This week is Wales Climate Week – 2nd to 6th November – and as part of the initiative, the Welsh government will be holding a week-long series of free, digital and interactive events for people of all ages who are passionate about the environment and tackling climate change. It is part of an ongoing commitment by our Labour administration here in Wales to ensure the environment remains a key priority – both during the pandemic and in our post-Covid recovery.
There has not been a lot to cheer during the health crisis but one of the few positives has been a greater appreciation of our green spaces, reductions in air pollution and an increase in people walking and cycling – more people have been cycling recently than during our golden Olympic summer of 2012. As the Senedd member for Newport East, an area which sits on the Severn Estuary, and a former environment minister, green issues matter to me. I’m also a grandfather and I want to ensure my grandchildren grow up in and enjoy the benefits of a cleaner and greener planet.
Our Welsh Labour government is ahead of the curve on this; in 2016, Wales appointed the world’s first future generations commissioner. The role is designed to provide support and advise the government and the public sector about social, economic, cultural and environmental wellbeing for the current and future generations. Last year, our Senedd became the first parliament in the world to declare a climate change emergency. Since then, ministers have taken practical steps: consulting on a ban on a range of single-use plastics and, earlier this year, plans were announced for a national forest stretching the length of Wales. As the minister who proudly opened the Wales coast path eight years ago, a national forest is another way in which we can reconnect with our natural environment.
The Clean Air Plan for Wales has recently been published and the Burns Commission, which was set up to explore ways to reduce congestion on the M4 in south east Wales, has published its initial recommendations to expand and modernise our public transport infrastructure in the region. Both of these reports have had a strong emphasis on rail and its why, together with Jessica Morden MP, I’ve been working with campaigners to persuade ministers to support what would be the UK’s first ‘walkway station‘ in more than a century in Magor on the outskirts of Newport.
We have heard a lot during the pandemic about ‘building back better’ but if we’re serious about our future, we ought to be building back greener. Our post-Covid recovery must be built on the principles of social justice and environmental justice – because only then will we really be able to start addressing the climate change emergency.