personal experience of politics in Wales gives me good reason to say that the core issue of climate change will test Welsh political institutions like never before. Those that argued in favour of devolution as an opportunity to deliver, now have the greatest opportunity to demonstrate its value and ensure Wales emerges as a Net Zero leader.
So what does the Welsh Government’s 253 page Net Zero Wales Plan mean for the short, medium, and long-term? Furthermore, and from an ACE perspective, what does it mean for our members?
The plan includes 123 policies and proposals but more important will be how flexible it is. Like any effective strategy, it will need to be adaptable to respond to new challenges along our road to Net Zero, and open to adapting to new ideas and opportunities through technological innovation. The last decade has been huge advances in new green technologies, and the next decade will be no different.
Earlier this year a reshuffle included a new “super-ministry” for climate change. Supporters of the move say it puts this issue firmly at the heart of government. However, I’ve also spoken to critics who argue that it lacks both the resources and teeth to coordinate the different government departments, and their individual action plans around climate change. The fact the Net Zero plan includes a list of policies and proposals by portfolio begins dealing with that challenge in theory, but it will require extremely strong leadership to deliver it in practice.
The document gives a nod to cutting-edge technology, such as hydrogen and carbon capture and storage (CCS). Our members are helping to lead the way on this issue – last year ACE and EIC member WSP was appointed to lead on the planning, environmental, stakeholder and land advisory advice for HyNet North West’s CO2 pipeline.
It is welcome news that the plan recognises this scheme, as it offers huge opportunities for both North Wales and for the country to take a global lead on CCS and hydrogen. However, the plan commits to at least one renewable hydrogen production site by 2023-24, and we should be more ambitious.
Transport is a key theme in the plan. The impact the pandemic has had on behaviour will have given officials some headaches when drafting this document. Decisions in this area, particularly on commuter transport and vehicle usage will have one of the largest impacts on Wales’ carbon footprint.
The Government can be applauded for its work on active travel, and it is little wonder the Deputy Minister has such an interest in this area given his previous roles. Investments in public transport and relevant infrastructure are much needed, but a large proportion of the population will continue to use a car. I know the Government’s roads review is a huge issue for our members and indeed communities right across Wales. ACE will be engaging with the government and look forward to contributing positively to the debate.
As the designers of the built environment, ACE members are key to unlocking the Net Zero society of the future and have an impactful voice in this debate... Guto Davies, Head of Policy
Therefore, the focus on electric vehicle (EV) infrastructure in the plan is welcome, but the Government needs to do much more to engage with the private sector on its rollout. It should move forward with EV charging points as standard for all new homes, and learn from ACE members such as Arcadis who are currently advising Tesco on implementing an EV charging network at the 400 Tesco stores – the largest retail electric vehicle charging network in the UK.
This week, the Welsh Government also reached an agreement with Plaid Cymru to "address issues which take the greatest political and policy effort to resolve". Such is the nature of Welsh Politics that there is very little within the deal that either party wouldn’t have liked to do before the election. From an infrastructure perspective, the deal commits to asking Transport for Wales "to explore the development of transport links between north and south Wales”. But perhaps the main highlight is a commitment to establish a Commission that will provide independent advice to examine potential pathways to net zero by 2035 – an ambitious target to say the least.
The challenge now will be balancing what has already been published in this strategy with the potential new advice from the independent commission. Perhaps the ambition of 2023 will lead to greater ambition in some of the areas outlined above, like hydrogen. One thing we do know, is that net zero and climate change is clearly a priority for the Government, and our members.
Like every business, our members are changing the way they work on a day-to-day basis. However, as the designers of the built environment, ACE members are key to unlocking the Net Zero society of the future and have an impactful voice in this debate.
This is why we particularly welcome the clear timeline outlined for future strategy publication. This move ensures transparency and most importantly, the opportunity for constructive engagement with key delivery partners, such as our members.
The forthcoming Plan for Net Zero by 2030, due next year, will be an important step in monitoring Wales’ carbon progress.
Find out more about ACE’s work in Wales.
Guto Davies is Head of Policy at the Association for Consultancy and Engineering (ACE).