Plastic bags will be banned in Welsh supermarkets, trolleys will need to be hired and wind farms will become more commonplace in a raft of green measures planned to change people’s everyday lives.
Environment Minister Carwyn Jones wants to see new grassroots environmental laws implemented once the National Assembly acquires lawmaking powers next May.
He says that the time for grand policy gestures is over and people should take responsibility for their impact on the planet so that they can look the next generation in the eyes.
Plastic bags are seen as damaging to the environment because they use up natural resources, consume energy to manufacture, create litter, choke marine life and add to landfill waste that through methane emissions contributes to global warming.
Speaking exclusively to the Western Mail, Mr Jones said he wanted to use the Assembly’s new powers to make significant environmental improvements.
He said, ‘I think it is very important to introduce measures that make a real change in people’s lives. It is all very well making grand general policy commitments, but unless measures have a direct relevance to people, they can seem remote and meaningless.’
The plastic bag ban is being seriously considered following the successful introduction of a tax on such bags in Ireland. Because the Assembly has no power to impose taxes, a legislative ban is seen as a workable alternative.
Another measure could force supermarkets to charge customers a deposit for using shopping trolleys.
‘I know a lot of supermarkets do this already, but making it compulsory would send out a powerful message,’ said Mr Jones.
‘Many parts of Wales are blighted by the dumping of trolleys.’
The Minister was also uncompromising on the use of wind turbines as part of a mixed energy policy, despite the opposition of many on aesthetic grounds.
‘Wind has to be an important part of our future energy strategy, and I expect to see between 400 and 800 wind turbines across Wales.
‘We have a target of getting 10% of Wales’ electricity from renewable sources by 2010. At present we are at just 3% or 4%, but I think the target is attainable.’
Mr Jones rejected criticism of the Assembly Government’s controversial policy document Tan 15, which largely rules out development in areas classified as being on a flood plain. This could be bad news for Llanelli Rugby Club, whose plan to build houses on its Stradey Park ground has been called in by the Assembly for a decision expected next year.
While not commenting on the Llanelli scheme specifically, Mr Jones said, ‘There may be minor changes to the policy, but the thrust of it will remain.
‘Just because areas have not been flooded before does not mean they will not flood in the future.
‘The Conwy valley had not been flooded for 40 years and then was flooded twice in a year.
‘Also Carlisle, which was not previously considered to be on a flood plain, had five feet high floods in its town centre last year. It would be irresponsible to allow development in areas where climate change has significantly increased the flood risk.’
Speaking generally on the need to combat global warming, Mr Jones said, ‘In Britain, there are nine tonnes of carbon emissions per person per year. In the United States the figure is 20, while at present it is three in China and one in India.
‘If India and China increase to the same level as us, the world will begin to die.
‘We all need to take responsibility for stopping global warming if the planet is to survive. Obviously it is important that the United States cuts its emissions significantly, and the Democratic victories in the mid-term elections offers hope that the current unhelpful approach may change.
‘The vast majority of scientists accept that climate change is happening; the vast majority of scientists accept that we need to do something about it; the vast majority of scientists accept that if we do nothing, the planet will be damaged beyond repair within 50 to 100 years. I want to be able to look my children in the eye and say I did what I could to make sure the world they live in was not needlessly damaged by my generation.’
How the proposed legislation will affect…
The shopping bag
A ban on plastic bags in supermarkets could mark the return of the old-fashioned shopping bag. Plastic bags did not come into widespread use until the early 1980s, before which shoppers used their own bags. Environmental groups estimate that between 500 billion and one trillion plastic bags are now used worldwide every year.
The Welsh landscape seems destined to have more wind turbines, despite the opposition of many. The first wind farm was set up in Britain in November 1991. In March 2004 there were 1,043 wind turbines in operation at 84 sites around the UK, providing 649.4 MW or 0.3-0.4% of the UK’s electricity supply.
Supermarkets not charging deposits for shopping trolleys could face fines under plans mooted by Carwyn Jones. Currently around 100,000 trolleys are stolen from supermarkets across the UK every year, with each shopping trolley costing an average of £80. Some stores have even pioneered an expensive infra-red immobiliser on their trolleys.
Building on flood plains looks likely to remain an issue despite the fears that this would reduce valuable land for development. While there may be minor changes to the Tan 15 policy, the thrust of it will remain. ‘Just because areas have not been flooded before does not mean they will not flood in the future,’ said Mr Jones.
There is a target of getting 10% of Wales’ electricity from renewable sources by 2010. At present the level is 3% or 4%, but Ministers are confident of making big changes to reduce reliance on fossil fuels. It could also involve reducing electricity consumption generally.
By Martin Shipton, Western Mail
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