Imagine a Wales that measured success in the equality and justice it offered to all its citizens. Where many ‘green’ jobs were created and greenhouse gas emissions plummeted as a legacy to our grandchildren. Diverse wildlife would flourish and poverty decline.
This Wales would recognise its global responsibilities by only buying from ethical and Fair Trade companies; it would reward farmers and businesses for their ‘green’ credentials. It would raise its children as global citizens while cherishing and enhancing its heritage, culture and language.
This is close to the vision offered to us by the Welsh Government as it unveiled its long awaited ‘Wellbeing of Future Generations Bill’  this week. The Bill aims to make sustainable development the ‘central organising principle’ of devolved government in Wales. If passed into law, the Bill will put a duty on the public sector in Wales – that includes the Welsh Government itself, local councils, the National Health Service in Wales, National Park Authorities and bodies such as Natural Resources Wales – to contribute to achieving goals for a more sustainable Wales.
The Bill will also establish a Commissioner for Future Generations, who can both help and challenge public bodies to do better, and investigate complaints and problems.
The publication of this Bill is a great step forward for the Welsh Government, which has struggled to deliver its commitment to sustainable development.
We’re pleased that some of the things we have been campaigning for have made it into the Bill, but we will be calling on Assembly Members to make it stronger before they pass it.
For us, sustainable development is not about trading social, economic and environmental goals against each other. Sustainable development means achieving social justice within environmental limits globally.
In Wales, it means protecting our biodiversity, language and culture, while only consuming our fair share of the planet’s resources.
We are calling for a duty to be placed on the devolved public sector so that they “must exercise their functions in order to achieve sustainable development”. The Bill’s requirement for public bodies to work towards common goals will be helpful, but only if the goals are the right ones and given sufficient priority. We are concerned that the current goals framework suggested isn’t good enough to protect wildlife in Wales, ensure we take action on climate change, or take account of our impacts on people across the world.
We also welcome the appointment of a Commissioner for Future Generations, who should become a powerful champion for future generations, people in developing countries and those living in poverty in Wales. But we would like the appointment to be made by the Assembly, rather the Welsh Government, to ensure his/her independence.
The Commissioner should be independent of the Welsh Government and be able to hold the Government and public sector in Wales to account. He or she should be both empowered and required to investigate and take action on failures by government and public bodies both to comply with the provisions of the Bill, and more widely.
We also have the opportunity to redefine sustainable development for Wales in the twenty-first century. It’s crucial that there is a clear definition of sustainable development which has meaning in law but resonates with people in Wales.
We have proposed a new definition which builds on this and resonates with experience in Wales:
“Sustainable development means achieving social justice and eliminating poverty in a way which is capable of being continued indefinitely by all of earth’s people by respecting environmental limits.
“In Wales, sustainable development includes sustaining and promoting the Welsh language, culture and heritage while protecting and enhancing the Welsh natural environment and using only our fair share of the world’s resources.”
The Bill is our promise and legacy to future generations who will live in our beautiful country and to people all over the world. We must get it right.