Last Thursday WCVA held the fifth in the ‘Preparing for Different Futures’ event series, examining the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic on climate change. Jess Blair reports back.
While previous sessions have focussed on the immediate impact of the crisis on organisations and communities across Wales, this event looked at climate change and considered how the pandemic could help or hinder our ability to tackle this ongoing challenge.
Chaired by Rocio Cifuentes, Chief Executive of the Ethnic Minorities & Youth Support Team Wales (EYST Wales) and WCVA Trustee, around 50 participants took part in the online meeting.
The COVID pandemic has added to the existing conversation about how we tackle the climate emergency in Wales, with the effects of large industries pausing, people working from home and largely staying in their houses becoming apparent.
Cleaner air and fewer carbon emissions have been an unexpected positive of the crisis, but this has been accompanied by a looming financial disaster.
A significant question is how we rebuild the economy in a future where the Coronavirus threat has been effectively tackled, rebuilding in a way that ensures we retain some of the positive behaviours we have developed over the last few months.
A shift in behaviour
One of the significant areas of discussion at the event was around the long-term shift to public behaviour, particularly in respect to transport.
While participants welcomed the reduction of car use, some raised the need for safer cycle routes and green infrastructure to ensure this is continued long term.
How can communities become more self-sufficient?
A big emphasis of the discussion was on local communities and how they can be more self-sufficient, particularly around the food network.
A participant from RCT Interlink raised the potential of community growing, ‘We’ve been working with them [local food bank] for 18 months looking at how they can go beyond being a food bank.
‘Organisations like Grow Ponty and Grow Rhondda are providing people with starter packs so that community growing can happen in people’s gardens. This works to support people who are in food poverty or are self-isolating.
‘It can also link back to food banks and provide produce for them and begin a local food network’.
Another pointed out that the local growing of produce and a shift to shorter food chains from field to fork has positive impacts for the climate, communities and avoids an issue that has become apparent during the COVID crisis.
‘COVID has brought our attention to the huge vulnerability in relying on other countries to develop the things that we need.
‘We’ve realised that producing things locally is a good idea. That also helps climate change as those flights and lorries travelling all across Europe are reduced’.
The importance of ensuring local food chains could take food poverty and ensure that food remained affordable was also highlighted by a participant from WWF Cymru, who said they were part of a food poverty group looking at this issue.
Rebuilding the economy with the environment in mind
As we move towards developing a vaccine for COVID and with an election looming in Wales next year, thoughts will be moving to how the Welsh Government sets about rebuilding the economy.
There was much discussion at the event about how this moves towards a green economy with a reliance on local not global, an investment in green jobs, and a shift away from traditional ways of measuring economic performance that have not benefited all the people of Wales.
Jess McQuade from WWF said that ‘COVID has highlighted the fragile system that we have’ and called for significant investment for a green fiscal package.
Another participant argued, ‘We have the lowest employment rates in Europe’. With a history of being at the pinnacle of the industrial revolution, he argued ‘As the Welsh we should be the pioneers.
‘The Wellbeing of Future Generations (Wales) act was one of the best acts created by any government in the world but we haven’t even answered any of the objectives of that act…We need to challenge the Welsh Government and the UK Government to create jobs in the green sector, in wildlife conservation and to put tidal lagoons in place. We need to think about how we integrate the environmental issues with the economic issues that this country is having’.
In the short term there was wide agreement that the Welsh Government should publish a timeline for their economic renewal and consider how that economic renewal can tackle climate change and instil some of the behaviours we have seen in the last few months.
An opportunity for change
As well as being a time of crisis and insurmountable challenge the COVID pandemic has thrown an opportunity to have a major shift in how we respond to the climate emergency.
From continuing the reduction in carbon emissions, to shifting to local systems for food networks that benefit the community right the way to looking at how a new economy can rest upon green jobs, those opportunities are ones that the next Welsh Government should grasp.
More from Jess Blair on the events in our Preparing for Different Futures series
Jess Blair sums up discussions with the voluntary sector from the events in our Preparing for Different Futures series.
Next up in our Preparing for different futures series
COVID-19 has impacted on everybody’s lives. The lockdown has forced us all to do things differently, and to do different things. It has opened new possibilities – good and bad.
As policymakers start to look ahead, these events provide a space to share learning, consider implications for the future and discuss what this means for decision-making today.
Preparing for different futures: a Wellbeing Economy
Thursday 18 June 12-1pm
This session will focus on what this could mean for creating a Wellbeing Economy.
You can sign up to our COVID-19 daily updates (Mon – Fri) for the latest COVID-19 news for the voluntary sector in Wales, and get the booking link straight into your inbox as well as other useful information on COVID-19. You can also email firstname.lastname@example.org to register you interest for these events.
Read the first report from the Preparing for different futures series on the financial impact of COVID-19