Election Spotlight: the Environment

by Sophie Broad

One of the areas of responsibility devolved to the Welsh Government is of the environment. The Welsh Labour Government has had powers on matters of the environment since 2011. Since then, the Welsh Government has set out a Climate Change Strategy for Wales, promising that they will not only confront climate change but also anticipate the impact it has and will have on communities in Wales. The strategy is striving for a 3 per cent annual reduction in emissions and a 40 per cent overall reduction by 2020.

The Welsh Government’s actions in terms of the environment have been praised for its positive progress in areas such as waste management and recycling. The 5p carrier bag charge, introduced in 2011, has proved to be a huge success. It has meant that there has been a reduction in the number of plastic and paper bags used each year, encouraging shoppers to bring their own reusable bags. Scotland followed suit, passing the legislation in 2014. England finally beginning to charge for plastic bags in October last year.

The Welsh Government have also been successful in their Plant! scheme. The project began in 2008, whereby it was pledged to plant a tree for every child born or adopted in Wales. In 2014, this was extended and an additional tree is now also planted in Uganda for each child born. The scheme was started in an effort to fight climate change and help the environment.

One major topic of debate is the planned M4 extension. For some time now, the proposal for a relief road near Newport, estimated to cost around £1bn, has been discussed by the Welsh Government in an effort to tackle congestion in the area. In 2014, the so-called ‘black route’ was given the go-ahead. However, this decision has received criticism from those who believe the environment will be damaged as a result of this new motorway. Plaid Cymru have questioned the necessity to spend such a large amount of their budget on the plans, stating it will be “expensive and environmentally damaging.”

Aside from this, there has been clear evidence of the Welsh Government’s initiative to further their environmental policies. The Environmental Bill was passed by the Welsh Assembly earlier this month. The bill, due to become law in March, will set in place strong targets for cutting emissions, with the aim to reduce them in Wales by 80 per cent by the year 2050.

The Welsh Government have been commended for this action. Libby Ferguson, States and Regions Director of the Climate Group, praised the Welsh Government stating: “Wales were among 123 global governments who committed to ambitious long-term emissions reductions at the global climate summit, COP21, in December last year. Only a few weeks after this commitment, The Environment Bill is a clear example of how quickly the government are turning targets into concrete action.” Clearly then, the Welsh Government is taking steps in the right direction in terms of the environment and following up the pledges made at COP 21 last year.

Overall, so far the Welsh Government have a good record regarding environmental issues. The only main issue is the M4 relief road, which is still facing opposition on both environmental and financial grounds. During the assembly elections, Labour will most likely commit to keeping to their Climate Change Strategy for Wales in place and in order to continue the progress they have made since 2010.