Urban trees in Cardiff (courtesy of Peter Frost)

Integrated action

The challenge of the climate and nature emergencies cannot be tackled in isolation.

They need an integrated response capable of shifting social, economic and environmental systems in a more sustainable direction.

There are two strategic ways we can respond to these challenges: the circular economy and green infrastructure.

Need for change

The International Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services report emphasises that 'transformative changes' are needed for the restoration and sustainable use of nature.

It flags the importance of:

  • raising awareness about consumption
  • protecting local environments
  • promoting local economies
  • restoring degraded areas to strengthen ecological networks
  • having well-connected protected areas
  • catchment protection
  • incentives/sanctions to reduce pollution and eliminating others which damage biodiversity

It says that ‘changes in production and consumption of energy, food, feed, fibre and water, sustainable use, equitable sharing of the benefits arising from use and nature-friendly climate adaptation and mitigation, will better support the achievement of future societal and environmental objectives.’

And it identifies five main ways to generate change:

  • incentives and capacity building
  • cross-sectoral cooperation
  • pre-emptive action
  • decision-making in the context of resilience and uncertainty
  • environmental law and implementation

Circular economy

A circular economy is an alternative to a traditional economy where we make, use and dispose.

In a circular economy, we keep resources in use for as long as possible and extract their maximum value.

We then recover and regenerate products and materials at the end of their service life.

circular economy

Source: Courtesy of The Waste and Resources Action Programme (ⒸWRAP)

As well as creating new opportunities for growth, a more circular economy will:

  • reduce waste
  • reduce resource exploitation
  • drive greater resource productivity
  • deliver a more competitive economy
  • maintain the future supply of materials
  • help reduce the environmental impacts of our production and consumption both in Wales and abroad

According to 2015 estimates, if everyone on the planet consumed the same as the Welsh average, we would need 2.5 planets to provide the necessary resources and absorb the waste.

Wales’ well-being report 2019 states that our ecological footprint, at 10.05 million global hectares, is roughly five times the size of Wales.

Reducing and re-using waste is one way to reduce our consumption of resources.

Through the first State of Natural Resources report and Wales' first Natural Resources Policy, action is being taken to promote renewable energy, energy efficiency and to reduce waste.

Green infrastructure

Our natural resources supply a range of important benefits to people and can be thought of as our green infrastructure.

Easy access to green spaces can result in an increase in physical activity. Being close to green space has a positive impact on mental health.

Urban green infrastructure

Wales' Natural Resources Policy is driving new opportunities to improve rural and urban green infrastructure through Planning Policy Wales, the National Development Framework and proposed Green Infrastructure Assessments.

Wales' planning policies state that development should not cause any significant loss of habitats or populations of species, locally or nationally, and must provide a net benefit for biodiversity.

This will mean maintaining the green infrastructure assets we have, as well as investing in new green infrastructure alongside development.

An increase in people in an environment can means more surveillance and can lead to a decrease in anti-social activity.

Urban green infrastructure can contribute to economic growth. Such investment can make areas more attractive to live or work in. This can bring further investment, job creation and an increase in land and property values.

Learn more about the role of nature based solutions to air and noise pollution in statutory policy guidance for local authorities for noise and air pollution.

Read more about sustainable urban drainage regulations - now required on all new developments.

Find out more about the work of the Wales Green Infrastructure Forum.

Rural green infrastructure

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change advised that a change in land and resource use was needed. This would involve safeguarding of peatlands, more agro-forestry, protection of forests and reduced meat consumption.

The UK Committee on Climate Change predicted that the largest emissions savings from land use would need to come from increased forest cover, jumping from 13% to 19% of the UK's land by 2050.

For Wales, a 5% increase in woodland cover would be necessary to meet the decarbonisation ambition.

New woodland cover on less productive farm land as well as planting on margins could contribute towards this target.

Planting trees along upland streams can also help keep rivers cool in the face of climate change.

Upland and lowland deep peat soils represent the largest terrestrial store of carbon in Wales but only 30% of the Welsh peatland resource is estimated to be in good condition.

If all Welsh peatland were brought into sustainable management it would reduce emissions by a further 230 kilotonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per year.

Find out more about how our New Life for Welsh Raised Bogs project is restoring raised bogs and peatland habitat in Wales.

The Welsh Government Sustainable Farming and Our Land report outlines how a new agri-environment scheme offers opportunities to influence the management of land use.

Learn more about the Valleys Regional Park - a plan to unlock and maximise the potential of the natural and cultural heritage of the Valleys to generate social, economic and environmental benefits.

Read the Welsh Government's Draft National Strategy for Flood and Coastal Erosion Risk Management - a consultation on a range of nature-based solutions to tackling flood risk and coastal erosion.

Find out more about the work of the Wales Land Management Forum and its sub-group focussing on tackling agricultural pollution.

Changing approaches

An example of an integrated approach to these global challenges has emerged in the USA in the form of the Green New Deal.

This agenda has been picked up in Europe which is looking at transforming systems of production, consumption and social organisation.

The European Environment Agency's State and Outlook Report 2020 sets out their latest thinking.

The Stern Review took an integrated approach to the impact of climate change.

The UK Treasury has launched the Dasgupta Review into the economics of biodiversity, which could lead to a similar change in the way the loss of biodiversity is thought about.

Welsh Government has a new strategy to be consulted on at the end of the year as a successor to Towards Zero Waste.

This will set a pathway for Wales to become a more circular economy - one that keeps resources in use for as long as possible and avoids waste.

The consultation will embody the five ways of working described in the Well-being of Future Generations Act.

It will propose headline actions and themes targeted at delivering on the strategic Government agenda of:

  • one planet resource use, zero waste by 2050
  • meeting our net zero carbon aims
  • taking the economic opportunities that come from a shift towards a more circular economy

Evidence needs

Read more about the evidence we have and the evidence we need.

Other places in State of Natural Resources interim report 2019