21 Nov 2011

Thoughts from Jane Davidson

What would a country committed to sustainable development look like? A country committed to balancing economic, social and environmental factors in its decision making; a country prepared to actively reduce unnecessary consumption and focus instead on improving the quality of life for its citizens, particularly those with least resources?  From 2013, that country might be Wales when the Welsh Government puts forward legislation to put sustainable development at the heart of not only what it does, but how the government relates to the wider public sector. Such legislation will make a flexible concept real and turn what is now at best good practice into meaningful legal obligations which can be monitored and reviewed and ultimately challenged in the courts.

This is a significant moment in the history of devolution. The National Assembly for Wales started its life in 1999 with a unique duty to have a Sustainable Development Scheme, a duty supported by all political parties. 12 years on, it has become clear that the original duty, although pioneering, is insufficient. The scheme is simply not enough to make a real sustainable difference in a world that uses too much.

Last month I was privileged to be invited to give the annual ENDS Report lecture in London which went up on SHED-SHARE last week. In it I argued that the time for voluntarism is past, that legislation will deliver better outcomes for Wales as it will enable ‘sustainable development’ and its indicators to be defined in law and in doing so, facilitate adherence from the government and public sector in Wales round a common agenda.

For those of us interested in the sustainability agenda, this presents an ideal opportunity to discuss what such legislation should look like. What should be its ambit? What outcomes would we like to see as a result of it? Could a ‘sustainable’ Wales be distinctively different? How precise should the definitions be? What would be the best model for independent critique?

Our discussions with the new Minister start on 1st December. Your thoughts would be welcome.

Jane Davidson
Trinity Saint David University
November 2011

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