21 May 2002 Sustainable Development

21 May 2002

The Minister for Environment (Sue Essex): I propose that
the National Assembly:

1. welcomes the significant progress being made towards sustainable development in Wales, and acknowledges the important contribution made by the Assembly’s partners and outside organisations;2. recognises the importance of mainstreaming sustainable development in the work of the Welsh Assembly Government as reported in ‘Deciding to Live Differently’ and ‘How We are Learning to Live Differently’;3. supports a positive Welsh contribution to the world summit on sustainable development in Johannesburg in late August/early September; and
4. calls on the Minister for Environment to prepare a revised and updated sustainable development action plan. (NDM1051)

I am glad to be able to start this important debate. It is a legal requirement of the Government of Wales Act 1998 that we provide progress reports, and we are complying with Standing Order No. 6.5 in doing so. However, the motion is about much more than compliance with the legal requirements. I hope that we can celebrate—I use the word advisedly—the progress that we have achieved in Wales over the last three years.I put on record my thanks to everyone involved in the progress of sustainable development, both inside and outside the National Assembly for Wales. Over the past three years, many people have become involved in a variety of ways. It has been rewarding to meet those people and to consider ourselves part of one big movement for progress in Wales. Let us consider our situation three years ago. We had a legal duty to fulfil. There was no domestic or international role model for us to follow, no off-the-peg scheme or solution. We have been on our own in this. In some ways, that has been a strength. There were fears that the sustainable development duty would handicap Wales. Three years on, we have a scheme, an adopted action plan, which we are implementing, and we are mainstreaming sustainable development in policies and actions. Interestingly, others now see the Assembly as a pioneer and a leader; I do not think that we expected that three years ago. The sustainable development duty in the legislation is now seen as an advantage, not a handicap. It is important to say that.
In the early days, there were some fears about whether we would be able to mainstream sustainable development. We have been at pains to say that this is not just about the environment, although much of the push originally came from people involved in environmental action. We have attempted to mainstream sustainable development across subjects and agencies. In particular, we have used the integration tool developed by Forum for the Future, the UK’s leading sustainable development charity; it is being incorporated into several Assembly divisions and, I hope, its use is being spread among Assembly sponsored public bodies and other organisations that we hope will find it relevant.Some key principles have underlined the way in which we have worked. We have tried to work openly, operating with as many people as possible. The recent conference and major events show that. We have also sought to work in genuine partnership—it is a much used word, but it is crucial for sustainable development—with organisations such as Oxfam Cymru.We have tried to reach out to groups perhaps not traditionally approached by Government, such as the Women’s Institute—I praise its recent report on sustainable development—and we have also tired to share policy development. I hope that we have shown, and not only in principle, that we need to work, and have worked, innovativelyWe also needed to mainstream sustainable development within the Assembly Government and beyond. The Cabinet sub-committee, under the chairmanship of the First Minister, has been critical to this. We meet regularly, and have identified opportunities for better policy co-ordination and joined-up implementation. We have also pulled in organisations to help us in that process. The United Kingdom’s Sustainable Development Commission has identified this as good practice and it has been adopted by the Scottish Executive.I am establishing a cross-party Assembly working group on sustainable development. Over the last three years, a great deal has united the political groups on this issue and we have tried to work together. The working group is due to meet for the first time next week, and I hope that we will be able to use it as a sounding board and a source of ideas as we move towards the first statutory reconsideration of the sustainable development scheme in 2003.
I am pleased that my colleague, Jane Davidson, is developing ideas in education with the help of an advisory panel. Most of the focus has been on supporting sustainable development in schools, particularly in relation to the curriculum, but the wider sustainable development education agenda is also being considered..
We have been keen to draw in wider knowledge and experience from outside the Assembly that will help us and others. With my encouragement, Rod Aspinwall, the Welsh member of the UK Sustainable Development Commission, has drawn together a group of individuals representing different interests in Wales. This group will shortly issue a prospectus for an independent sustainable development forum. How the forum will be established, and with what remit, will depend on the response from Welsh society to this prospectus, but the group is keen to press on. This will be an innovative piece of work
To tap into good practice at UK level, we are fully involved with the Sustainable Development Commission. It met in Cardiff two weeks ago, and had discussions with the First Minister, officials and me. It supports our comprehensive and structured approach to sustainable development.
Looking further afield, we are expecting clearance on funding from the European Commission to set up an active network of regions that will exchange and develop good practice, and strengthen links between like-minded Governments and institutions across Europe. I believe that our level of government in Wales is crucial to turning sustainable development theory into practice, and we are acknowledged to be leading on this issue.
We are taking forward preparations for the world summit on sustainable development through the conference I mentioned a moment ago. It was an excellent conference. More than 400 people attended—including some Assembly Members—which was way beyond our expectations. We had workshops on 11 topics that are likely to come up in the world summit in Johannesburg, and the proceedings will be summarised and made available on the web. This will form part of our portfolio for the summit. We will also be able to point to the proceedings of last October’s equally successful business and environment conference, our European network, our sustainable development scheme, the strategic policies that support it, and the reports on our first two years’ work, which I am commending to you today.I will run through some of the key changes—this is not an exclusive list. Structurally, we need to mainstream sustainable development in core Welsh Assembly Government polices. In my portfolio, we are doing that in relation to waste, planning and transport. The new planning guidance document has sustainable development at its core, and we have recently issued a paper on transport policies. We also hope to extend this mainstreaming to Assembly sponsored public bodies. The Welsh Development Agency’s sustainable development policy is important, and the chief executives of ASPBs will meet shortly to see how they too can mainstream sustainable development. It will not be easy, and we must face up to the challenges; this is a different way of developing policies, decisions and programmes. However, we have started to make incremental changes, and it is important that we acknowledge that, as well as the fact that—and I would not want to hide behind it—we still have a way to go.To consider practical projects on the ground, the environmental development fund for national parks and areas of natural outstanding beauty is resulting in good, practical schemes that will be relevant to the environment and social and economic aspects of those communities. I have been impressed, in the practical examples I have seen, by the tie-in between the environment, sustainability, and local jobs. That link is stronger than I ever imagined it would be.
Environment Wales is also funding some excellent schemes, such as the Radnor Support Project, a charity that works with adults with learning difficulties, developing environmental schemes in the local community. The Coed Craig Ruperra Woodland Project is a 153-acre site of ancient woodland, not too far from here. Environment Wales is grant-aiding this project to establish a trust to develop the site as a multi-benefit woodland, providing a diversity of wildlife habitats. There is a whole range of schemes going on within local communities.
On the European scale, the European regional development funding of the innovative actions programme—

Alison Halford:

I congratulate the Minister for Environment and the Environment, Planning and Transport Committee for the National Assembly’s exciting sustainable policies. I support the motion. Sustainability has developed from a concept, via consultation, into a scheme, action plan and delivery. We are on the threshold of a new era—with ‘Deciding to Live Differently’, ‘Learning to Live Differently’, ‘How we are Learning to Live Differently’. With opportunities like these, I want to herald advances in my constituency, and I will discuss that shortly.I need not rehearse the arguments for sustainability, but who would now contest the Brundtland principles that sustainability must be our overarching goal? I welcome the Wales ecological footprint and the statistical monitoring of our 12 adopted indicators in ‘How we are Learning to Live Differently’. Coupled with a scheme and action plan, these are assurance of progress. We are planning and developing the means, and indeed, beginning to live differently in Wales.What about Flintshire? Scanning the 12 indicators, we see that climate change and renewable energy are crucial. We know that carbon sequestration alone will not curb carbon dioxide-induced global warming. The Mold based firm Celtic Offshore Wind Ltd is familiar to us, and certainly to you, Cynog. It has been running awareness consultation meetings in north Wales on its Rhyl flats offshore wind generation scheme. This exciting project will initially generate 1.5 per cent of Wales’s energy needs, rising soon to 2.5 per cent. Having just four similar sites will meet our target of using 10 per cent renewable energy by 2010, and even more. I support this and similar initiatives. The prognosis is remarkable: similar sites under 1 per cent of the UK’s coastal seabed would allow us to generate, by renewable means, 40 per cent of Britain’s energy by 2030, involving some 24,000 turbines. Do not be frightened by these figures; technology is growing apace and capacity for neater units is close. However, the 20 to 25-year lifespan is a concern but, provided Crown estates will renew leases, the system can deliver us from a large part of our fossil fuel dependency. Lease renewal is a matter I would urge the Minister for Environment and the First Minister to pursue through appropriate channels.Flintshire’s economic development is being given a major boost at the Shotton Paper Company’s new plant through increased paper recycling. It is possible to achieve 100 per cent recycling. The First Minister and Sue Essex deserve support for assisting this project. It is Tom Middlehurst’s responsibility, as it is in his constituency, to expand the possibilities of this exciting new initiative. I congratulate the company for its support of Young Reporters for the Environment, which is an important awareness and ideas driver. Also in Flint, NuLife Glass will extract lead from scrapped television and personal computer monitors, and it is geared up to handle four tonnes of glass a day. This is a timely development that will remove hazardous waste from all the wrong places. The company employs 15 people, and is another example of how profit can come from environmental protection.Finally, another even more futuristic waste disposal with lower air quality impact is the recycling of tyres by pyrolysis, developed by a constituent of mine. It is in its early stages, but it can produce high quality products, including oil and black carbon. If anybody wants to know what black carbon is, I will tell you later—it is rather complicated. The Wales Environmental Trust backs the project; Michael Meacher is interested, and Flintshire County Council is examining it. It is important. It has the prospect of just 44 units dealing with the 750 to 850 tonnes of tyres that currently clog Europe’s landfill sites. Air quality is an issue that is being addressed.I am sad that we have heard some rather negative comments from Plaid Cymru. Sue Essex and the Assembly are leading the way on sustainability and I support what Sue is doing and congratulate her and her Committee.



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