Revolution to make a better world for future generations

Yesterday, I delivered the keynote speech at the Carbon Trust Public Sector Conference 2016 in Aberystwyth, where I addressed the key challenges facing the public sector as they implement the Well-Being of Future Generations Act. The Act has been defined as internationally ground-breaking, with the UN declaring ‘What Wales is doing today we hope the world will do tomorrow.’

Firstly, it puts in statute a set of well-being goals which capture the Wales we aspire to: a more prosperous Wales, a more resilient Wales, a healthier Wales, a more equal Wales, a Wales of cohesive communities, a Wales with vibrant culture and thriving language, and a globally responsible Wales.

Secondly, the Act sets out five ways of working that need to be adopted by the 44 public bodies covered by the Act, including the Welsh Government itself, in order to meet the goals. These include: a shift from short term thinking to planning for the long term; focusing on preventative measures rather than dealing with problems as they emerge; collaboration between different bodies; integration across the goals that avoid silo working; and involving people and communities in decisions which affect them.

You may think this is just common sense – and of course it is – but then why are out public bodies not systematically working this way?

We need to focus on the challenges that will impact on Wales both now and into the future and one of the biggest challenges we face is tackling climate change.  I am not a climate scientist but I am a mum.  I have five children and what I know and particularly what I have come to know since being in this role makes me fear for their futures.

Figures released by NASA last weekend showed that the global land and sea temperatures were 1.11°C warmer this April than the average temperature for April during the period 1951-1980. These latest figures smashed the previous record for April by the largest margin ever recorded. It makes three months in a row that the monthly record has been broken by the largest margin ever, and seven months consecutively that are at least 1°C above the 1951-80 mean for that month. When the string of record-smashing months started in February, scientists began talking about a ‘climate emergency’.

And whilst the British tradition of praying for hot weather lives on there is a darker side to this.  Continued increases in global temperature mean that the 222,000 homes currently at risk of flooding will increase, along with an estimated cost of £200 million. If we think there are concerns about migration now, we ain’t seen nothing yet. If global warming continues along its projected path millions of people across the world will be displaced.  The first thing likely to be affected will be the availability of food – an issue which can be met at a price but not by the poorest.

Sometimes the issues seem so big that it seems there is so little that we can do, but in fact there are many things that we can do and should be doing now and at a pace. There are already some great examples of houses being powered by renewable energy - such as the Solcer House in Bridgend - and of good energy efficiency schemes, but these need to be stepped up. Not just because it will reduce our carbon emissions but because it will help the 1 in 3 people in Wales who live in fuel poverty who have to make the daily decisions on whether to ‘heat or eat’.  When we look at the cost to the Welsh Health Service of £100m annually for treating cold-related hospital admissions with 475 deaths each year directly attributable to vulnerable people living in cold homes, keeping people warm and helping protect the environment is surely a ‘no brainer’.

Last week the entire country of Portugal was powered for four days using only renewable energy, showing that is increasingly possible to meet the ambitions of a zero carbon society. Furthermore, companies here in Wales are already building houses which have solar absorption in the fabric of the material they use, meaning there is no need for expensive retro fit panels.

There are also small hydro schemes which could be used to directly power our homes schools and hospitals reducing our carbon emissions and providing a cheaper sources of energy. More promisingly, UK wind energy outperformed coal for the whole of April, and last year almost a quarter of the UK’s electricity was generated by renewables.

Let’s think about how we use this. Let’s think about how we use green infrastructure – trees, plants and open spaces - to absorb some of our emissions. These are things that we need to be doing now if we are to meet our commitments on climate change. 100 years ago Wales led the industrial revolution as the world’s largest coal supplier. This is our opportunity to be forefront of a low carbon revolution that delivers a better world for future generations.


Sophie Howe is the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales. She provided the morning keynote address at the Carbon Trust’s Public Sector Conference in Aberystwyth on 25 May 2016.

This article first appeared in the Western Mail.