Recently announced Size of Wales Chair Carwyn Jones discusses climate change and what he hopes to achieve in his new role. This article originally appeared in the Western Mail on 24th May 2021.
After standing down from the Senedd last month, I was faced with the question of what to do with my post-politics life. As a member of our national parliament for twenty-two years, many important causes grew close to my heart that I’ll continue to support. However, one that I simply could not ignore in my deliberations is the ever-increasing threat of climate change.
It was the honour of my life to be the First Minister of Wales and a privilege to make decisions on the big issues facing the country. In 2016, I was proud when the Senedd passed the Environment Act, which set in law the Welsh Government’s duty to reduce carbon emissions, bringing the environment into the heart of all decision making. However, the continuing global climate crisis cannot be overcome by any single politician or country alone and we must act together as an international community to defeat it.
As part of my commitment to campaigning for climate justice, I am proud to take on my new role as Chair of Size of Wales, a Welsh environment charity that I came to know well as First Minister. Every year, the planet loses around 18 million hectares of forest, an area equivalent to 9-times the size of our nation. Often driven by demand for everyday products consumed here in Wales and other countries, such as palm oil, soy used in animal feed, and beef, deforestation is responsible for around 10-15% of global carbon emissions. Size of Wales works to turn this negative metric associated with our country into something positive, by protecting tropical forests and planting trees in heavily deforested areas of the world.
In 2014, I was lucky enough to visit Eastern Uganda, where the Welsh Government supports Size of Wales and local partners to run the Mbale Trees Programme. I planted the 1 millionth tree and witnessed first-hand how this programme benefits both the climate and the livelihoods of local people in Mbale. The programme recently planted its 15 millionth tree and is a stunning example of what we can do when we work together, across continents, to tackle a problem as large as climate change.
As my first act in this new role, I am calling on everyone in Wales to join a national day of action on 25th June called Go Green Day. Each year, this campaign encourages people, businesses, decision-makers, and schools in Wales to take action for tropical forests. As deforestation in places like the Amazon accelerates, we are asking people to fundraise, raise awareness, and campaign for the newly elected Senedd to step up their efforts against tropical deforestation around the world.
When world leaders gather in Glasgow for COP26 this November, it will be our last chance to take action and stop global temperatures surpassing the 1.5°C limit agreed in the Paris Climate Agreement. Wales must be a vocal participant in this conference and has much to show off, including world-beating recycling rates, high renewable energy production levels, huge investments in tree growing, and having a statutory commitment to ensure all government decisions benefit future generations. We show what a small nation can do when people and policymakers are committed to the environment, and I hope we take this message to global leaders whilst doubling down on our actions at home.
We must also remember that Wales itself is not immune to the impacts of global temperature rises. According to the Nestpick Climate Change Index, Cardiff is one of the most vulnerable cities in the world to rising sea levels and the most at risk in the UK. Without effective global action to reduce carbon emissions drastically, our capital city and much of South Wales coastline could be underwater by 2050, a prospect that surely must concern us all.
Finally, as the Senedd begins deliberating its next steps for environmental action, I hope it will tackle the emissions caused by tropical deforestation that are imported into Wales each year. This could be done by focusing on public procurement, local sustainable food initiatives, and nature-friendly farming. By making this commitment and working with various organisations campaigning on the issue, Wales could become the world’s first ‘Deforestation Free Nation’ and set an example for the world to follow.
Wales is a beautiful country, made special by its stunning views and history, both natural and human. As I enter a new chapter in my life, I am making it a priority to do all I can to protect this beauty at home and across our planet for future generations to enjoy. I hope to bring as many people with me on this journey as possible and to help Wales play a huge part in overcoming the climate crisis.