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Welsh Government's Low Carbon Wales plan - the role of the third sector

March 22, 2019

I had opportunity to present on the role of the third sector at the launch of the Welsh Government's Low Carbon Wales plan   

 

 

 

"I am very grateful for opportunity to contribute to the launch of the Welsh Govenrment's decarbonisation action plan in my role as Chair of Wales Council for  Voluntary Action I have just come from the largest annual gathering of the third sector in Wales – Gofod 3 –800+ people at Cardiff City stadium, which gives a sense of scale and reach of a sector that has 32000 voluntary organisations across Wales.  

 

I obviously also come with some personal history – dating back to being founder member of Climate Change Commission in 2007; speaking at the launch of the first climate change strategy ; being independent chair of the Climate Change Commission from 2011 to 2015; chairing the launch of First Minister's  energy strategy in 2012 & of course helping to shape Wellbeing of Future Generations Act as Commissioner for Sustainable Futures.

 

It is important to take opportunity on occasions like this to reflect back over 12 years – where we have made progress – the lessons, the missed opportunities The sense of ambition and leadership of 2007 struggled to survive when the political agenda became dominated by fall out from global financial crisis and impacts of austerity . It became a struggle to get climate change taken seriously as a priority across Government against competing short term priorities, leading to retreats from ambition for Wales to lead in areas such as requirements for new build. Instead we saw a range of short term top down initiatives, doing good work but not on the scale needed and often leaving little in terms of legacy or continuity.

 

My two key lessons – the importance of:

 

-  avoiding mixed messages from different parts of Government

 - collective focus – in particular the need to invest in bottom up community led action to balance and support top down policy interventions.

 

It is important to day to recognise those pioneers at front line of community led change who suffer the frustrations, isolation, and the dangers of burn out due to the challenges of the system - those points of light in community leadership around Wales.

 

Over the past 2 years I have taken over the baton on in chairing one of those small community initiatives - Community Energy Pembrokeshire – its history is instructive – beginning  in 2007 with a feasibility study for community energy in SE Pembrokeshire by PLANED; identifying a site; securing a joint venture partner, being turned down by one vote in Planning Committee having been recommended by officers, to be granted on appeal – but with the time delay leading to a 2  million pound loss to community benefit due to missing feed in tariff deadlines. With support of Welsh Government Energy service we are now at the point of purchasing the turbine – a long journey which has taken a huge amount of volunteer energy and taken its toll on those involved.

 

This story is replicated in different ways across Wales – barriers and actions so well set out in the recent work of the IWA new report, which sets out how Wales could become a world leader in community and local energy. I am delighted that the First Minister announced further 4 million for community energy today but I think we all recognise the missed opportunity of the slowness in incentivising Community Energy.

 

Looking back to the report of the National Conversation in 2014 that helped shape WFG Act it was the strong sense of belonging to our communities that emerged as a clear asset. However, many felt a lack of engagement between the community and the decision-makers resulted in frustration due to an inability to make the necessary changes. We need to create a Wales where communities find it easier to do things for themselves including through increasing people’s ownership of their community .

 

The last manifesto from Climate Change Commission in 2015 called for Government to recognise, and continue to incentivise, the role that civil society has in kick starting local action, education and local enterprise initiatives that promote climate friendly living and to recognise the key ‘trusted messenger’ role played by third sector organisations. It is great news that we have a new Behaviour Change Centre at Cardiff University, but I believe firmly it is people and communities that lead behaviour change not governments. It is essential to ensure that there is adequate support and resources available for this work to continue – central to this is availability of small grant support to local groups ; one of continued messages has been decline in small grant support and envious references to Scotland’s community climate change fund.

 

We know that the third sector has a key role to play in engaging communities and individuals, especially harder to reach and vulnerable groups. Tackling injustice is at the heart of the third sector and it is good to see the announcement of a Climate Just task group. It is important to recognise forms of climate injustice 1) lower-income and other disadvantaged groups contribute least to causing climate change but 2) are likely to be most negatively affected by it; 3) they have paid, as a proportion of income, the most towards implementing certain policy responses such as feed in tariffs and 4) benefit least from those policies; and 5) their voices tend to go unheard in decision making; There is a danger that Climate change policy is largely developed and conducted separately to policy that aims to tackle social vulnerability, poverty and disadvantage; governance and the policy design process need to change so that those most affected by climate change and climate change policy have more say in shaping responses – this will require engaging communities in more collaborative planning processes. When extreme weather happens, such as flooding, the third sector will play an important role by providing help in the response and aftermath of such events.

 

The third sector has an important advocacy role; campaigning for a more sustainable future – holding Government to account. It is a sector that is central to the delivery of this plan, mobilising the capacity for voluntary action, building community capacity and ownership, creating solutions, tackling injustice. It is worth remembering that Nature is the main organised interest in this country – with our nature based NGOs literally having millions of members across UK – energy and enthusiasm that needs to be captured.

 

Today is of course different from what has gone before because it represents the plan to deliver on legally binding targets framed against our new distinctive legislative structures. But we do know the limits of legislation - the scale of change required is transformational and whole system which means everyone needs to be part of the change and know where they contribute to its delivery The sector needs to take leadership action working with business and public bodies to deliver action on climate change . I hope the WG plan leads to a more formalised involvement process so we can all work together and address the need for collective endeavour and build the Plan for Wales.

 

I am going to end with a quote from last Welsh Government climate change strategy document :

“We believe that real and lasting change begins on the ground, in our community groups, in our voluntary groups, self-help groups, community co-operatives and enterprises, religious organisations and other not for profit organisations; collectively referred to as the third sector. This means that while we, as Government, need to set the direction of change towards a low carbon society, we also need the third sector; as trusted agents, and active partners in making the big and urgent changes”

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