Priorities for the Climate Change, Environment, and Infrastructure Committee (Wales) - consultation response

In September 2021, we responded to this consultation to provide our views on the main priorities and issues set out by the Climate Change, Environment, and Infrastructure Committee in Wales. As a College, we have highlighted climate change as a priority in our new three-year strategy and look forward to sharing more of our work with the committee over the coming months and years.

Our response

We welcomed the focus on investment in renewables. However, we would welcome scrutiny by the Committee of any and all Welsh Government fossil fuels subsidies. In May 2021, the UK and other G7 nations reaffirmed their commitment to end inefficient fossil fuel subsidies by 2025.1

Wales recently committed to net-zero by 2050. The Welsh Government’s ambition is a net-zero public sector by 2030, which we hope and assume includes health services.2 However, the UKHACC is calling on governments to go further, as per the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change advice.2

The NHS in England has a ‘Greener NHS’ unit tasked with making NHSE net zero. We asked the Committee to consider scrutiny of Welsh Government planning and actions to deliver net zero health services and wider public sector by 2030. A stated ambition that is not backed up by serious planning, resource and a timetable of actions to achieve the agreed outcomes is unlikely to succeed.

We welcomed proposals for the new Clean Air Act and would like to see this prioritised by Welsh Government as the links between air quality and children’s health are well documented. In our position statement on outdoor air quality, we state that:

The effects of air pollution can start before birth and are shown to have a greater impact on babies, children and young people. These effects are particularly damaging because they can have a lifelong impact and those with existing health conditions are even more vulnerable.

In reading the Minister and Deputy Minister’s letter to the Committee Chair, we recognised that there was no mention of proposals to introduce a default speed limit of 20mph in restricted roads in Wales.3 We supported these proposals, which we hope will provide safer environments for children and young people to walk, play and travel. These proposals speak to a range of policy areas across government including air quality, obesity, active travel and road accident prevention (see our State of Child Health evidence on these).

The Met Office recently published a report showing that we were already feeling the effects of climate change in the UK with increased heat and rainfall. It found that “2020 was the first year that the annual values for rainfall, temperature and sunshine were all in the top ten in the same year. 2020 was third warmest, fifth wettest and eighth sunniest on record for the UK”.4

Our recommendations 

  • Climate change and environmental policy will have a profound impact on children and young people throughout their lives. We asked the Committee to engage directly with children and young people both in terms of establishing priorities and in terms of scrutiny to understanding how government programmes are delivering for them.  As work around climate change develops within the College, we will also share insights from children and young people working with us with the Committee
  • We welcomed the focus on investment in renewables. The UK Health Alliance on Climate Change (UKHACC) of which RCPCH is a member, has asked that all fossil fuel subsidies to end (while protecting the vulnerable who may be unfairly disadvantaged) coupled with a massive investment in renewable energy and storage, green infrastructure, and green jobs and that all fossil fuel companies are to become net zero by 2040.
  • The Welsh Government have committed to be net-zero by 2050. UKHACC policy calls endorsed by RCPCH say that all countries to achieve net zero emissions by 2040, with countries with high emissions of carbon making much bigger cuts than those with low emissions and all health services are to become net zero as soon as possible and before 2040.
  • We asked the Committee to consider in its scrutiny of the proposed legislation and Welsh Government action on the environment and to consider whether Welsh Government timelines both for delivering the legislation and implementing its commitments are adequate to meet the urgency of the challenge. We also hope the Committee would consider what impact the Clean Air Act was likely to have on inequalities, given that across the UK, the most deprived communities experience the worst air quality, further driving health inequalities. 
  • In terms of transport and active travel we supported the default speed limit of 20mph in restricted roads in Wales. We welcomed these proposals as it is hoped that they will provide safer environments for children and young people to walk, play and travel.
  • On active travel more broadly, we asked for further scrutiny to establish how much progress had been made by the Welsh Government in addressing the recommendations made in the earlier report on the Active Travel Act. This could also provide an opportunity for Members to consider whether the Act is delivering on its objectives overall and whether more people, particularly children and young people in Wales are now walking and cycling.
  • We invited the Committee to consider scrutiny of government plans around heatwaves and flooding – and in particular the impact on children’s health. The College has not published any reports on these issues, but we are considering them and will update the Committee if we publish any evidence around the risk to child health from heatwaves and flooding, or other effects of climate change.