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'We have a battle on our hands' - William Powell AM addresses Spring Conference

February 8, 2016 5:15 PM

William Powell, Assembly Member for Mid & West Wales, addressed the Welsh Liberal Democrat Conference in a speech on Saturday afternoon:

"Diolch Gadeirydd - pryn hawn da, Gynhadledd.

"Conference - we have a battle on our hands.

"No, I am not referring to the National Assembly Elections on the 5th May, although I think we all know that that is not exactly going to be a walk in the park.

"Neither am I referring to the perilous and entirely reckless enterprise of the In/Out EU Referendum, which has been imposed upon us by another Prime Minister, to quote Norman Lamont, 'In Office, but not in Power,' in a vain attempt to restore party unity.

"Those who know me well are aware that I care passionately about both. But, friends, fellow Liberal Democrats, there is one battle that is even more important than either of these.

"I refer, of course, to the battle to safeguard the future of our planet - against the scourge of Climate Change.

Climate Change

"The rhetoric on climate change is not new, but, against the backdrop of climate change, all of the other challenges we face in the modern world, pale into insignificance.

"Climate change really is about life and death, about the future of the planet, and about finding a way to protect and preserve it for our children.

"Over the past decade or so, we have seen tremendous progress in reducing global poverty, with one billion fewer people living in extreme poverty by 2015 than was the case in in 1990. There is obviously still a long way to go before the extreme poverty and hunger are eradicated completely, but it is significant progress nonetheless.

"Climate change, however, threatens to undo this progress completely - to unravel and reverse it - and this is already happening. Extreme weather conditions are causing genuine havoc, with millions of people displaced, floods and droughts destroying crops and harvests the world over and threatening food security.

"The time to act is NOW. And this action has to be ambitious and it has to be drastic. Uniquely amongst the main stream parties here on Wales, the Liberal Democrats are united in our commitment to take that action.

"I was delighted to launch our party's Environment policy paper last week, entitled 'Towards a Greener Tomorrow,' at GB Sol, a successful solar pv enterprise in Pontypridd. The paper sets out the Welsh Liberal Democrats' commitment to tackling climate change and details a series of ambitious targets. Only by being ambitious and raising our game will we stand a chance of winning this fight.

"Take global warming and greenhouse gas emissions for instance. December's international COP21 climate negotiations in Paris agreed legally-binding emissions targets to ensure a global rise in temperatures of no more than 2°C, as well as an agreement to pursue efforts to limit the increase in global average temperature to 1.5°C.

"Reaching consensus of this kind was no mean feat and is certainly to be welcomed. But analysis of current emissions targets by nations from around the world would only limit temperature rises to 2.7°C. This means that nations will need to make more ambitious emission reduction targets in order to avoid disastrous and irreversible damage.

"Since the 2008 Climate Change Act set a target of reducing our carbon emissions by 80% by 2050, climate change scientists have warned that progress to limit global warming to 2 degrees is simply too slow, that climate change risks are greater than originally thought and that the impacts are already widespread.

"This has led to many environmental groups saying that the 80% target is now out of date and superseded. Welsh Liberal Democrats understand that - and our policies are based upon that understanding.

"Furthermore, the UK merely matching global effort is not consistent with the UNFCCC requirement for "differentiated responsibility.'' It holds that, although all countries are responsible for the development of global society, each has a different set of capabilities that they can contribute to this project.

"As such, as an individual nation, we have a responsibility to make a greater contribution towards the global 80% target than other nations - a theme which Baroness Featherstone addressed eloquently in her maiden speech in the House of Lords in December.

"We should also not ignore our historic responsibility - the UK, like the USA and other developed countries, are more responsible for historical emissions than other developing nations around the world. We should therefore take on a greater share of the responsibility for repairing that damage, and given our industrial past, this probably applies more to Wales than anywhere else.

"That is why our party believes that we should be aiming for net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, not the 80% as recently set in the Welsh Government's Environment Bill, which was passed in the Assembly this week.

"The Welsh Liberal Democrats had backing from environmental groups across Wales, and yet our calls for net-zero emissions were voted down by Welsh Labour and the Tories - maybe not a dalliance with Climate Change deniers, but they certainly make for strange bed fellows. The chance to raise the bar in Wales has thus been squandered and climate change targets will be merely be in line with existing targets.

"Our party's Environment plan also sets out a target of meeting 100% of our electricity demand from renewable sources by 2025. Again, we are under no illusion that this will be easy. It will take a sea change in the way that our energy needs are currently met, it will require a community energy revolution and support for a wide mix of renewable energy sources coupled with research into battery storage technology to enable the security of electricity supply, but if the political will is there, it is absolutely achievable. Simply maintaining the status quo is no longer an option. Especially when faced with a Conservative Government in Westminster intent on slashing every single green initiative going.

"So what about the damage already done, and the effects of climate change already being felt?


"The recent floods were devastating to many areas in Wales and England, and the recovery and rebuilding process will be ongoing for some time, if not blighted by further flooding in the near future either coastal or fluvial. Our parliamentarians know this at first hand - Baroness Christine Humphries spoke earlier of the Boxing Day floods in Llanwrst and Mark Williams MP as a Borth resident is aware of the raw power of the ocean.

"In the debate on flooding earlier this afternoon, we discussed the importance of forestry, upstream catchment management and a precautionary approach in planning policy.

"We have some excellent examples of good practice in Wales. Both the Pumlumon project in the Cambrian Mountains and the ground-breaking Pontbren scheme in the uplands of Montgomeryshire, are examples harnessing our natural resources into sustainable farming practice for the benefit of the wider community.

Rural affairs

"So the farming community is key, particularly with food security and flooding being two of the most immediate and tangible climate-change related challenges we face, and we are lucky here in Wales to belong to a long and proud farming tradition. With the farming industry facing a number of pressures however, it is vital that we do all we can to preserve and enhance that in order to secure the sector.

"We Liberal Democrats understand the imperative of supporting our young farming entrants. I have spoken before at Conference about the fact that farming in Wales remains an almost exclusively inherited occupation and much more needs to be done to make the industry more accessible.

"Just last weekend, at the YFC Rural Affairs Conference in Llanelwedd, John Yeomans a Nuffield farming scholar and leading light in the leadership of the FUW told his inspiring story, from introvert teenager in inner city Birmingham to prize winning farmer in the hinterland of Newtown.

"Similarly, Wales, as with the rest of the UK relies on a food supply chain that is extremely sensitive to economic and environmental events. Emerging weather patterns have the potential to threaten livestock industries without adequate biosecurity; too much or too little rainfall can devastate harvests.

"In the context of diminishing CAP support, it is all the more important for the next Welsh Government to maintain its support for farming in an equitable manner. The outcome of the forthcoming European Referendum will be more significant for Welsh agriculture than any other business sector in our country and it is vital that both the industry and food security are protected from the catastrophe of a vote to Leave.


"Brexit: therein lies yet another challenge. Farming livelihoods depend not only upon the cash cow dimension of European subsidy payments - but crucially on equitable access to tariff free export markets.

"It is hard to imagine exactly how the sector would cope, and the Welsh Liberal Democrats have been lobbying the Welsh Government to conduct the necessary scenario planning to enable the best possible chance of preparing for the worst.

"Of course I very much hope that we won't have to find out what the reality of those scenarios entail, but we do have to be prepared. However, I intend to be in the vanguard of our Party's - and the cross party - campaign to see off this potential disaster for our country - and the future of the UK.


"And what about that 'walk in the park' I referred to at the outset? Well, Conference, the Assembly election will be anything but that - and our Party faces an historic challenge. But in my Region of Mid & West Wales, the party is in good heart and up for the fight.

"We have candidates selected in all 8 constituencies in the Region. Kirsty Williams in Brecon & Radnorshire, the stand out Party leader here in Wales also has a reputation for her constituency work that is second to none.

"Liz Evans enjoys immense respect and affection in Ceredigion - and indeed her most recent County Council majority in Aberaeron was of almost North Korean proportions!

"Jane Dodds in Montgomeryshire has won national recognition, not just for her energetic campaigning in health & social care, but also for her leadership on refugees & asylum, helping to combat the climate of bigotry & ignorance, which we all encounter on a daily basis.

"With these three formidable campaigners in the Regions' key seats, I intend to do my share of the heavy lifting as Welsh Liberal Democrat candidate for Carmarthen East & Dinefwr, alongside Gemma Bowker in Llanelli, Steve Churchman in Dwyfor Merionedd, Alistair Cameron in Carmarthen West & South Pembrokeshire & Bob Kilmister in Preseli, we have a doughty and committed team.

"Conference, the pollsters have underestimated us before. We know that it is our values that are in tune with those of the Welsh people. We know that the price of failure is too high - and yes, Conference, we know that, if we commit ourselves wholeheartedly to the fight, we shall once again prevail."