By Beth Williams | News Editor
As the COP26 summit drew to a close, Gair Rhydd had the opportunity to talk to the Deputy Minister for Climate Change, Lee Waters. On his way back to Wales, he discussed his experience at the summit, the impact of the climate crisis on Wales and why we should all play our part.
GR: How was your experience at the summit?
Lee Waters MS: We weren’t a part of the formal negotiations but we were all ready to learn and share. Wales are doing stuff that other countries are very interested in. Wales was pointed at several times for being a great example of what they call a sub-national government, for doing good.
GR: What discussions did you take part in or listen to?
Lee Waters MS: Two particular experiences stand out for me, personally. I met with a coffee grower from Uganda, in which Wales has supported through the Welsh Government’s Wales for Africa project, to plant trees and form a Fairtrade co-operative of coffee farmers. The frontline of the climate emergency is now directly affecting the slope hills in the Mbale region of Uganda. That was very powerful. I also met a tribal leader of an indigenous tribe from the rainforests of Brazil who are facing the direct impact of the way we’re using soy in animal foods. Their lands are being cleared by loggers for that. So two people who directly as a result of things that we are doing, are feeling the impact of climate change now. That made an impact on me.
GR: Wales have just joined the Beyond gas and Oil Alliance. What exactly does that entail?
Lee Waters MS: It’s a really important movement and we are one of the founding members of it. The idea is that it will grow and influence others. We’ve started off with ten members including Denmark, who are the biggest producer of oil in Europe. It’s a significant commitment for them to pledge to move away from oil and gas. Wales has been leading the way with this agenda. We’ve banned franking a number of years ago and then we stopped issuing any new licences for coal. As part of this agreement, we’re saying that when the last coal and gas licences run out in 2035, we won’t be renewing any of them. That is significant.
GR: Do you believe that COP26 has been a success?
Lee Waters MS: We don’t know if the summit was a success yet. In terms of Wales’ point of view and my personal view before I arrived was whether the outcome of the summit was a success was out of our hands. We have no control over others. That doesn’t change what we do. We need to de-couple the negotiations and net-zero targets as they are two separate things. Negotiations will continue, it’s permanent and works by consensus. Unless all 197 countries agree, there is no agreement. In practice, it means you move at the pace of the slowest and we can’t let our actions be determined by the pace of the slowest. It’s good it’s going on and I hope that positive things come out of it. There have already been positive announcements but our focus is on how we deliver the net-zero target in Wales because the science isn’t going to change.
GR: How exactly is climate change impacting on Wales?
Lee Waters MS: We see it happening to us now. Climate change is locked into the atmosphere. We’re going to see sea levels rise by 0.5 meters, bearing in mind that most of the largest Welsh towns and cities are on the coast. That will have a real impact that we can’t stop so we need to learn how to adapt to that. We’ve been seeing more extreme weather, having wetter, wilder winters and hotter, dryer summers. That’s already killing people. So there are real impacts of climate change now and those are just going to get worse.
GR: Are you confident that Wales can hit their net-zero target?
Lee Waters MS: I can’t be confident about it as it’s something we have to put our shoulder to the wheel on. We have identified a way to do it, through setting targets in five year chunks. That means that we know what we need to do in the next five years in order to get to that point and to put us on track to hit net zero, but we haven’t done it yet. We’ve already seen the reaction to cancelling bypasses or rejecting coal licences. There is significant opposition to it. So the jury’s out on whether we will achieve it or not.
GR: You’ve discussed potential opposition there. Do you believe that the people of Wales, as a whole, are taking the climate crisis seriously? Are a few climate sceptics impacting on how society perceives the crisis?
Lee Waters MS: Inevitably, that’s true. There will always be a bunch of people who say it’s not a threat. There will never be complete agreement on that. The majority of people realize there’s a problem and want to do something about it and the job of the government is to make the changes that are needed.
GR: You’ve also discussed the need to lower meat consumption, do you have any other advice for students on reducing their carbon footprint?
Lee Waters MS: So the UK Climate Change commission said 60% of needed changes are to do with people’s choices. So, choosing to fly less, choosing an electric car, making fewer journeys and buying less stuff. They are practical things that we can all do.
GR: Now that you’re on your way back to Cardiff, what is the next step after COP26?
Lee Waters MS: There are a series of things that we’re working on and hopefully some further announcements in the next few weeks and months. We have COP Cymru coming up at the end of the month, which is a week of Welsh climate action and discussion. This is an ongoing effort and it will be really hard to do. Society has never dealt with something like this before so it’s going to take all of our efforts on an ongoing basis to tackle it.