However sustainable development is a phrase that is used so often it is easy to forget what it really means. Sustainability is much more than a green idea, it is about developing the best long term path for Wales that will deliver a good, healthy sustainable quality of life for all people in Wales both now and in the future. It means that when we are faced with difficult choices, we choose the option that is best for the long term future of Wales, rather than the option that is quickest, easiest or cheapest.
It means investing now in better early education and support for families, to prevent social hardship, and all the health and economic problems that come with it, later. It means helping Welsh householders and businesses to become more energy efficient, so they can save money and prepare for inevitable energy price rises in the future. I believe such an approach will help us to achieve economic, social and environmental wellbeing for all, and ultimately enhance the quality of life of people across Wales.
In my view sustainable development is not just right for Wales; it is policy that should be applied globally. The financial difficulties that are currently being experienced throughout Europe and the world, and the global issue of climate change, both give weight to the need for decision making to focus on long term stability rather than short term fixes and the need to live within our resources, environmentally and economically.
Wales might be a small country but we are genuinely championing some leading sustainability policies and I believe those must be fed into the global debate. With this in mind I will shortly be attending the Rio+20 United Nations conference on Sustainable Development in Brazil.
The Rio+20 Conference will see world leaders, along with thousands of participants from governments, the private sector, NGOs and other groups, coming together. The objective of the conference is to look at how we can reduce world wide poverty, advance social equity and ensure the protection of the world’s environment despite our planet becoming ever more crowded.
The fact is that 1 billion people around the world still go bed hungry every night and those people who were poorest 20 years are still the poorest now. The injustice of our world means that just 20% of the word’s population actually consume 80% of the world’s resources. When you look at facts like this it is clear that change is needed and that urgent action is a necessity.
Of course I am not claiming that Wales holds definitive answers to any of these large scale and daunting problems. I do believe however that we can make a valuable contribution to the international debate on sustainability and how it can be integrated into Government policies across the globe.
Here in Wales we are currently consulting on proposals for a Sustainable Development Bill. In practical terms this would mean us placing a legal requirement on organisations delivering public services in Wales to ensure that their strategic decision making is informed by sustainable development principles. Put simply the Bill would ensure even more sustainable policy making and service delivery in Wales, and a more co-ordinated approach to improving long term economic, social and environmental outcomes for Wales.
However I am mindful of the need to avoid unnecessary bureaucracy. The last thing I want is to dilute public bodies’ capacity to deliver for the people of Wales.
There are already good examples of public bodies operating sustainably, for example Swansea Council is working to measure its performance in ways that link directly to real benefits for local communities; and the health board Hywel Dda is working to strengthen partnership working between third sector, hospitals and GPs to improve local health service delivery. This is aimed at strengthening capacity and resilience and focussing healthcare on prevention and early intervention rather than waiting until people urgently need services. It is this sort of sustainable and intelligent practice that we want to see adopted across all Wales’ public services.
In terms of exemplar and sustainable Welsh Government policies we have recently launched the second phase of arbed, our energy efficiency programme which will see us investing £45m to reduce fuel bills for 4800 homes in deprived areas of Wales. It follows a £66 million investment in arbed phase one which helped to improve the energy efficiency and reduce the carbon emissions of around 7500 Welsh homes.
This extra investment will also provide a boost to Welsh businesses as they can tender for contracts to supply and install the necessary energy efficiency measures. Simply, arbed means jobs, it means apprenticeships and it means less fuel poverty.
One of my reasons for attending Rio+20 is that I am keen to present our ground breaking proposals on SD to a world wide audience. I want to share our plans with other Governments and inspire them into similar action an I want to canvass views and learn from any experiences that might be relevant to our work. One of the great benefits of international collaboration is that you can develop partnerships, share learning, and build momentum for global change from the bottom up.
Rio+20 might be an international conference but it is focussed on an issue that it is at the heart of Welsh Government policy – decision making that is based, not on short term fixes, but on policies that will deliver long term health, well being and economic security for the people of Wales.
The Minister is attending Rio+20 as part of the UK Government delegation. He will also represent Wales at meetings of the Climate Group and NRg4SD, international networks that Wales plays a key role in.