Following the Welsh Government’s pledge to meet net zero emissions by 2050 and the outcome of the COP26 conference in Glasgow, it is clear that efforts to decarbonise our economy and society will be ever more important to public policy and debate in the years and decades to come.
But while we know where we need to be to avoid the worst effects of climate change, it is still not clear how we will get there, nor what sort of society we will be on the other end. We want to facilitate a discussion between selected experts to consider these questions and what they might mean for policy and practice in Wales.
Owing to Wales’s economy and geography, we want to concentrate our initial discussions into two areas. Firstly, decarbonising energy and heavy industry. This will require electrification or the use of hydrogen in industrial processes, alongside significant investment in renewable energy with battery storage and nuclear power. If done well, this ‘green growth’ model could allow decarbonisation without radical social or economic shifts.
It remains unclear whether contemporary resource use can be sustained over the long run, however, which suggests that green growth may hit limits eventually. ‘Degrowth’ advocates, as well as economic models like ‘doughnut economics’, want to shift away from a production and consumption-oriented society to one keeping within what they see as planetary boundaries. But this will require significant and far-reaching changes to society that will be experienced as a deprivation by many.
We want to discuss the implications of these models frankly and openly to understand how these perspectives differ, what they would mean for Welsh society and whether any common ground can be found between them.
The second area we want to explore is land use and land use change. Agriculture is culturally important in Wales. It is a key part of the rural economy, and a bastion of the Welsh language as agricultural communities are more likely to speak Welsh than other communities across Wales. Changes like rewilding, or a mooted shift from basic farm payments to subsidies based on the production of environmental goods, could have serious repercussions for these communities.
But there is a recognised need for agriculture to change. Rewilding, afforestation and habitat restoration offer potential to increase biodiversity, ecosystem resilience and can be used to enhance flood defences and mitigate against emissions and some of the effects of climate change.
The extent to which these things can be achieved without harming agricultural communities is up for debate. We want to facilitate a discussion on how to manage and agree these changes in a way that promotes environmental goods while protecting agricultural livelihoods and the communities they support.