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The goal for a resilient Wales
Author: Luned Jones
A resilient Wales: A nation which maintains and enhances a bio-diverse natural environment with healthy functioning ecosystems that support social, economic and ecological resilience and the capacity to adapt to change (for example, climate change).
What have we learnt from the data in the last year?
Many of the national indicators used to measure progress towards this goal are long-term indicators that measure gradual change. These indicators are therefore updated periodically rather than annually. From those national indicators updated within the last year:
- estimates recently produced by the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) suggest that Wales’s global footprint has continued to decrease, meaning that Wales is gradually reducing the area of land it needs to support its use of global resources
- average concentrations to which people are exposed, of nitrogen dioxide remained broadly similar between 2020 and 2021 and average concentrations for particulate matter increased slightly between 2020 and 2021, but remained lower than prior to the COVID-19 pandemic; annual variations can be due to a number of factors including the weather
- the amount of household waste generated, but not recycled per person decreased slightly, though remains similar to the pre-pandemic rate
- the total capacity of renewable energy projects installed in 2021 was more than double that installed in 2020; however, 2021’s installation rate remains the second lowest in the last decade
What is the longer term progress towards the goal?
Data for some of the national indicators suggest that progress is being made towards the resilient Wales goal, but some of this progress has slowed recently, and further improvements are needed in order to reach the goal and national milestones.
However, other indicators show that overall, the majority of endangered, vulnerable, rare and/or endemic species and habitats are not in a very good state, mirroring the global picture of declining biological diversity.
Our global footprint is the total environmental burden that society places on the planet. The national milestone for the global footprint indicator is that Wales will only use its fair share of the world’s resources by 2050. Recent estimates produced by JNCC and the Global Footprint Network suggest that the global footprint per person reduced by nearly a third between 2004 and 2018. However, this remains over twice the estimated biocapacity of Wales. If the entire world population lived like the citizens of Wales, humanity would require 2.08 Earths. Further analysis of the global footprint is included in the A Globally Responsible Wales chapter.
The latest comprehensive assessment of Welsh natural resources (SoNaRR 2020) shows that overall, biological diversity is declining. The national milestone on biodiversity is to reverse the decline in biodiversity with an improvement in the status of species and ecosystems by 2030 and their clear recovery by 2050. An experimental indicator on the status of biological diversity in Wales published in 2021 showed that the distribution of species in Wales has declined over the long term but has been stable more recently.
The quality of our water whether in seas, rivers, streams or the ground is generally improving. But, whilst good progress has been made in protecting and enhancing our waters over recent decades, there is still a long way to go.
The national indicator on soil shows that the concentration of carbon in our soil is generally stable, apart from in habitat land where a loss of carbon has recently been observed.
Air quality has improved greatly since the 1970s, but remains a risk to human health and nature.
Wales has seen decreases in waste generation and considerable improvements in recycling rate, but we continue to use up resources faster than they can be replenished.
Installed electrical capacity from renewable energy continues to increase but at a slower pace than in recent years.
SoNaRR 2020 provides a comprehensive assessment of progress against the four aims of the sustainable management of natural resources.
Biodiversity and habitats
The national milestone on biodiversity is to reverse the decline in biodiversity with an improvement in the status of species and ecosystems by 2030 and their clear recovery by 2050.
An experimental indicator on the status of biological diversity in Wales published in 2021 showed that the distribution of species in Wales has declined over the long term but has been stable more recently. Although there have been improvements in the status of populations of some species in Wales, SoNaRR 2020 shows that, overall, biodiversity is declining. Further analysis on this topic is available in the Wellbeing of Wales report 2021.
In addition to the national indicator on biodiversity, there are schemes in place which monitor specific species. The UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme is a long-term monitoring scheme. Data for 2022 shows that trends for UK butterfly species vary, with about a third of butterfly species assessed in the UK showing a significant long-term decline in abundance (33%), compared to 29% showing a significant long-term increase. However, over the last decade the majority of species are stable, with 4 species (7%) showing a statistically significant increase and no species showing a significant decline. In Wales, out of the species with sufficient data to be assessed, there are both long- and short-term declines in several species. Eight species are showing a long-term increase in Wales.
Key drivers responsible for long-term declines in abundance include changes in the extent, condition and fragmentation of habitats caused by the intensification of farming, changes in forestry practices, urban development, pollution and climate change. Some drivers, such as climate change, are likely to have mixed, species-dependent impacts.
The Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) is a partnership jointly funded by the BTO, RSPB and JNCC, launched in 1994, and is a citizen science monitoring scheme.. In 2022, a total of 231 bird species were recorded in 3,919 BBS squares and data presented on UK long-term trends (1995-2021) for 117 species. 37 species showed statistically significant increases and 41 species had significantly declined. Population increases include the expansion of recent colonists (including Egyptian Goose) and non-native species. BBS trends for 60 species are reported for Wales, of which 19 species have statistically significant long-term increases (1995-2021) and 18 species have significant long-term declines. Of greatest concern was the long-term decline of 61% for rooks between 1995-2021 and a 50% decline in the last ten years.
Most habitat types have seen a reduction in diversity over the last 100 years, with the rate of decline increasing from the 1970s onwards. In the 2019 Wellbeing of Wales report we reported that 31% of our land was considered semi-natural. This national indicator is used to assess the proportion of our land that has semi-natural, less modified habitats as these are most likely to form healthy and resilient ecosystems. An updated indicator will be available in 2024.
Additional information from NRW’s condition assessments for marine Special Areas of Conservation and Special Protection Areas in Wales and the Terrestrial and Freshwater Protected sites baseline assessment were included in the Wellbeing of Wales report 2022.
Well managed soil will safeguard food production, support habitats, help manage flood risk and reduce water treatment costs. The national indicator on soil for 2013-16, shows that the concentration of carbon in our soil is generally stable, apart from in habitat land where a loss of carbon has recently been observed.
Water and flood risk
The quality of our water whether in seas, rivers, streams or the ground is generally improving.
Water is one of Wales’s natural resources which we rely on constantly including for drinking water, the economy, industry, sewage treatment and agriculture. In 2021-22 Welsh Water and Hafren Dyfrdwy provided around 900 megalitres per day (Ml/d) of potable water to meet demand, with higher demand experienced during peak periods such as during hot dry weather or tourism hot spots. Private water supplies (not on mains) are estimated as 13.8 Ml/d.
Latest data on the status of surface and ground water shows that 40% of 933 surface and ground water bodies were at good or better status in 2021. This represents a 3 percentage point increase from that reported in 2015 and an 8 percentage point improvement since 2009. A further update is expected in the autumn of 2024.
Good quality bathing waters are very important for coastal communities, visitors and the economy in Wales. Bathing water quality was monitored at 106 designated sites around Wales’ coast in 2022. 105 bathing waters met the standards set by the Bathing Water Regulations. 85 were classified as excellent, 16 achieved good and 4 were classified as the minimum, sufficient, standard. 1 bathing water failed to achieve the standard and was assessed as poor.
Figure 2.1: Bathing water quality, percentage of designated sites, 2022
Description of Figure 2.1: A pie chart showing bathing water quality for designated sites in Wales in 2022. 80% were classed as excellent, 15% as good, 4% as sufficient and 1% as poor.
Source: NRW Bathing Water Quality Report 2022
The latest flood risk assessment shows that some homes in Wales are at risk of flooding from seas, rivers and surface water, with some properties at risk from more than one type of flooding.
In 2019, nearly 42,000 properties in Wales were at high or medium risk of flooding from rivers and over 60,000 properties at high or medium risk of tidal flooding. This covers both residential and non-residential properties. Of these, over 20,000 benefit from river flood defences and over 50,000 from tidal flood defences. It’s currently not possible to consider trends over time due to changes in methodology.
Air quality has improved greatly since the 1970s, but remains a risk to human health.
The national indicator on nitrogen dioxide (NO2) emissions shows that overall, the average concentration levels to which people are exposed have been declining over the past decade. After a period of relative stability between 2017 and 2019 (at around 9 µg/m3), the average concentration decreased to 7 µg/m3 in 2020 and remained at 7 µg/m3 in 2021. Average concentrations to which people are exposed of particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5) increased slightly between 2020 and 2021 though remained below pre-pandemic levels.
The highest concentrations of nitrogen dioxide emissions are found in urban areas and near busy roads, reflecting the contribution of traffic and urban activities to poor air quality.
Air pollution has a significant effect on public health. There are currently 44 air quality management areas declared in Wales. One was designated due to the risk of PM10 particulate matter levels exceeding the daily 24-hour mean air quality objective for PM10, and the remainder designated where levels of NO2 exceed or risk exceeding the air quality objectives for NO2.
Last year, using 2019 data, the UK Health Security Agency reported the mortality burden attributed to long term outdoor air pollution in the UK has ‘an effect equivalent to’ between 29,000 and 43,000 deaths per year. This was amongst adults aged 30 years and over. The estimate for Wales is ‘an effect equivalent to’ 1,200 to 2,000 deaths amongst those aged 30 years and over. It is important to note these are not actual deaths; the estimate relates to air pollution being regarded as contributing to mortality is based on evidence that shows air pollution reduces life expectancy for everyone.
Figure 2.2: Air quality indicators, 2007 to 2021
Description of Figure 2.2: A line chart showing a general improvement in air quality indicators over the period 2007 to 2021.
Source: Air Quality Emissions Indicators
Waste and recycling
Wales has made considerable progress in managing waste over the last decade by increasing the amount sent for recycling, and reducing the amount sent for disposal. Wales is a world leader in household recycling, but we continue to use up resources faster than they can be replenished.
There was a considerable decrease in the amount of waste generated, that is not recycled, per person, between 2012 and 2019 (from 794kg to 523kg). The amount of waste not recycled decreased for each of the three components that comprise this national indicator:
- Household waste
- Industrial and commercial waste
- Construction and demolition waste
Whilst the industrial and commercial, and the construction and demolition waste components are measured periodically through surveys, more regular and up-to-date data is available on household waste.
The amount of household waste generated, but not recycled per person has generally decreased over the last decade, with some fluctuation in 2019-20 and 2020-21 likely due to COVID-19. In 2021-22, on average 178kg of waste generated was not recycled per person.
The recycling rate (i.e. the percentage of local authority municipal waste that was reused, recycled or composted) has increased considerably during the last two decades – from around 5% in the late 1990s to nearly two-thirds (65.2%) in 2021-22. Although the recycling rate decreased very slightly in the latest year, it remained slightly higher than prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Figure 2.3: Percentage of local authority municipal waste reused/recycled/composted, 2012-13 to 2021-22
Description of Figure 2.3: A line chart showing that the percentage of municipal waste reused/recycled/composted in Wales generally increased from 52.3% in 2012-13 to 65.2% in 2021-22.
Source: Local Authority Municipal Waste
As part of the National Survey 2022-23, people were asked about environmental behaviours as part of everyday life. Over a half (53%) of people minimised the purchase of brand-new items, an increase from the previous year (46%). 43% of people said cost was the main reason they had minimised their purchase of brand-new things compared with 30% the previous year.
The vast majority of people (90%) have either sold or given away items in the previous 12 months, with women more likely to do so than men. 70% of people have either received or bought second-hand items in the last 12 months, an increase from 57% in 2018-19.
Renewable energy generation
Electricity consumption in Wales is estimated to have increased at a faster rate than renewable electricity generation in Wales in 2021. As a result, the equivalent percentage of Welsh electricity consumption met by renewable electricity generation reduced slightly from 56% in 2020 to 55% in 2021.
Around 28% of electricity generated in Wales was from renewable sources in 2021, a lower proportion than in 2020, but slightly higher than in 2019. The recent annual decrease is due to an increase in the total amount of electricity generated as a result of gas-fired power stations in Wales increasing their output back to pre COVID-19 generation levels.
The majority (over three-quarters) of renewable energy capacity in Wales generates renewable electricity, while the remaining quarter produces renewable heat.
The capacity of renewable energy projects in Wales (electricity and heat) has increased considerably over the last decade, though progress has slowed in recent years. At the end of 2021, the installed electrical capacity for renewable energy was 3,508 megawatts (MW), slightly higher than the previous year and more than twice the capacity in 2012. At the end of 2021, the total renewable heat capacity in Wales was 742 MW, slightly higher than the previous year and nearly thirteen times the heat capacity in 2012. However, the installation rate in 2021 remains the second lowest in the last decade and is nearly 90% lower than the 2015 peak, when more than 1 GW of renewable energy capacity was installed.
Wales remains a net exporter of electricity, generating nearly twice as much electricity as it consumes on an annual basis.
Figure 2.4: Renewable energy generation capacity, 2012 to 2021
Description of Figure 2.4: A line chart showing an overall considerable increase in both renewable electrical and heat capacity in Wales between 2012 and 2021.
Source: Energy Generation in Wales report
The national milestone on dwelling energy performance is that all homes in Wales will have adequate and cost-effective energy performance by 2050. According to the Welsh Housing Conditions Survey, 2017-18, 47% of residential dwellings were considered to have adequate energy performance (a SAP rating of 65 or above).
According to the National Survey for Wales, three quarters of people minimised the use of energy in their home, an increase from 62% the previous year. Of these, cost was the reason given by most people (84%).
Previous versions of the Wellbeing of Wales report include further analysis of:
- semi-natural habitats
- green spaces
- quality of soil
- energy efficiency of homes
State of Natural Resources Report 2020 (Natural Resources Wales) provides a comprehensive assessment of the extent to which natural resources are being sustainably managed.
National Survey for Wales provides data on people’s views on environmental issues.
Nature Positive 2030 evidence report: produced by the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, Natural England, Natural Resources Wales, NatureScot and the Northern Ireland Environment Agency.
The following data sources were used in this narrative.