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Shortcomings in Wales’ local authority climate commitments, report finds

16 February 2022

Greater urgency is required from local authorities in Wales in order to address the climate emergency, according to a report led by Cardiff University.

Out of 22 councils in Wales, 16 have made climate emergency declarations, while the remaining six support Welsh Government’s ambition for a carbon neutral public sector by 2030, the data reveals.

Final year LLM student Rebecca Hearne carried out the research into councils in Wales under the supervision of Professor Ben Pontin from Cardiff University’s School of Law and Politics. The Welsh study has fed into the Environmental Law Foundation’s (ELF) UK-wide report.

The project reviewed action being taken by local authorities following their declarations of a climate emergency - announcements by governments and organisations that urgent action is required to address climate change and its potentially irreversible effects.

They found 20 local authorities have action plans outlining how they will tackle climate-related challenges.

However, no responses were received to requests for more information. Follow-up requests relating to Environmental Information Regulations, which require public authorities to make environmental information available and accessible to the public, were also unanswered.

Rebecca, who completed the research as part of her LLM dissertation, said: “It was heartening to find the vast majority of councils did have some form of Climate Emergency agenda, however it was not possible to gain access to exactly what that was or to engage productively with any of the councils throughout Wales.

“There is scope for councils to be more transparent and cooperative with other institutions - such as those in the education sector - about what their intentions are and how they plan to achieve their goals.

“If they did so it might offer opportunities to work collaboratively and innovatively.”

The research was conducted via ELF’s network of university-based policy clinics with eight universities and members of UKELA’s Student Working Party researching the different regions of the UK.

Professor Pontin, an expert in environmental law, added: “Local councils in Wales are responding positively to the climate change insofar as a greater proportion has declared a Climate Emergency than anywhere else in the UK.

“There is scope for much greater transparency, however, as to what councils plan to do following these initiatives and what assistance they require to turn words into action.

“Hopefully, this partnership between Cardiff University and the Environmental Law Foundation can move things on with the urgency that is due.”

Overall, 376 local authorities were reviewed, with around 79% having made a Declaration.

Tom Brenan, ELF’s Joint Executive Director and Head of Education and Policy, who co-ordinated the project, said: “The Climate Change Committee has previously highlighted the importance of public engagement in the climate change conversation and the key role played by local authorities in this.

“Our research found some good evidence of public engagement across the country but there needs to be much more of this.” Read the report: ‘Local urgency on the Climate Emergency’.