Last week’s Cambrian News was full of bad news about transport links across rural Wales, and especially the Welsh Government’s decision to effectively axe all new road projects. The driver for this seems to be the current political obsession with achieving “Net Zero” by an arbitrary point in time, regardless of the costs to our economy, society and culture. Handled badly, there is a real chance that this will destroy the rural way of life in mid Wales.
People talk about “The Climate Emergency”; the trouble with emergencies is that we all tend to panic and can easily make rash decisions and do daft things.
For sure, humankind needs to take climate change and the protection of our fragile environment very seriously indeed, and give it the priority it demands.
But there is time to think.
Figures vary, but the likely worst case scenario is that Wales produces 0.36 per cent of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions. That figure is significantly increased by Pembroke Power Station and Port Talbot Steel Works; one could argue that as strategic UK industries they shouldn’t be on Wales’ ledger. In which case our contribution is less than 0.1 per cent.
So, if we totally depopulated Wales next week, removing all human activity and all farm animals, some people would feel very virtuous, but it would make no measurable impact on global climate change. None at all. Sorry everyone, but we are just an accounting error in this one.
That is not to say for one moment that we shouldn’t do our fair share to decarbonise, and of course there is some justification in saying that historically Wales (and the UK as a whole) has produced more greenhouse gases than our population would justify.
But am I alone in wondering if we in Wales could do so much more with a bit of vision, ambition and political will? Instead of always worrying first about achieving Net Zero (and making a zero contribution to global climate change) why aren’t we giving priority to the future of our young people, our communities and our rural way of life? Could we in fact develop our economy and simultaneously punch well above our weight in the fight against climate change?
Take agriculture as an example. The climate change activists love to portray farmers as the villain, throwing out “facts and figures” which bear little resemblance to reality here in Wales. But in fact we are blessed with climate and geography that is perfectly suited to growing grass, providing the feed for our red meat and dairy sectors. We can be world leaders not just in quality, but in developing environmentally sustainable farming.
With the research coming out of our own universities in Aberystwyth and Bangor, we can and are developing new grasses that enhance this process, and demonstrating that this can be a very low carbon footprint process. Well managed grassland sequesters large quantities of carbon; it may well be far better at achieving this than turning the whole of Wales into a coniferous forest.
Wales can help lead the world in this field, and if we did then our contribution to preventing climate change will be so much more than 0.36 per cent.
Likewise transport. If our economy is to grow, providing good jobs and decent futures for the young people of Wales, we have to improve transport connectivity across mid Wales. It isn’t good enough for our government to shelve this as too difficult. None of us want to see more polluting lorries on our roads but we need those north/south and east/west links.
If we don’t want trunk roads why aren’t we looking to rail? The Victorians could do this for goodness sake! And why aren’t we looking to power these trains on green hydrogen, produced by a thriving renewable energy industry based here in Wales. It’s another field in which we could lead the world and achieve so much more.
Our response to climate change throws up challenges but also huge opportunities. Our current government’s approach seems to be based around celebrating the negatives, and managing decline. We must to do better than that. Wales can and should be a world leader in the fight against climate change. We need to find politicians with the vision to achieve it.