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Oral - Update on the Climate Change Commission and Copenhagen Conference

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Jane Davidson, Minister for Environment, Sustainability and Housing

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Fifteenth Conference of Parties took place in Copenhagen from 7 to 18 December 2009. Although the final declaration did not produce the fair, ambitious and legally binding deal that the world needs, we must regard it as a starting point and focus positively on the next steps towards securing a strong deal and continue to take ambitious action to tackle climate change.

Our commitment to action on climate change here in Wales is based on a scientific imperative to act and to act urgently to reduce emissions. That scientific imperative remains and the absence of a full international agreement should not deflect us from being as ambitious as possible. Indeed, the importance of demonstrating continued leadership on climate change is perhaps greater than ever. With this in mind, I was very pleased that the National Assembly for Wales voted in support of greenhouse emission reductions of at least 40 per cent by 2020 on a 1990 baseline in Wales. This is in line with the Assembly Government’s existing commitments, but the continued cross-party support for our level of ambition is vital and very welcome.

Reflecting the discussion in the Climate Change Commission for Wales on 5 January, I have written to the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change to express our support for the UK adopting the Committee on Climate Change’s intended budgets now. Doing so ahead of a binding international agreement would send a very strong signal ahead of negotiations in Mexico this December. I hope that, by now, all Assembly Members will have received a copy of that letter.

The Assembly Government’s engagement at the Copenhagen conference was intended to promote three objectives. The first was to promote the role that sub-national and regional Governments have to play in tackling the causes and consequences of climate change. As co-chair of the Network of Regional Governments for Sustainable Development, NRG4SD, and with observer status at the negotiations, the Assembly Government delegation worked with partners, both in NRG4SD and other networks, to influence the development of the negotiation text or statement that was to emerge.

The second objective was to promote Wales’s strategic approach and action plan to tackle climate change, to share good practice with other regional Governments and learn from others, to report on progress with the negotiations, and communicate to people in Wales the importance of taking action on climate change.

The third was to enhance Assembly Government links with key networks, regional Governments and UN agencies to strengthen our impact on climate change. Through the wide range of events that both I and the First Minister participated in, we were able to further these objectives.

I chaired the NRG4SD steering group meeting and open session, and met a number of senior leaders, including Governor Schwarzenegger and the US Secretary of Energy, Stephen Chu, Premier Mike Rann from South Australia, Premier Charest from Quebec, Francesc Balthasar, the environment Minister of Catalunya, the Minister and deputy from the Basque Country, and Tanja Gönner, the environment Minister for Baden-Württemberg. I also met a number of African regional Government partners from Zambia, north Burkina Faso, Uganda and Senegal, and their experience demonstrates that climate change is as much a social justice issue as it is an environmental challenge.

I met the Secretary of State, Ed Miliband, Joan Ruddock, the Minister of State in the Department of Energy and Climate Change, Stewart Stevenson, the Scottish Government Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change and Edwin Poots, the Northern Ireland Assembly Minister of the Environment, to discuss a common UK position, and hosted a dinner attended by Nick Archer, the British ambassador to Denmark, with partners from NRG4SD, the UN Development Programme and the climate group to discuss regional Government influence in the negotiating process.

At the climate group’s climate leaders’ summit, the First Minister announced to our 60 regional premiers and Ministers a new climate change partnership with the Mbale region of Uganda in association with the United Nations Development Programme and the UK Government, as part of the Wales for Africa programme; the partnership will help Mbale adapt to climate change and provide new opportunities for Welsh businesses.

In discussion with Jacqueline McGlade, chief executive of the European Environment Agency, I reached agreement in principle to explore a pilot scheme in Wales to test new techniques for developing indicators of sustainable development.

The Welsh Assembly Government climate change champion, Cerith Jones, also attended the summit, providing a Welsh youth perspective to other delegates, and, through his blog, press and media events, he provided an update on the proceedings to people in Wales.

With our regional and sub-national partners, we continued to raise the profile of the need for recognition of the role of sub-national Governments in delivery in the agreed text. The final political declaration was limited but did agree to extend the mandate of the ad hoc working group on long-term cooperative action, with a view to accepting its deliberations in COP 16 in Mexico. The agreed text of the working group deliberations recognises that a broad range of stakeholders needs to be engaged on global, regional, national and local levels, including sub-national and local government. In light of this, we will continue to work with UK partners and internationally to achieve a binding agreement, not least through demonstrating what is possible through our achievements in Wales.

The Climate Change Commission for Wales met on 5 January. The focus of the commission members’ updates was on the work undertaken by them or their organisations up to and during the Copenhagen summit, and included an update from Cerith on his experience of attending the summit. Commissioners unanimously supported the view that we should continue to be ambitious in setting political targets to match the science. The meeting also provided commissioners with an opportunity to contribute to the climate change strategy and delivery plan, and there will be further discussion by the commission on the strategy and delivery plan at its next meeting in February.