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13 October 2023
Public Sector

Public Sector’s Pivotal Role in Addressing the Climate Emergency

In a compelling address at the Environment Ireland Conference in Dublin, Clare Pillman, the Chief Executive of Natural Resources Wales (NRW), emphasised the immense potential of the public sector to be the driving force in the crucial movement needed to combat biodiversity loss and avert a climate catastrophe.

Clare Pillman stressed the pivotal role of strong public sector leadership in addressing the nature and climate emergencies. She underlined the significance of collaboration and knowledge-sharing and acknowledged that radical changes in the sector's operations are essential to tackle the most pressing challenges of our time. This passionate call to action underscores the public sector's capacity to be the true “gamechangers” in this critical endeavor.

Addressing delegates in her keynote speech at the conference, she said:

“The public sector is the largest economic sector of most nations, wielding an enormous impact on not only the economy, but also society and the environment.

“But we are not the only experts, and we do not have all the answers. We must be upfront about what this [tackling climate change] will require: It requires a movement. And the power to create that movement is in this room and across the wider public sector.”

In her speech, Clare underlined the importance of having strong structures and networks in place to push all parts of the public sector to work together to achieve the 2030 and 2050 milestones for climate, nature and for our communities.

Reflecting on the building blocks in place to help the public sector deliver for the people of Wales, she highlighted the role played by Public Services Boards (PSBs) to share knowledge and deliver on the issues that matter most at a local level.

She also marked the crucial contributions of ENGOs to stimulate behaviour change and the solid foundations provided by the Environment (Wales) Act and Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act.

Clare will say:

“The leadership demonstrated through these all these fora is informed by the expertise of those living in and experiencing the world as it is now. It is by no means a ‘top-down’ approach.

“Whether the issues are adapting to sea level rise, or related to improving local air quality, we listen and learn from local authorities and local communities to identify the best combination of measures that tackle the unique risks experienced in specific places.”

The speech focused on the importance of ensuring tackling the climate emergency is put at the heart of the work of the public sector, underlining that the benefits of doing so can be far-reaching and ensuring those working in the sector are up skilled and equipped to deliver.

Clare said:

“Right now, we see climate change tackled in relative isolation in the public sector, possibly by one department within a public body rather than being considered holistically.

“This perhaps demonstrates the need for stronger leadership from senior leaders and managers across the public sector, giving them the opportunity to show how action on climate change can also link to broader objectives the local authority may have – such as tackling air pollution or social justice.

“Fundamentally, we will need to ensure that public sector staff at every level have the right training that will help staff at every level to prioritise climate change, so that everyone – regardless of what skill set and type of role they have –  has climate change mitigation and adaptation embedded in the work that they do.

“Quite simply, we must invest in our colleagues now for resilience later. Only that way will we be able to strengthen and retain climate expertise within the public sector.”

The call to arms comes in the year NRW launched its Corporate Plan to 2030 – Nature and People Thriving Together. It focusses on three well-being objectives that will guide its response to the triple threats to the planet: By 2030 in Wales, nature is recovering; communities are resilient to climate change; and pollution is minimised.

The plan recognises where NRW is best placed to lead the way to meet the 2030 targets for nature and climate with the unique tools and powers it has.  But in the face of growing inequalities and a cost of living crisis, it also stresses the importance of pooling resources and collaborating with partners, sharpening the focus on social and environmental justice to make sure no part of society gets left behind.

She said:

“Our corporate plan has given us the mandate to unpick the layers of custom and practice, the traditional way things are done, and to really challenge ourselves to be innovative and explore the art of the possible.

“By radically changing the way we live, how we work together, how we think about and plan for the future – with the public sector leading the way  – we can quite literally move mountains, and build a thriving economy, vibrant communities, and a more resilient world for current and future generations.”

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