Wales pledges to phase-out fossil fuels in favour of renewables

The Welsh Government has committed to phase out the continued extraction and use of fossil fuels, including those obtained by fracking, as it strives to reduce national carbon emissions by 80% by 2050, against a 2011 baseline.

During the industrial era, Wales was home to the three largest coal exporting ports in the world

During the industrial era, Wales was home to the three largest coal exporting ports in the world

Published on Wednesday (5 December), the nation’s revamped planning policy places the extraction and use of coal, oil and gas at the bottom of its new “energy hierarchy”, while wind and solar take precedence.

The policy paperwork states that shale gas, coal bed methane and underground coal gasification are “not compatible” with Wales’ long-term decarbonisation goals or its interim carbon budgets.

“When proposing the extraction of on-shore oil and gas, robust and credible evidence will need to be provided to the effect that proposals conform to the energy hierarchy, including how they make a necessary contribution towards decarbonising the energy system,” the policy states.

“Proposals for open-cast, deep mine developments or colliery spoil disposals should not be permitted," it adds. 

According to Wales’ Cabinet Secretary for Energy, Planning and Rural Affairs Lesley Griffiths AM, these “precautionary” measures will prevent Wales from becoming “locked in” to further fossil fuel extraction projects and high-carbon developments.

“[This planning policy] will deliver the vision of the Wales we want set out in the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act: a more prosperous Wales, a resilient Wales, which supports healthy, functioning ecosystems and recognises the limits of the global environment, a healthier Wales, a more equal Wales, a Wales of more cohesive communities, a Wales of vibrant culture and a globally responsible Wales,” Griffiths said.

The move has been welcomed by Friends of the Earth Cymru, with director Haf Elgar dubbing it a “historic moment” for a nation once at the forefront of the global coal mining industry.

“As David Attenborough told world leaders at the UN climate change talks this week, climate change is our greatest threat, and time is running out,” Elgar said.

“This new policy is a positive sign that the Welsh Government is taking this threat seriously. A fossil-free future is the only future for Wales – and the rest of the planet. People in Wales are proud that their country is taking the lead, and hope that other countries follow our example.”

Low-carbon leadership

The publication of the new planning policy comes shortly after the Welsh Government updated its Energy Wales strategy, which now includes an aim of generating 70% of the nation’s energy from renewable sources by 2030. As of 2015, Wales has sourced just over one-third (36%) of its energy from low-carbon sources, including nuclear.

The Energy Wales strategy states that this shift to renewables could help the nation reduce its overall carbon footprint by 80-95% against a 2011 baseline.

Early signs of progress seem promising, with a former underground coal mine in the Maesteg area currently being converted into a geothermal facility capable of heating 150 nearby homes, a church and a school.

Nonetheless, the moves come at a time when carbon emissions are set to rise for developed nations for the first time since 2013, largely due to an over-reliance on gas and oil as coal is phased out, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).

Sarah George


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