Climate change and Wales: where we are on the charts

By Steve Duffy, Gwyndaf Hughes and Steffan Messenger
BBC news

Image source, fake images
Screenshot, The River Conwy overflows at Llanrwst last October

The UK will host a summit in late October that is seen as crucial to tackling climate change.

The COP26 meeting in Glasgow could lead to major changes in our daily lives.

Below we chart some of the key facts about the state of Wales and its challenges related to climate change.

1. Cows and cars: what’s behind emissions in Wales?

It’s not something to sniff out, but Wales’s 8.9 million sheep and 414,000 cows add a peculiar side to the landscape of climate change in Wales.

Agriculture contributes nearly 14% of greenhouse gas emissions in Wales, and the gases generated at the rear of livestock provide a good chunk of that.

However, the supply of energy, particularly from power generation, is the single largest source.

Cars alone are behind nearly 60% of transportation’s share, but there is hope that the shift to hybrid and electric vehicles could have an impact.

The iron and steel industry in Wales is the source of 60% of the emissions levels of the business sector in Wales.

2. Emissions in general are decreasing, but the big challenge is the next 30 years.

It has been a bumpy road. As we can see in the graph below, there have been years recently when emissions have increased and decreased.

It is mainly because we have a lot of heavy industry and some massive power plants. The closure of Wales’ last coal-fired power plant alone helped cut emissions by half after 2016.

Although in general we have seen a 31% reduction in emissions in the last 30 years, by 2030 we must have achieved a reduction of 63%, and in the 20 years after, we have to have zero net carbon emissions. A great challenge.

3. An increased risk of flooding is expected on the coasts

Approximately 60% of the people of Wales live in coastal areas, and some communities live below the high tide line.

Just under 12,000 properties are at high risk of coastal or river flooding. There are just under 10,000 at high or medium risk of tidal flooding alone.

This could increase by 260% by the 2080s, while 2,126 properties are likely to be at risk of coastal erosion where defenses are not maintained.

We also have infrastructure of national importance (roads, railways and large power plants) by the sea.

Image source, NRW
Screenshot, This map shows parts of North Wales that are at risk of flooding

The risk of flooding from climate change has been incorporated into the new planning policy for developments in Wales, and details were released in September.

These included new flood risk maps, like the one shown above for the North Wales coast.

By 2050, it is believed that there could be 6% more rain in winter in Wales, with up to 13% more rain by the 2080s. Also, when it falls, it could be more intense, making flooding problems worse.

Climate Summit COP26 – Basics

  • Climate change is one of the most urgent problems in the world. Governments must promise more ambitious cuts in warming gases if we are to avoid further increases in global temperature.
  • The summit at Glashow is where change could happen. You need to be on the lookout for promises made by the world’s biggest polluters, like the United States and China, and whether the poorest countries are getting the support they need.
  • All of our lives will change. Decisions made here could affect our jobs, how we heat our homes, what we eat, and how we travel.

Read more about the COP26 summit here.

4. Air pollution: where are the pinch points?

Traffic fumes from gasoline and diesel cars are part of the problem in heating up the atmosphere. But they also contain harmful pollutants that we breathe in, like nitrogen dioxide (NO2).

The graph below shows NO2 measured at 187 industrial and commercial sites in Wales.

Refineries, iron and steel factories, and cement factories dominate the top 10 emission sites across the country.

Heavy industry generates a considerable number of jobs, so the challenge is how to make processes cleaner and move towards a greener economy.

5: Do we travel in a more ecological way?

One thing we all noticed during the Covid pandemic: the roads were much quieter. In fact, traffic on Wales’ roads fell by almost a quarter last year due to Covid and at levels we have not seen since 1998.

So we really have to see what “normal” looks like.

Between 1993 and 2019, traffic volumes increased by 45%. A third were moving into Cardiff, Rhondda Cynon Taf, Carmarthenshire and Newport. We can also see in recent years that many of us also traveled by train.

Moving towards more public transportation and active travel are priorities for policy makers.

The latest surveys show that 4% cycle to work or to a destination at least once a week, while 60% of us walk at least an hour a week, for the same purpose.

Cycling was the only mode of transportation that actually showed an increase during the confinement, as many people were working from home or traveling locally.

6. Wildlife and habitat are already being lost

Climate change is already having a growing impact on the natural world of Wales, according to conservation groups.

the annual Report on the state of nature, Published jointly by leading wildlife and nature charities, it provides a snapshot of the threats in Wales.



Threat to nature in numbers

  • 666of 3,902 species in Wales (17%) endangered

  • 73species lost already

  • 523 of 6,500 species found in Wales (8%) endangered from Great Britain

  • 35%drop in the awake kitten population

  • fifteendays before the arrival of swallows

  • elevendays before when big tits lay their balls, compared to 1968

Source: State of Nature Report, 2019

The Welsh gull population has declined by 35% since 1986. Across the UK, climate change has reduced the availability of sand eels, a key food source.

In addition to seeing birds migrating here that we would not normally expect to see, swallows arrive 15 days earlier and breed 11 days earlier than in the 1960s.

Threatened areas include salt marsh habitats.

We know that 17% of species in 2019 were in danger of extinction.

7. Tree planting: growth hope

Forests in ancient times used to cover much of Wales. Today it makes up only about 15% of the land mass, but there is ambition to create a National Forest for Wales.

In addition to protecting existing trees, the program would see more forests planted. The new trees would eventually help climate change by taking carbon out of the air as they grow, while also creating more habitat and helping reduce flooding.

But there has been a setback in new forest planting in recent years, so there is some ground to make up.

8: Power generation: how important is renewable energy in Wales?

In 2017, the Government of Wales announced a goal of meeting the equivalent of 70% of Wales’ electricity demand from renewable electricity sources by 2030. In 2019, this figure is estimated to be 51%.

When we look at the electricity generated in Wales, more than two-thirds comes from gas. Renewable energies represent 27%, and more than 18% comes from wind energy.

The last coal-fired power plant closed more than 18 months ago and there is currently no nuclear power option.

9: Recycling: what are we doing to help?

Not all is pessimism. Wales is one of the best nations in the world for recycling, according to one analysis.

Research by the environmental consultancy Eunomia, at the end of 2017, analyzed comparable data from each country to calculate the recycled kilograms per head.

The latest figures from the Welsh government show that 64.8% of waste was recycled or composted in 2020, a slight increase over 2019, despite the pandemic.

Each of us still produces an average of 173 kg of household waste that is not recycled, but that has been reduced by 20% in seven years.

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