Senedd election 2021 – how do the manifestoes compare?

Here, we take look at the manifestoes of the main political parties. How do the manifestos compare when it comes to environmental policies and commitments?












By Haf Elgar
Director, Friends of the Earth Cymru

The Senedd election is fast approaching.

This should have been the climate election, with the climate emergency given top billing in the year that COP26 comes to Glasgow. Countries across the world are focusing on making climate commitments. In Wales, though, like the rest of the world, the pandemic and public health emergency is still the focus of politicians, pushing the climate and nature emergency down the agenda.

In this blog, we’ll take a look at the manifestoes of the main political parties: Plaid Cymru, the Welsh Conservatives, Wales Green Party, Welsh Labour, and the Welsh Liberal Democrats.

How do the manifestos compare when it comes to environmental policies and commitments? After considering what they have in common, we’ll dig into their differences.


Common themes

Investing in the green economy

'Green jobs’ is the most obvious common theme of the five manifestos. All parties are committed to ensuring a green recovery by investing in the green economy. Many of these new jobs would come from expanding the renewable energy sector. Figures range from 15,000 new green jobs in the Welsh Conservatives’ manifesto to 60,000 jobs promised by Plaid Cymru. Investment plans feature prominently, from Welsh Labour’s 10-year investment plan for a zero-carbon economy, the Wales Green Party’s Green Transformation Fund to Plaid Cymru’s Green New Deal and £6bn economic stimulus.

Tackling waste 

There is a common thread around waste and plastics as well, with all parties committing to banning single use plastics and introducing a deposit return scheme, as well as developing reuse and repair facilities as we move towards zero-waste. It’s great to see they’ve all got the message that we must move beyond recycling targets towards eliminating single use products, thanks in part to the fantastic campaigning of community groups for plastics free towns.

Cleaning up our air

And we welcome cross party support for a Clean Air Act as well, so there should be firm legislative action on the issue of air pollution, which was hardly discussed in Wales at the last Senedd election.

This bodes well for getting an act introduced early in the next Senedd term.

Sustainable travel

In general, there is a shift towards more sustainable travel. With the notable exception of the Welsh Conservatives, gone are the promises of road building, replaced by the new travel hierarchy prioritising active travel. Improving integrated public transport, and the need to reduce car journeys has sunk in. Commitments include Welsh Labour creating a modern legislative basis for transport in Wales and making Wales an active travel nation, Plaid Cymru delivering an Active Travel Plan including longer-distance cycleways and using financial and other powers to reduce car use, and the Welsh Liberal Democrats promising a Bus Bill to meet the needs of local communities.

There is a realisation that home working will become more commonplace, and the daily commute will be less of a feature of people’s lives. All except the Welsh Conservatives commit to implementing the Burns Commission recommendations and are ready to move ahead from the rejected M4 relief road. Unfortunately, the Welsh Conservatives do focus on large road building projects which undermine other more positive proposals. And Plaid Cymru commit to maintaining the north-south flight precisely at the time where we need to reduce air travel.

Green spaces and nature

Another noticeable impact of the past year and lockdowns is a greater emphasis on green spaces and nature, especially access to nature. This is often combined with creating more liveable communities, with road space converted to walking and cycling, all services available nearby home and the concept of 20-minute neighbourhoods as espoused by the Welsh Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru. Plaid go further and propose green space within 5 minutes from everyone’s houses, reflecting the inequal access experienced by some communities during lockdown.


Key differences

Despite these similarities, there are major differences.

Net zero targets

First, some political parties give more priority than others to the climate emergency, which is reflected in the climate action they are prepared to take and their net zero targets.

Welsh Labour, the Welsh Conservatives and the Welsh Liberal Democrats support the target of net zero by 2050, although as this is now in Welsh legislation it can hardly be considered a new commitment.

Plaid Cymru sets a mission for Wales to reach net zero by 2035, albeit qualified by having full powers to deliver it. And the Wales Green Party say they will deliver a vision for net zero by 2030. Beyond these manifestoes we still need to see comprehensive climate action plans that would deliver on these commitments.

Level of detail

A second major difference is the level of detail provided. While the Wales Green Party create a positive vision of a future greener Wales and realise the urgency of change needed to achieve it, it can be short on detail and definite proposals. And Welsh Labour’s manifesto in general has less detail on how they’ll deliver and more modest promises.

Whereas the Welsh Liberal Democrats, despite not being a lengthy manifesto, have a plethora of legislative proposals, and some detailed principles and targets. The Welsh Conservatives also go into some detail with costings and statistics. And Plaid Cymru’s manifesto is a full programme of government for 5 years and beyond!

Measuring economic change

Third, despite unanimous support for green jobs and the green economy, there are differences in how fundamental economic change should be and how it can be measured.  The Wales Green Party commit to a ‘genuine’ wellbeing economy, with achievement measured in wellbeing goals rather than being reduced to GNP and support wellbeing economy budgeting as in New Zealand. Welsh Labour promote a localised sustainable economy, and a fairer greener economy grounded in the values of co-operation but do not mention how this would be measured.  And although there is a strong focus on economic development in Plaid Cymru’s manifesto it does talk of a new approach, with a step away from GDP and a new national performance framework for the public service based on the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act.

Global impact

Finally, it’s somewhat surprising, given that 'a globally responsible Wales’ is one of Wales' seven wellbeing goals, that none of the manifestoes give more attention to our global impact on the climate, and to what we import and invest. But the Welsh Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru and the Wales Green Party all mention local authority pensions divesting from fossil fuels. And, on deforestation, Welsh Labour commit to use materials with low levels of embedded carbon in buildings and developing a Welsh timber strategy, and Plaid Cymru would make Wales a deforestation-free nation. But otherwise there seems to be very little awareness of our global footprint, let alone commitments on how we can take responsibility.


In summary

As we can see, climate is prominent in all the main parties' agendas and priorities. It’s good to see there is much more recognition, action and commitment than we saw at the last election or even a few years ago. Recovering from COVID-19 is seen by all as an opportunity to decarbonise and develop in a greener way.

All five main political parties are committed to investing in the green economy, introducing a Clean Air Act for Wales, and taking action on waste and plastics.

Most parties emphasise the urgency and scale of the problem and refer to it as a ‘climate emergency’. The Welsh Liberal Democrats say that the clock is ticking on the future of our planet, and that they will put the climate and our planet at the heart of its agenda, and the Wales Green Party state that the climate emergency and nature crisis have become even more urgent in the past year.

This language is least apparent in the Welsh Conservative manifesto, with its focus on the economy, but climate action and numerous environmental policies are still included.

But there are major differences. Unlike the other parties, the Welsh Conservative promise to give the green light to large-scale road building projects like the M4 relief road, which would undermine their efforts to address the climate emergency.

Plaid Cymru and the Wales Green Party have more ambitious net zero targets than the other three. And some parties are better at backing up their plans with detail than others, with Welsh Labour being the least detailed.

Finally, there are some areas that are conspicuous by their absence such as our global impact and what we import and invest.

So overall, Plaid Cymru has the most ambitious promises, while the Wales Green Party and Welsh Liberal Democrats give the climate emergency the most prominence and also have ambitious policies. Welsh Labour are a step behind because of the lack of detail in their manifesto and their modest proposals. Lagging behind the other parties are the Welsh Conservatives. Unfortunately, their drive to build more roads would undermine their positive environmental policies and commitments.

Whoever gets elected to the next Senedd and forms the next Welsh Government, we will need to ensure there is a climate action plan that is ambitious enough, addressing any gaps in the manifestos, and, most importantly, that words translate into the necessary action.




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