Friday, May 22, 2009

Wales plans for energy self-sufficiency with renewables in 20 years

Ambitious, legally binding plans 'set an example for the rest of the world to follow', says Jonathan Porritt

Wales today laid out radical plans to make it one of the most energy- and resource-efficient countries in the world within a generation.

The government development plans, which are legally binding, are far in advance of anything planned for England or Scotland and would see it become energy self-sufficient in using renewable electricity within 20 years and reduce waste to zero by 2050.

The proposals would make Wales one of only three countries in the world legally bound to develop "sustainably".

"We intend to reduce by 80-90% our use of carbon-based energy, resulting in a similar reduction in our greenhouse gas generation," said Jane Davidson, the Welsh environment minister, launching the sustainable development scheme at the Guardian's Hay festival. "We are committed to making annual 3% cuts in greenhouse gas emissions from 2011," she added.

"This is about living within our resources while improving people's well being. It will require radical changes in Welsh society," said Rhodri Morgan, first minister for Wales, which is currently celebrating 10 years of devolution.

The report sets out a series of ambitious goals:

• to produce more electricity from renewables than the nation consumes within 20 years

• increase recycling rates from 36% today to over 70% by 2025

• send just 5% of Welsh waste to landfill sites by 2025

• phasing out free plastic bags

• developing new marine and biomass energy plants

"Waste will be taboo. Heavy industry and power generation will greatly improve their energy efficiency," says the report, "there will be a consistent drop in energy and water demand."

Jonathan Porritt, the chair of the UK Sustainable development commission, said: "Wales will set an example for the rest of the world to follow. [Its] government is showing a serious commitment to making Wales a truly sustainable country."

Communities in south Wales will become part of one of Europe's few "low carbon regions", with 40,000 social housing homes equipped with solar, wind and heat-saving equipment.

Davidson said that £623m was expected to be spent in the next three years on improving energy efficiency in homes in Wales, which has some of the highest rates of fuel poverty rates. Most of the money will come from energy companies.

Plans for a 3% annual cut in greenhouse emissions from 2011 were questioned as being below the 6% needed to hold climate change emissions to just a 2% rise. "The figures were adopted before the latest estimates of what was needed," said Morgan.

Some of the plans are likely to run into opposition in rural areas, where there are fears that large swathes of mid and north Wales will be turned to wind farms. Davidson said that roughly 2% of Welsh land would be devoted to wind farms, mostly in areas currently forested.

The plan commits Wales to becoming possibly the only "one planet" country in the world, ie a nation whose use of resources could be sustained for the entire global population. The Welsh ecological footprint has been estimated to be over 5.2 ha per person today. The intention is to reduce it to under 1.9ha within 25 years.

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