Wildlife Trusts Wales concerned about lack of urgency and ambition in Welsh Government Net Zero Carbon Plan

Wildlife Trusts Wales concerned about lack of urgency and ambition in Welsh Government Net Zero Carbon Plan

Alexander Mustard/2020VISION

Wildlife Trusts Wales respond to the Welsh Governments recent Net Zero Carbon Plan announcement.

Wildlife Trusts Wales are concerned over the lack of ambition for natures recovery in the Net Zero Wales plans announced by the Welsh Government this week. It is encouraging that the First Minister recognises that the loss of the natural world and the climate emergency is the same struggle and that his Government is committed to addressing both these issues simultaneously.

However, the Wildlife Trusts believes that the scale and the pace of the response by the Welsh Government doesn’t match the severity of the crises we face. We are running out of time to address these issues, and we need an urgent step change in the way we address these problems if we are to match the commitments made with meaningful action.

Addressing both the climate and nature crises means that nature-based solutions delivered at a landscape scale across Wales are vital. Nature has a crucial role in helping us adapt to climate change. We know Wales will be facing more extreme and frequent weather events. We need to invest now to let nature help by holding back flood waters and storing carbon. We need to increase our understanding and awareness that hard engineering responses are not adequate.

How nature can help

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Mark Hamblin/2020VISION

How nature can help reduce flooding

Dredging rivers isn’t the answer to flooding; we need to re-wet our uplands and re-instate floodplains. Peat holds up to 20 times its own volume of water; these natural sponges are our most effective tool in stopping flooding. In this way, we are also bringing back nature and beautiful places for us all to enjoy; these win-win solutions need our attention and our investment.

The Welsh Government says it wants to ensure wide-scale peatland restoration and aims to restore 600-800 hectares of degraded peatland each year over the next five years. There are an estimated 90,000 hectares of peatlands across Wales. At this current rate of restoration, it will take over 112 years to achieve restoration of peatlands in Wales. This isn’t a timetable to respond to a crisis. Banning the sale of peat in compost sold at garden centres is essential. Whilst there is no commercial peat extraction for compost in Wales, peat is still a popular material for gardeners and the horticultural sector in Wales. The ongoing destruction of peatlands outside Wales is contributing to the climate crisis and a ban is urgently needed. At the moment, we only have a commitment to join the UK Governments consultation on a proposed ban.

View over upland landscape of Pumlumon Living Landscape project, Cambrian mountains, Wales. -

Peter Cairns/2020VISION

Why trees aren't always the answer

In Wales, we are still seeing a fixation on tree planting, and Welsh Government wants to create 43,000 hectares of new woodland by 2030 and 180,000 hectares by 2050, covering 10% of Wales. We need the right tree in the right place; otherwise, planting could damage nature. There is no clarity on how these new targets will increase the coverage of native woodlands across Wales, such as the globally threatened temperate oak woodlands known as the Celtic Rainforest. The concern is that the new woodlands will be dominated by commercial coniferous plantations. These woodlands only temporarily store carbon and, often on harvest releases carbon through exposed soils.

The problem with offshore wind

The Welsh Government proposals in our marine environment focus on seagrass and saltmarsh restoration, which is to be welcomed. However, the ongoing bottom trawling of the seabed around Wales has dire consequences for the climate. Marine sediments are the largest pool of carbon storage in the world. A recent study published in Nature said that bottom trawling, where heavy nets are dragged along the seabed, release over 1 gigaton of carbon globally every year and release as much carbon dioxide as the entire aviation industry. The carbon is released from the seabed sediment into the water and can increase ocean acidification as well as adversely impacting on wildlife.

Many of the commitments for renewable energy are reliant on new offshore wind production. The scale and pace of ambition here are evident; however, we need to deploy this technology slowly to understand the potential impacts on nature. The proposed areas for the turbines are over flight paths for globally threatened sea birds. It is suggested that the offshore platforms will form artificial reefs, but the reality is that the anchor chains will cut through the water column and drag up the sea bed, potentially killing any wildlife in their way. Cabling needed to get the electricity back to the mainland will also damage marine protected areas. We recognise the need for renewable energy, but smaller-scale community production should be the focus, as this would support the circular economy in Wales.

Sustainable farming

Farming accounted for 14% of all Welsh greenhouse gas emissions in 2019. The new Agriculture (Wales) Bill is set to be the biggest policy change in the sector for decades. However, the proposed Sustainable Farming Scheme will not happen until 2025. Given that farming takes place on over 80% of land across Wales, the concern is that any benefits for the climate and nature from the new scheme are still a long way off.

The future of farming

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© Simon Rawles

In May 2022 the vitally important global Convention on Biological Diversity COP15 – the nature COP - will take place in China. This conference will focus on pledges made by many governments, including Wales of 30 by 30. This aims to protect and restore the natural world across 30% of land and sea by 2030. The Welsh Government needs to fully understand that this agenda is about the recovery of the natural world and not just designating sites for protection without any active management. Welsh Government has already recognised the need to start natures recovery by protecting key nature reserves known as SSSI’s and have pledged £45-£60 million to restore these areas over the next three years. This is on top of over £7 million already released this year.

The Welsh Government’s recognition of the nature crisis and its commitment to setting legally binding nature targets are the right steps, and Wildlife Trusts Wales welcomes them. Work has begun, but the scale and pace of what is needed has to speed up rapidly, and damaging activity ceased if we are to stop more species from becoming extinct in Wales.