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We Have Less Than 9 years to Avoid Climate Breakdown!

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Climate Change is one of the most critical challenges ever faced by humankind. When the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel warned us in 2018 that we had less than 12 (now 9) years to avoid climate breakdown, it was no sensationalist headline or lazy clickbait. It was the considered view of world-renowned experts that we are in danger of creating an unsustainable future for the generations to come. 

The World Economic Forum Global Risks Report of 2020 showed in stark detail the stand-out long-term risk being faced by us all if we fail to fundamentally change the way we power our industry, fuel our transport, heat our homes, grow our food, go about our work, distribute our goods – and consume the products and services we need for a civilised way of life.

“The Challenge and Opportunity cutting across all our lives”

Against this sobering backdrop, it’s worth noting that Wales has been at the forefront of the UK’s movement towards decarbonisation and sustainability. The Environment (Wales) Act 2016 introduced a duty on Welsh Government to develop carbon budgets for Wales and to reduce emissions by at least 80% 2050. If that figure seems daunting, you could be forgiven for looking away now … as that target is likely to be increased to 95% based on predictions from the UK Committee on Climate.

No responsible person, of course, should look away or shrug their shoulders at the enormity of it all. The plain fact is that progress to date has not been fast enough, which means we need to reduce our emissions dramatically in this decade to achieve the target of a 45% reduction by 2030. There’s no-one to blame or point fingers at. This is what it is, due in large part to Wales’ legacy of industry (50% of emissions are produced by a small number of industrial sites) and the fact that we have one of the UK’s most energy-inefficient housing stocks.

“Much needs to change. Forever. Right now.” 

Much needs to change. Forever. And Right Now. Welsh Government is doing all a Government can do: making a policy commitment for the public sector to be carbon neutral by 2030, aligning their financial budget cycles with carbon budgets, to give a greater focus on investing in decisions that achieve carbon reduction targets (the only government in the UK to do so) – and calling on the world’s leaders for greater action in the name of climate justice. But this is not just about ‘The Government’ making decisions or choosing where to spend money. Far from it. This is not about ‘others’. This is about ‘us’. It’s about each and every one of us making the right day-to-day decisions to create a decarbonised world. A world where future generations can live and prosper – or not.

The positive news (as this Cardiff Capital Region series has shown) is that the wheels of a profound transformation are beginning to turn. We’re now understanding our emissions and where we need to prioritise action. We realise that tackling climate change and a crisis of nature calls for a holistic approach producing blended solutions. We appreciate that a just transition needs to be achieved, at speed and scale, delivering multiple benefits. We are taking responsibility. And as our series has shown, we are beginning to take actions, too ….

“Pulling together a ‘Net Zero Team Wales’ “

We’ve seen how our region is helping pull together a “Net Zero Team Wales” at the South Wales Industrial Cluster (SWIC) – transforming the UK’s second largest emitter of industrial greenhouse gases (we generate 16 million tonnes of carbon dioxide) into a decarbonised industrial complex through ‘A Plan for Clean Growth’ built around energy efficiency, fuel switching, carbon capture utilisation and local energy hubs. It’s very much a race and success is in our own hands – or as David Jukes, Programme Development Director of Costain, so vividly evoked: “we either ride the decarbonisation wave and enjoy £2bn-£4bn investment every year for 29 years – or we miss it.”

We’ve explored how we’re able to make our housing stock ‘energy-fit’ for the future – transforming the current situation where 750,000 homes are responsible for 27% of all energy consumed across CCR. Retro-fitting every property with fuel pumps and hydrogen boilers to meet the ‘climate resilient’ standards of being low carbon, water and energy efficient is eminently achievable. Indeed, we have the potential to attain a band A energy rating through a blend of electricity and hydrogen produced by solar, offshore wind, tidal power, hydropower, geothermal and fusion energy by 2035, creating thousands of new jobs and billions of pounds of extra GVA in the process.

“Creating thousands of new jobs and billions of pounds of extra GVA in the process “   

We’ve discovered how our region is leading the way in generating and utilising Hydrogen (a key pillar in the Welsh Government’s Low Carbon Delivery Plan, due to be unveiled in November 2021) – with CCR due to play a central role in deploying fuel cell buses, trains and commercial vehicles; as well as being a base for the remarkable Riversimple Movement Ltd designer and manufacturer of hydrogen fuel cell electric cars.

We’ve spotlighted how CCR is home to an SME ecosystem that’s increasingly embracing the huge commercial opportunities that decarbonisation brings – from the Micro Acres Wales vertical and urban farm, to the Rhondda Valleys’ Easterkins organic and sustainable children’s clothing and the “Industry Repair” revolution being led by Bridgend-based Kontroltek.

We’re doing much – and now we need to do more. Have we got the skills and talent it takes to realise our ambition? Yes we have, according to CCR’s Chair of the Regional Skills Partnership – Leigh Hughes – who evidenced in his feature that ‘Green Skills’ and ‘Green Jobs’ are in fact there for us to develop if we use our proven strengths as a region to innovate and collaborate.

It’s encouraging to hear that Leigh’s views were echoed only last week by the UK Green Jobs Taskforce.

It’s also reassuring to know we have all the ingredients to create a decarbonised, sustainable, inclusive prosperity across all ten of our local authorities.

And now – with Baroness Brown (Chair of the CCC Adaptation Committee) warning “the climate change will not wait while we consider our options” – it’s absolutely critical for us and the generations that follow us that we all do the right things, right across the Cardiff Capital Region.