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Lesley Griffiths, Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Rural Affairs

First published:
15 July 2016
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The historical Paris Agreement of December, 2015 secured an international agreement aimed at limiting global climate change to 2 degrees Celsius, to avoid long term irreversible climate change. Whilst it is essential we reduce greenhouse gas emissions to limit further climate change, it is also crucial we prepare for the inevitable changes which will result from the emissions already released. Therefore, I welcome the publication of the Adaptation Sub Committee’s new independent evidence report to Government, which focuses on the risks from climate change across the UK.

The Climate Change Risk Assessment received from the Adaptation Sub Committee to the UK Committee on Climate Change, shows climate change is very real and we need to start preparing here and now. Extreme weather events demonstrate we are already vulnerable to the current weather and climate and going forward these types of risks are going to increase over time.

The Wales report highlights the risks to our economy, communities and environment from flooding and heat. These risks are to our homes and communities and to our infrastructure, such as roads, rail and the water supply we depend on. Our land, habitats and agricultural businesses are also at risk. All of these areas provide the foundations of our well being and quality of life in Wales.

This is why the Welsh Government has already linked this important evidence base through the Well-being of Future Generations Act, to ensure public services (including the Welsh Government) take into account the long term risks, when planning for their future. The aim is to ensure we maintain key service delivery and avoid unnecessary costs in the context of decreasing public subsidy.

In my portfolio, I am already integrating climate resilience in the way we manage our natural resources. The Environment Act puts in place legislation to strengthen the health of our natural resources to both reduce and mitigate the impacts of climate change.

We are continuing to invest in flood and coastal risk management, spending over £55 million this year on reducing risk and maintaining existing assets in order they remain resilient to climate change. This includes commencing major new work in St Asaph, Newport, the Vale of Glamorgan, Porthcawl and the A55 at Tal-y-Bont, Gwynedd which I visited last week. Once completed, these schemes will reduce risk from flooding to over 3500 properties, as well as protecting key infrastructure.

In addition, our investment in the Coastal Risk Management Programme acknowledges the growing risk of climate change and sea level rise by planning ahead. £150m will be invested in this programme between 2018 and 2022, delivered by local authorities to build resilience around the whole of the Welsh coastline. Preparatory work has begun and is being fully funded this year.

The water sector has invested significantly and successfully over the last 25 years in our sewerage and drainage systems, delivering for customers some of the best water quality in our rivers and seas. However, we now face unprecedented challenges, including those from climate change.

We are working closely with water industry representatives through the 21st century drainage programme, to consider ways of providing more resilient urban drainage systems which are fit for the challenges posed by climate change. To ensure we have robust and resilient water resources, we are looking at reforming the abstraction licensing system in Wales. The abstraction licensing system also includes a number of historic exemptions which allow unconstrained water abstraction for certain purposes. In order to manage water resources to meet the challenges of climate change, we will bring these abstractions into the licensing system.

However, the report importantly identifies gaps in our understanding around the risks because of a lack of suitable information or the inability to assess some of the more complex interactions. Going forward as new evidence emerges, we will need to continually review, update and manage these risks. Therefore, we need to build a strong evidence base now and have already started to do this in some areas.

We know the impacts of climate change, have a disproportionate affect on the most vulnerable and that is why the Welsh Government commissioned further research to understand how we can tackle this inequality. I will now be working with my Cabinet colleagues to identify how we can reduce this inequality and build resilience to the risks identified in the report.

Although this report is about dealing with the consequences of climate change, we must not forget we also need to reduce our emissions. We now have legislation in place to reduce our emissions by at least 80% by 2050 and play our part in acting on climate change in the global context. Although we are a small country we, along with our partners, have made ambitious commitments to reduce our emissions through a Memorandum of Understanding on Sub-national Global Leadership, which covers 135 jurisdictions, representing 32 countries, 6 continents, 783 million people and $21 trillion in GDP, equivalent to more than a quarter of the global economy.

This MOU demonstrates the result of collective power and what can be achieved by working together. This is what we will need to do going forward. The consequences of climate change are felt most greatly at a local level and the risks are shared through different sectors, organisations and the communities we live in. We will need to work collectively together to build resilience across Wales for our communities and future generations.

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