Senedd Election 2021: Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs
Our Monitoring and Data Officer, Lara Stace, analyses some of the key environment, energy and rural affairs commitments made by the three main parties in their Senedd Election 2021 manifestos.
Recycling and Waste
All the main parties have promised to ban certain single use plastics, so it’s a policy which is looking pretty certain regardless of the political makeup of the Senedd after 6 May. Plaid Cymru has said that it will ban non-essential single-use plastics, such as plastic bags, cutlery and Styrofoam, in 2021, and introduce a levy payable by the consumer on all single-use cups filled at the point of sale. Welsh Labour, too, has pledged to abolish the most littered single-use plastics. It doesn’t offer any detail on what these will be, but the Welsh Government’s 2020 proposals to ban nine single use plastic products in Wales included plastic cotton buds, cutlery, plates and polystyrene cups and food containers. The Welsh Conservatives have also promised an end to plastic wet wipes, straws, stirrers, disposable cups and cotton buds.
Plaid has pledged to legislate and create a deposit return scheme for bottles and cans, which will provide a further financial incentive to recycle, but it is not clear whether this would be as part of a UK-wide scheme. The UK Government is currently consulting on a scheme for England, Wales and Northern Ireland, while Scotland has already legislated for a deposit return scheme. The Welsh Conservatives have also committed to deliver a deposit return scheme, which is unsurprising given the consultation from Westminster. The Welsh Labour manifesto does not mention a deposit return scheme, but in its Litter and Fly Tipping Prevention Plan the Welsh Government said it will introduce a DRS for drinks containers with the UK Government and Northern Ireland Executive.
For producers, both Plaid Cymru and Welsh Labour have said they will introduce some form of extended producer responsibility scheme to incentivise waste reduction, and in its litter plan the Welsh Government said work was ongoing with all UK administrations on such a scheme – the UK Government is currently running a consultation on proposals and has suggested a phased introduction from 2023. The Welsh Conservatives do not make any promises on extended producer responsibility, but if the UK Government does go ahead with a scheme it may fall in line to ensure a uniform landscape for manufacturers. However, whichever position the next Welsh Government takes may be arbitrary, if concerns about the impact the Internal Market Bill may have on devolved powers over environmental standards prove accurate – which could see Welsh regulations voided because they present a barrier to trade within the UK.
Plaid Cymru has proposed some key pieces of environmental legislation: a Clean Air Act, which would target pollution hotspots such as Newport and enable local authorities to introduce pollution charges; and a Nature Act, which would create statutory targets to restore biodiversity on land and sea by 2050. The legislation is part of a raft of environmental pledges that range from provision of local green spaces to a £500 million injection for flood defences. Welsh Labour has also promised a Clean Air Act, which it says would set the highest international standards of air quality into law, as well as extend its key legacy project – the National Forest for Wales. Mark Drakeford promised to develop a Clean Air Act in his campaign to become Welsh Labour leader and although plans were delayed due to the pandemic, Welsh Government did consult on a White Paper for the Bill ahead of the election and publish a Clean Air Plan in 2020.
There is a lot riding on green jobs – the three main parties have put great weight on the opportunities presented by the green sector to help Wales recover from the pandemic, as well as tackle climate change. The renewable energy industry is cited in all three main parties’ plans as a source of employment and world-leading innovation, particularly in tidal energy.
Welsh Labour has proposed a Tidal Lagoon Challenge as part of its ambition to make Wales a world centre for emerging tidal technologies. Plaid Cymru has set itself the task of creating a national energy development company, Ynni Cymru, which would be charged with achieving the party’s target to generate 100% renewable electricity within Wales by 2035. It has also, like Welsh Labour, pledged to increase community ownership and generation of renewable energy. The Welsh Conservatives have pledged to fund a Welsh Tidal Power Feasibility Study, but has faced some raised eyebrows given the Conservative UK Government pulled out of the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon project in 2018. Questioned about the lagoon during the BBC’s Ask the Leader, group leader Andrew RT Davies said he was an advocate of the project although the numbers didn’t stack up, but said he was confident that they could resurrect the project with the right proposal.
The coming years offer a post-Brexit opportunity to revolutionise the way agriculture and farming is funded in the UK and Wales, as the EU scheme falls back and a replacement is designed. However, the topic is subject to fierce challenge from the farming unions and as no party is predicted to win a healthy majority at the Senedd election, the future of farming and land use will be decided in negotiation between political parties, as well as between Government and industry. The reaction to the Welsh Government’s implementation of a Wales-wide Nitrate Vulnerable Zone, with backlash from Plaid Cymru, the Welsh Conservatives and unions, offered a taste of what could come as the industry faces down greater regulation or a shift in funding.
Welsh Labour has pledged to create a system of support which it claims will maximise the protective power of nature through farming and require food production in Wales to be carried out within environmental limits. The party is making a somewhat unpopular shift from the principle of a basic payment for farming land, to saying that farmers will only receive public subsidy if they deliver additional environmental outcomes – think improved soil, clean water and better biodiversity.
Plaid Cymru has committed to continue to provide basic support payments to farms, but it says this support will facilitate a shift to more ‘low carbon and high nature value’ farming. The party has also pledged to enact a Welsh Agriculture Bill to place greater emphasis on public goods such as biodiversity and decarbonisation, which at least signals a consideration of environmental impacts, even though the party is reluctant to connect these directly to the payments that farms receive.
The Welsh Conservatives have guaranteed financial support for farmers for the next Senedd term at no less a level than they have previously received from the EU, while they work with farmers to create a new system – which effectively gives the party five years to work out how they can design a new scheme that keeps farmers happy. The party gives some attention to ‘public money for public goods’, but environmental concerns do not appear to be at the heart of their farming policy – unlike Plaid Cymru and Welsh Labour, which have both centred farming support around climate and the environment.
For a bird's eye view.
Am olwg oddi uchod.
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