I was invited by Mark Reckless, Chair of the Climate Change, Environment, and Rural Affairs Committee, to share thoughts on the experience of the Climate Change Commission for Wales with the Committee’s newly established Climate Change Expert Group. I am sure it will make a very important contribution to the critical role of the Committee in holding Welsh Government to account.
Many members of the former Commission are now engaged with this expert group, so much of the learning can be carried forward, but recognising that there are significant differences in the remit of the previous Commission and the new expert group.
Certainly it is important to congratulate the Chair and the Committee on taking the step to set up a climate change expert group to support their scrutiny function. It both highlights the importance the Committee puts on ensuring that Welsh Government deliver on their climate change commitments and also opens up the scrutiny process to greater public involvement
So 12 months on since the last meeting of the Climate Change Commission in March 2016 reflections shared with the Committee……
The Establishment of the Commission
The Commission was first established by Welsh Government in December 2007 with a remit to “guide and oversee the work undertaken on Climate Change in Wales and the establishment of an agreed benchmarking and target regime for emission reduction in areas of devolved competency in Wales. In particular, it will:
Provide leadership to contribute to tackling both the causes and consequences of climate change in Wales.
Build a consensus on the action needed in Wales to address climate change
Support the delivery of those actions
Advise on the development of Assembly Government policies and programmes and monitor progress
Network and share advice and best practice
The Commission was initially chaired by Jane Davidson as Environment Minister responsible for the development of the climate change strategy, with a secretariat provided by Welsh Government. An independent chair was appointed in 2011 and in 2012 the support for CCCW transferred across to Cynnal Cymru, with a budget of £90k per annum to employ 1 part-time coordinator and support CCCW activities. The Commission operated until March 2016.
The cross sector, cross party membership of the Commission was the core strength of its operations bringing together key groups from across society to provide advice, build consensus and mobilise action.
The involvement of political party membership of parties represented in the Senedd was a unique element in comparison with similar structures in other administrations. This was a very positive feature of Commission’s operations, although feedback into party structures was variable, in particular the connection to local councillor networks, which was generally weak.
Plaid/ Liberal Democrats had consistent representatives, the Conservatives fielded their AM responsible, which was very effective when able to attend but the nature of the role led to less consistent attendance. The Labour Party was represented through the attendance of the Minister although this was not really satisfactory arrangement and needed a formal party nomination.
The level of representation from Commission member organisations tended to be at the working level, given the commitment of 3 / 4 full day sessions + working groups. The Commission did hold breakfast sessions for senior level representatives and the Chair did have bi lateral meetings with senior representatives, but there needed to be a more consistent Climate Change Commission Leaders structure.
The engagement of young people in the Commission was an important dimension, initially through the welsh Government and then via Funky Dragon. The Commission particularly valued the Funky Dragon contribution in engaging the wider youth sector. It was disappointing that this contribution was terminated with the removal of funding for the organisation, particularly as the Commission received consistent reports over its 8 years that there was considerable variability in the way in which climate change was covered within the education system.
Many of the organisations represented were involved in direct delivery of climate change related services, funded through Welsh Government. The Commission provided a focal point for making connections across these bodies and also a means for drawing on their expertise for advice. However, it also limited to some extent the Commission’s capacity to hold to account given the funding dependency of a number of members.
Members of the Commission were potentially able to achieve significant reach through their respective networks, for example WCVA led a third sector climate change action programme focussed on non- environmental voluntary groups, while WLGA were active in supporting and enabling local authorities to develop a range of responses. The FSB and CBI were active as representative business organisations.
The independent experts, including the Met Office and Tyndall Centre, were critical in providing the added technical expertise and evidence base required by the Commission. The relationship with the UK Climate Change Committee was particularly important in this respect and is critical in respect of the fact that the devolved government has limited policy levers and so heavily reliant on the impact of UK and EU policies for emission reduction. The relationship between the Commission and UK Committee was variable through the period but improved significantly over the last 2 years and needs to be a key feature of future arrangements.
Relationship with Welsh Government
The Commission was clearly independent of Welsh Government with a function of providing independent advice and scrutiny. The Commission worked with 4 different Ministers from 2011 - representing the nature of our important role in keeping a focus on climate change through different Ministers and at a time when Government was focused on managing the economic impacts of the global financial crisis
Welsh Government officials attended the full Commission meetings with the Minister usually attending to provide and update on progress and allow for questions. The links to the responsible Minister were positive with written feedback to the Minister from every meeting and bi laterals with the Chair.
The lack of alignment across departments and mixed messages was a consistent issue for the Commission and although the chair met with other Ministers to raise these issues, the full Commission never had the opportunity to interrogate Ministers from other Departments
The relations with officials were constructive but the Commission made the point in its reports that it felt that the core climate change team was not resourced well enough to fulfil its tasks, particularly as it was clear that climate change was not a consistent priority across the other departments.
The Commission was also on times frustrated by the fact that climate change related policy and programmes were developed in isolation with the Commission not being engaged at an early enough stage.
There were also significant instances of delays in being able to share reports from policy interventions and thereby to assess the effectiveness of investments.
These concerns particularly related to the communications and engagement work initiated by Welsh Government with concerns raised over “patchworks of short term, stop-start support.” The Commission highlighted the negative impact of short term top down interventions and the need to work through trusted intermediaries.
However, the Commission made important contributions to the development of the new legislative frameworks, particularly making the successful case for a stronger element within the Environment Act and clear references to climate change within the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act
The Commission initially produced separate independent annual progress reports but in later years an independent commentary was incorporated within the Welsh Government’s own annual climate change report. As a non-statutory body, the Commission was probably least effective in this “holding to account” function and achieved most though informing the annual reviews of the statutory UK Climate Change Committee.
The Operations of the Commission
It is worth stressing that the Commission operated on a very limited budget of 90k per annum with no Commission member receiving a fee for membership, other than the £3k per year the Chair received under the terms of his public appointment.
The first stage of the Commission’s operations, when chaired by the Minister, focused on providing advice to the development of the Climate Change Strategy in 2010, which was launched jointly with the Commission. The transition to an independent chair and secretariat led to a greater focus on delivery of a work programme, which focused around the seven priority areas set out in the 2012 Commission report, which I would argue that its priority areas remain central to climate change policy:
Focus on building resilience to reduce the impact of a changing climate.
Accelerate the transition to a low-carbon economy.
Scale-up efforts to reduce emissions from the built environment.
Manage our land use to reduce emission levels from this sector.
Address the transport challenge
Engage civil society to achieve a significant impact in tackling climate change.
Ensure leadership from the public sector to communicate and engage people on the challenges of climate change.
Commission Sub Groups
The size of the full Commission meetings with 20 contributing members meant that much of the detailed work on key areas of focus was undertaken through subgroups.
These groups also provided the means of engaging wider stakeholder networks in total approximately a further 30 stakeholder organisations were engaged through this process. The standing sub groups focused on the big issues of Land Use, Built Environment and Transport, while other specific task groups held stakeholder sessions on key issues such as community engagement.
The nature of the sub groups varied in nature with for instance Land Use and Climate Change and Low Zero Carbon Hub for the Built Environment having work programmes agreed and supported by respective divisions of Welsh Government.
However even within these structures it could be difficult to generate focused, urgent action, such as with the implementation of the detailed 40+recommendations of the Land Use and Climate Change report, which were accepted by Ministers but not implemented in full. In the case of the built environment, the Wales Low Zero Carbon Hub, suffered frustrations of trying to connect overlapping and competing initiatives supported across different departments, combined with inconsistencies in the Government commitment to pursue more ambitious carbon reduction plans for new build. Equally the transport sub group work failed to achieve significant traction with the relevant Department
It is worth highlighting the role of the Adaptation sub group in this respect in keeping an urgent focus on the slipping timetables for the production of the Sectoral Adaptation Plans. “The CCCW Adaptation Subgroup organised a series of workshops in 2015 for the following sectors: Business & Tourism; Communities; and Infrastructure. The aim was to provide evidence and practitioner viewpoints to feed into the corresponding Sectoral Adaptation Plans (SAPs) that Welsh Government undertook to produce in its Climate Change Strategy 2010. As you know, we spent a lot of time urging WG to produce these SAPs, but no progress was made.” Chair of Adaptation sub group
Nevertheless, the sub groups played an important role in providing a consistent focal point on key areas of climate change policy across key departments. They also kept the issue in the forefront of the 30+ stakeholder organisations they engaged, leveraging significant voluntary contributions.
The Commission had a clear focus on energy policy, as the basis for a decarbonisation strategy, with the Chair representing the Commission on the First Minister’s Energy Strategy Group to convey the Commission priorities of:
Delivering energy efficiency at scale to reduce demand in both domestic and business sectors
Accelerating the growth of renewable energy
Enabling growth in community owned energy generation with greater localisation of energy supply through distributed systems
Building closer relationships between HE research and development capacity and the energy industry.
The Commission consistently argued the case for greater pace and coherence in delivery of a low carbon energy strategy, recommending clearer Ministerial accountability for the overall strategy. It also helped to establish Community Energy Wales, which was eventually backed by Welsh Government, as a means of growing community owned energy programmes, where we lagged badly behind Scotland
The cross sector nature of the Commission provided a basis for building an approach to green growth, which was developed over a series of stakeholder sessions and Commission meetings, leading to a Commission paper being presented to the Council for Economic Renewal under the sponsorship of the Economy Minister.
The endorsement by the Council and the co-sponsoring of further work by both Economy and Natural Resources led to the Green Growth summit in March 2016. This focus on economic transition was a priority for the Commission. It needed to translate into a coherent low carbon economic policy where all aspects of Government support are aligned.
In the last year of operation, the Commission was able to use very small amounts of budget to initiate Commission led work in support of the work programme, in areas such as carbon in procurement, car clubs in transport policy, carbon impact of the M4 relief road and green infrastructure. This proved to be a valuable process in producing independent, evidence based reports on key interventions.
While the Commission has been a focal point for cross sector groups lack of capacity meant that it did not become a wider focal point for the general public, with limited external awareness.
A better Commission web site presence was developed over the last year of the Commission’s operation, which provided the basis for a much needed independent climate change focal point for Wales, linking to resources and activities. This web site still exists but has not been updated or transferred to another body
Lessons and Looking Forward
The Commission provided a consistent cross sector focus on climate change.
It was not well resourced but it did leverage capacity across a wide range of public, private and third sector organisations, with over 50 stakeholder organisations being actively engaged on a climate change focus
As a non-statutory body its scrutiny function was weak in holding Ministers to account across Government portfolios. The CCERA Committee, supported by the new Expert Group, can be much more effective in this role.
The experience of the Commission indicates the importance of consistency in decision making and the need for clearer accountability at leadership levels across the public sector. The Commission argued for greater benchmarking local authority response to reducing emissions and adapting to impacts across their areas. This recommendation can also be applied to the new Public Service Boards.
The new legislation of the Wellbeing of Future Generations and the Environment Acts provides a much stronger legal framework for delivery with carbon budgets against clear milestones, supported by the new statutory Future Generations Commissioner. The Future Generations Commissioner brings statutory powers and a duty to incorporate climate change into her work programme. This represents a significant step forward in both holding public sector bodies to account and in providing support for policy development
The legislative structure is stronger but experience indicate that implementation can be bureaucratic leading to slow change on the ground. For example, virtually all recommendations of the Land Use and Climate Change group were accepted by Government but were never fully implemented. Equally the potential of the Active Travel Act has yet to be fulfilled through effective implementation and provides an illustration of this point.
Scientific evidence is even stronger, there is increasing direct experience of short term impacts, with a clearer global consensus for action across countries and companies set out in the UN Paris Agreement, but recent events highlight the continued need to focus on communicating the evidence, providing consistent support, working with trusted intermediaries to make an impact on the ground.
Progress will still require “concerted action from Government, the private and voluntary sectors, and active participation from communities and citizens”. This would fall outside the remit of the Expert Group but there remains a requirement for cross sector leadership structures such as Scotland’s 2020 group
During the last 8 years the potential of achieving a low carbon future which can bring economic, social and environmental benefits has been demonstrated through the practical examples of leadership action across all sectors - as demonstrated through Centre for Alternative Technology’s Zero Carbon Britain report. It is a matter now of focus and applying these practices to scale.
Peter Davies 27/2/17