leave areas which suffer from high levels of pollution. People with higher educational attainment may be able to access information which can be used to mitigate exposure levels, or identify preferred areas to live or spend time. Pollution has greater health impacts on those who are less able to avoid it, such as young children and the elderly.

    A charge on private vehicles entering Cardiff would reduce air pollution, particularly for poor and vulnerable groups, supporting a More Equal Wales

    A Globally Responsible Wales

    Private motor vehicles which would be eligible for a Cardiff City entrance charge are also those which use fossil fuel. The use of fossil fuel is one of the main causes of climate change, so a reduction in the number of fossil-fueled private motor vehicles will reduce Wales’ contribution to Climate Change, supporting a Globally Responsible Wales.

    A Prosperous Wales

    Reducing our urban air pollution will reduce morbidity associated with air pollution, reducing the cost of treating such illness and enabling resources to be spent in other areas. A reduction in the use of fossil fuel will also reduce the ‘leakage’ of money which accompanies the purchase of fuel which is produced far away and transported to Wales at significant cost – paid for by Welsh householders and businesses.

    A Resilient Wales

    The funding which is raised from the scheme should be (partly) recycled into improved Active Travel infrastructure, and into infrastructure and services which support public transport. The use of Active Travel infrastructure in particular is far more resilient to the impacts of flooding or other Climate Change-related impacts (if a section of a cycle or walking path is flooded, it’s often possible to find an alternative route through that part, in a way that’s much more challenging for motor vehicles). Reduced air and water pollution will also contribute towards a more healthy ecosystem – part of Wales’ resilience.

    A Wales of Cohesive Communities

    Improved provision of Active Travel networks, funded by a Cardiff vehicular access charge, would provide an infrastructure which contributes directly to this Goal, namely “Attractive, viable, safe and well-connected communities”.

    We think the science and evidence supporting the implementation of a Congestion Charge/Clean Air Zone for Cardiff are compelling, and strongly aligned with the Well-being Goals – as well as (potentially) those of a Cardiff National Park City! We would encourage the Councillors and citzens of Cardiff to push for these measures to improve the quality of life for all.

  • An urban National Park for Wales

    Building on the best

    Sometimes Wales is a pioneer. Sometimes we can learn from others who’ve gone first.

    When it comes to the nascent global movement for National Park Cities, London has blazed a trail, having founded the first National Park City (NPC), and created the National Park City Foundation to help inspire others.

    The aims of the National Park City Foundation are manifold, but include:

    • Enriching cities with nature
    • Empowering local people and communities to make a positive difference to their environment
    • Improving well-being, biodiversity, air quality and water quality in cities

    Afallen has been following the development of the NPC concept with interest. We chose the day of the launch of the London NPC – 22 July – to create a NPC website and Twitter account for Wales. We aim to work in partnership with people and organisations from all sectors, and of all types. We aim to help create a movement which is informed by expertise and local knowledge, and energised by the desire to make the world a better place.

    What and where?

    It’s early days yet in the development of a National Park City in Wales, so we haven’t yet solicited opinion about how it should look, nor where it should be located. We’re big into co-design, co-production and co-delivery, so we definitely don’t want to own this concept. We believe that it will be for the people, by the people.

    Wales is a predominantly rural country, with cities much smaller than many of the countries currently pursuing the NPC concept, so it remains to be seen whether we will focus on one or more cities – such as Swansea or Cardiff – or whether larger urbanised areas such as National Landscape Character zones, or the Valleys, are deemed to be more suitable.

    We’re currently getting informal support from the founders of the London National Park City, and starting to build up a list of supporter individuals and organisations who may be interested in shaping how a Wales National Park City or urban area might look.

    We would welcome your interest and support; you can demonstrate your support by registering your interest and signing up to receive updates, as well as by following our @WalesNP Twitter account.

    We look forward to working with you to catapult Wales to the top of the list of countries that are making a positive difference to their urban well-being and ecology.

    Image credit: Freepik

  • Our environmental commitment

    Practising what we preach

    We are clear in our commitment to delivering projects which support and enhance our natural environment, the system that underpins all our infrastructure, services and products. We’re now able to demonstrate that we’re keeping our own house in order, as we’ve been awarded the Level 2 Green Dragon award for environmental management.

    The Green Dragon Environmental Management System (EMS) is a light-touch version of 14001. The Green Dragon scheme is generally more appropriate for small organisations with relatively modest environmental impact. It requires that the organisation implements an environmental policy and that it submits to an audit against that policy, with a commitment to undertaking continual improvement.

    Our Partners are home-based, so our environmental impact is predominantly in the modes of travel we use for business. Where possible we use the transport hierarchy, prioritising Active Travel (walking and cycling), then public transport, then private transport. For further information on the hierarchy and on low carbon transport, we recommend looking at the 2018 Institute of Welsh Affairs publication “Decarbonising Transport in Wales“.

    https://toot.wales/interact/102462211554451847

    Why does this matter?

    One of the reasons we set up Afallen was to provide a platform within which talented individuals from across Wales could carry out high-level project activity, without having to accredit themselves with the many requirements for tender or project quality assurance that are often required.

    The attainment of Level 2 of the Green Dragon EMS now opens up the prospect of Afallen and our Associates being able to successfully bid for a wider range of project activity, and potentially for much larger projects.

    We’ll also seek out organisations which have demonstrated a similar commitment to the environment – and ideally to the other values which we hold dear – and try to find ways in which we can procure services or goods from them.

    We’d like to help cascade the good practice of EMS as widely as possible. Business activity is an incredibly important component of sustainability, and it’s only when the whole business community is doing its utmost that we will be able to attain genuine sustainability in Wales.

    If you like our values, and you’d like to work with superb consultants from across Wales on challenging and interesting projects, please get in touch. Our Associates have huge experience with technical areas ranging from renewable energy and technical research to GIS, and with ‘softer’ topics such as stakeholder engagement, communications and project assessment.

    We look forward to hearing from you!

  • Plastic pollution in Wales

    Wales’ role in plastic pollution

    The Committee on Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs of the National Assembly has published a report on plastic pollution. It makes twelve recommendations to Welsh Government on ways to improve our environmental performance, including:

    • Legislating to restrict microplastics
    • Create a 10-year strategy aimed at reducing plastic pollution
    • Implement an extended producer responsibility scheme for plastic
    • Implement a Deposit Return Scheme (DRS)

    Our partner, David Clubb, was invited onto Radio Cymru to discuss the recommendations of the report. The recording, including English translation, is below

  • The symbolism of the M4 in Wales

    The M4 decision

    With one tweet, the First Minister Mark Drakeford raised Wales’ aspirations, values, and environmental credentials. The decision was publicly opposed by a range of trade bodies and representatives of political parties, including some from the First Minister’s own party.

    The symbolism of this decision is hard to overstate. A project of Carwyn Jones, who would surely have pushed it through despite his own government’s Future Generations Act, this proposal is now where it rightly belongs – on the scrapheap of 20th Century ‘solutions’.

    In making his decision, Mark Drakeford stated that the financial position of Welsh Government would not permit him to make the compulsory purchase orders necessary to proceed with the project. However, he also said that he disagreed with the Inspector, and that the environmental considerations were also too great to allow the project to go ahead.

    The latter part of Prof. Drakeford’s reasoning will have given heart to the many thousands of environmental campaigners who have made this a cause célèbre for the wider environmental movement.

    Most interesting for Afallen though was the statement that the First Minister did not think that the Future Generations Act had been insufficiently regarded in the process.

    “The Member has asked me about the well-being of future generations legislation. I want to make it clear, Llywydd, that I read very carefully the evidence that was given by the commissioner, and I read very carefully the way in which the QC, on behalf of the Welsh Government, responded to her interpretation of the Act. My own view is that it was not a reading of the Act that I heard expressed on the floor of this Assembly that proposals for development have to satisfy all seven goals and all well-being objectives, and that they have to do so equally across all the goals and the objectives. It does seem to me inevitable that, in any plan for development, there will be some balancing between the different goals and the objectives that the Act introduces. I did not dissent from the view of the inspector, therefore, that the requirements of the Act had been fairly represented by the Welsh Government in the way that it presented its evidence on the Act to the inspector.”

    The wider symbolism

    As important – and welcome – as this decision was, there is almost as much value in the symbolism it provides for Wales’ aspirations and its environmental (and fiscal!) credentials. Many campaigners had made the point that were the decision made to press ahead with the project, the Future Generations Act would have been shown to be worthless.

    We do not reach that assessment – although it would surely have been a hammer-blow to the Act and to the credibility of the Office of the Future Generations Commissioner which has robustly opposed the project, including several detailed counter-assessments of its efficacy and proposals. However it’s hard to square the spend of billions of pounds on several miles of tarmac, with the needs of Wales’ citizens as yet unborn. In the public discussion following the decision, it is the future generations – the unborn – who have figured least on the part of supporters of the project.

    We consider that the First Minister was right to make the decision that he did, and to base it on financial and environmental grounds. But we side with the office for Future Generations, and do not consider that all aspects of the WFG Act had been appropriately considered.

    This decision has highlighted the divide that exists in the public debate about Wales’ future direction. If the battle of today in the UK is about #Brexit, in Wales it is as much about how our economy, environment and culture develops. The battle of ideas – and money – has been waged over the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon, electrification of the main railway line to Swansea, and the naming of a bridge. The latest decision would appear to suggest that the struggle is likely to continue for the foreseeable future.

    To date, it seemed that Wales, in common with standard economic orthodoxy, across the UK and in many other countries, was not sufficiently considering the responsibilities we owe to our citizens, environment and the global community. Perhaps yesterday’s decision redresses the balance somewhat – and there is excitement in the possibility that it may augur the start of a shift from 20th Century thinking more generally in Welsh Government policy.