‘Er gwaetha pawb a propeth, ry’n ni yma o hyd! Despite everyone and everything, we are still here!’ They were the words ringing out of the Cardiff City Stadium earlier this month when Wales qualified for the Football World Cup for the first time in 64 years. For everyone in the ground, including myself, it was a special and emotional occasion to witness following several near misses with qualification over the years.
When Robert Page’s men fly out to Qatar for the tournament later this` year, they will be one of the smallest countries by size of population – but if our playoff final against Ukraine was anything to go by, we will be one of the loudest. It will be great to see the Red Wall (our Welsh fans) on the world stage this November. Sticking to the globlal theme, in this month’s ‘View from the Senedd‘ piece I will outline some of the policies and initiatives on which, thanks to our Welsh Labour government, our small but proud nation is being showcased and is leading on internationally.
In 2019, our Senedd was the first parliament in the world to declare a climate emergency. At last year’s elections, tackling this and creating a greener and more sustainable Wales was at the heart of our campaign – and we are showing we can deliver on that. Wales currently ranks at number three in the world for domestic recycling and of the four UK nations, we were the only one to maintain its recycling rates during the height of the pandemic.
This hasn’t always been the case. Prior to devolution, we had one of the worst recycling rates with just 4.8% of household waste recycled. Since then, Welsh Labour overt the years has invested £bn to support local authorities like mine in Newport and Monmouthshire, to help achieve Wales’ ambitious targets. We now sit at 56.5%, 12% higher than the UK average.
One of my proudest moments as the minister for environment (a position I held between 2011 and 2013) was the unveiling of the internationally recognised Wales Coast Path a decade ago. The 870-mile footpath was recognised as the first dedicated coast path in the world to cover the entire length of a country’s coastline. Over the last decade Welsh government has heavily invested in this unique attraction, to maintain and develop it so it continues to attract people from everywhere and put Wales on the international stage.
To mark this year’s special anniversary, my Welsh Labour colleague and friend Huw Irranca-Davies (Senedd member for Ogmore) was asked to undertake a review of the path. One of the key points from the review group was Welsh government to use the symbolic power of the coast path “to send a message to the whole of Wales and to the rest of the world about what is important to our nation”, including their international strategy for Wales.
Since 2006, our Welsh government has also been supporting people in Africa through its ‘Wales for Africa’ programmes. The aim is to fund and build projects that support learning and skills, and tackle climate change across the continent. One of the most exciting projects to come from this partnership is the ‘Size of Wales’ initiative. This is a project that provides funding and expertise to local and indigenous communities in tropical regions of Africa and help them to secure and sustain their environments, grow more trees and establish sustainable livelihoods.
In 2013, they achieved its ambitious target of raising £2m to help to protect two million hectares of tropical forest. This made Wales the first country in the world to help protect an area of tropical forest equivalent to its size. Again, this was in my time as the minister for the environment and I remember saying: “I am calling on other countries to follow our lead – for the benefit of our climate, our forests and the wildlife and people that depend upon them.”
Despite sometimes having that feeling of being forgotten about, by those in the Westminster bubble (and even at times by some in the UK Labour Party) your Welsh Labour government is still here or, to quote our newly adopted World Cup anthem, ‘Yma o Hyd’ – and we are not just delivering domestically, but also internationally.
I thought Desmond Tutu, who sadly passed away last December, summed it up perfectly when he said: “People in Wales have big hearts. They belong in a small country but, oh man, they really have the kick of a mule!” I think his words can apply to not just our proud football team, but also our proud Welsh Labour government.