My last blog explored the complex and uncertain economic and environmental times we are experiencing. To discuss this further, it is important to take stock and reflect on what is in store for the Welsh environment and natural resources. On 5th May, Welsh Government published the Future Trends Report 2017. This report looks to identify the key social, economic, environmental and cultural trends that could affect Wales in the future, as well as some of the factors that could influence the direction of those trends. The report “has been designed to support the public sector in Wales in making better decisions for the long term”. So what insight can be drawn from the Future Trends Report to help us understand the challenges facing the Welsh environment and natural resources?
The Future Trends Report reiterates the IPCC insight from the Synthesis Report (2014) that global climate change has been clearly documented and the current rates of change being observed are unprecedented. The observed impacts globally attributed to climate change are on physical, biological, and human / managed systems. This can be seen in flooding and coastal changes, public water supply shortages, and risks to natural capital (i.e. soils, biodiversity and ecosystems), which are all risks explored in the UK Climate Change Risk Assessment. The Future Trends Report notes that Wales is already exposed to a range of climate hazards, which are forecast to increase in frequency and severity.
For example, flooding is noted to pose the greatest long-term risk to infrastructure performance from climate change. The future trend for rainfall in Wales in 2050 is an increase in mean winter precipitation of 14 per cent, under the 2050s Medium Emissions scenario. This trend could have significant implications for communities, businesses and infrastructure in Wales. This is a priority for Welsh Government to reduce the flood risk and support communities. In March 2017, the Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Rural Affairs announced £32 million capital funding to reduce the risk from flooding to over 2,100 homes and businesses across Wales.
Interestingly, the EU funded “Migration, Environment and Climate Change: Evidence for Policy” (MECLEP) project has explored the impacts attributed to climate change on mobility. The project explores the relationship between migration and environmental change, specifically “how migration, including displacement and planned relocation, can benefit adaption strategies to environmental and climate change”. One area explored, is the depletion of ecosystem services due to events / processes that have a direct consequence of human security. As seen in the infographic, this complex issue has many environmental processes (i.e. climatological hazards – droughts) and mobility drivers (i.e. water security) that affect the ecosystem services (i.e. provisioning services – fresh water). Natural resources and ecosystems services therefore, provide important benefits through the regulation of the planet and the provision of crucial resources for survival and cultural activities. It is important for Wales to take this learning from the six project countries to ensure an integrated strategy that addresses the threat to ecosystems services from climate change.
In addition to the Future Trends Report exploring Climate Change, it notes key trends in Land Use and Natural Resources. Key areas for considerations are the decline of natural resources and the resilience of Wales’ ecosystems. Natural habitats are already experiencing unprecedented change and some animal and plant species will increase and some decrease, but the long-term trend is downwards for all species. Importantly, Welsh Government is addressing this area of concern with the National Natural Resources Policy that was out for consultation in early 2017, as a key part of the Environment (Wales) Act 2016.
As noted in the report, the political uncertainty is a critical factor in Wales’ future, especially with the current landscape of the up-coming General Election in June and the start of Brexit negotiations. The future trends in Wales, including the environment and land use will be directly impacted by the political landscape in the next few years, so it will be fascinating to see what the next few years, as well as long-term, have in store for the environment and natural resources in Wales.