15 Years

As we look forward to the introduction of the Future Generations bill into the Senedd in early July as the next step on sustainable development journey it is important to look back on the story of the last 15 years since devolution.

A commitment to sustainable development has been a distinctive dimension of the devolution process,  with the duty being incorporated into the 1988 Government of Wales Act requiring Welsh Ministers to leading to the production of three Sustainable Development schemes over the last 15 years  - “Learning to live Differently (2001); Starting to Live Differently (2004) and One Wales One Planet (2009).

The current duty has helped to create a governance framework necessary to deliver sustainable development, with requirements to produce an SD scheme and report annually on progress.

If devolution has set a governance framework for sustainable development, which will be further strengthened through the Future Generations legislation, what has been the actual impact, where we can see a distinctive difference and what have been the lessons?

It is not easy or always possible to have distinctive policies that go against the grain of public opinion or are at odds with what is happening over the border. If we take the case of onshore wind, where a clear agenda and strategy was set out but has been provided challenging to implement as a top down development programme or as in the case of ambitious targets for low carbon new homes, which have had to be scaled back in the face of  pressure from construction companies who did not see such requirements over the border.

More immediate success has come from either smaller scale areas based projects or from small national policy changes which have had wider impact. So in the case of area based retrofit of homes through Arbed, which has delivered economic, social and environmental benefits in local areas or in the case of national initiatives such as the planting of a tree for every new born child in Wales or the charge on single use carrier bags, which have become iconic symbols of a distinctive approach.

It is not all about new policies as there are also areas where we have been more effective in delivering on EU wide directives, such as in the significant increases in recycling rates which outperform other parts of the UK, which has been the clearest evidence of an effective delivery partnership with Local Authorities.

It is actual performance against the key Sustainable Development Indicators, as in the case of waste management, which must provide the acid test of sustainable development as the central organising principle of Government http://wales.gov.uk/statistics-and-research/sustianable-development-indicators/?lang=en  .  The latest set of indicators show improvement  in 22 indicators, no significant change in 17, insufficient information in 3 areas a deterioration in just one indicator (bird population), against largely 2003 baselines.

However this may say more about weaknesses in the current set of indicators as measures of progress of sustainable development in the quality of the data, the lack of effective benchmarks and the weak connections with policy interventions. It will be critical to address these issues in the measures of progress that Government will be required to set under the proposals in the Future Generations Bill and will be a key theme for the next stage of the national conversation on the Wales we Want?

What would you see to be the most effective indicators of sustainable development (or lack of it) over the last 15 years and what should be the measures that matter for the next 15 years? 


Pathfinder Programme

A Welsh Government funded programme to support communities to take action on climate change.

Community Energy Wales

Bringing together communities acting on renewable energy and energy efficiency.

Support For Sustainable Living

A scheme designed to bring about long-term changes in behaviour and lifestyle to help reduce Wales’ greenhouse gas emissions and help organisations and communities adapt to the impacts of climate change.