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Welsh Government Consultation to Inform the Development of the Natural Resources Policy

In late 2016 the Welsh Government launched a consultation into the Natural Resources Policy Development. You can find more information about the consultation document on the Welsh Government website.

The submission produced by the Geological Society can be found below:

Submitted 13 February 2017

1. The Geological Society (GSL) is the UK’s learned and professional body for geoscience, with about 12,000 Fellows (members) worldwide. The Fellowship encompasses those working in industry, academia, regulatory agencies and government with a broad range of perspectives on policy-relevant science, and the Society is a leading communicator of this science to government bodies, those in education, and other non-technical audiences.

2. The Geological Society welcomes the publication of the Welsh Government’s Natural Resources Policy for consultation and the approach taken to natural resources policy-making. Setting natural resource management in a framework focussing on sustainability and ecosystem resilience as part of a wider holistic approach is an important step forward in environmental policy-making as we seek to live more sustainably and equitably.

3. We previously responded to the Welsh Government’s consultation on the Environment Bill where we raised the importance of the geosphere in the ecosystems services approach and we are pleased to see that geological diversity is included in this consultation paper in the context of ecosystem resilience. It is important that references to the geosphere and geological diversity are included in high-level policy documents to ensure that they are fully integrated into subsequent implementation. We are also pleased to see flooding and the quality and productive capacity of soils identified as important challenges that need addressing in the context of ecosystem resilience.

4. The report refers to the need to increase resource efficiency in the context of green economic growth and development but there is little detail on, or reference to, Wales’ access to geological resources. Resources such as fossil fuels, minerals, metals and aggregates are mentioned only once (page 12) but there is little discussion of their historic role in underpinning the Welsh economy, the modern legacies of these industries (both positive and negative), or the essential current and future requirements for these resources. Nor is there discussion of how the competing drivers of energy and mineral affordability, security and improved environmental management will be reconciled going forward.

5. Wales, along with the rest of the UK, still needs secure access to subsurface mineral and energy resources. We will continue to require fossil fuels as part of our energy mix for many years, however quickly we move to decarbonise the economy; and beyond that we will need hydrocarbons as chemical feedstocks, as well as minerals of all kinds for a wide variety of uses, to secure the ongoing development and prosperity of Wales. The document’s discussion around green growth, resource efficiency and building a circular economy covers an important part of sustainable management but it does not explicitly address these resource needs. The extractive industries should not be conceived of as being inherently antithetical to environmental sustainability – given our long-term dependence on geological resources, this would be an unnecessary admission of failure in our efforts to protect the environment. Rather, we must build on existing best practice and explore new ways to reconcile our resource needs with environmental and societal well-being.

6. The Welsh Government’s holistic approach to environmental policy provides an excellent opportunity to take a fresh look at this challenge. As we transition to become a ‘greener’ society, our requirements for minerals and hydrocarbons will continue and evolve. Many new green technologies, including those for generating renewable energy, will require significant shifts in our mineral resource needs, and rapid growth in production of some metals which are currently produced only in small quantities worldwide. To consider those aspects of energy and resource sustainability that are outlined in the report in isolation from our geological resource needs is to ignore a significant part of the challenge – and of the means at our disposal to address it. This is an area currently being addressed by the International Union of Geological Sciences as part of its Resourcing Future Generations initiative, which is a global effort to address the long-term goal of meeting the world’s future natural resource needs sustainably (key documents are at The extractive industries of Wales are much reduced compared to the heyday of the coal industry, but there are still significant working extractive industries as well as many tourist and visitor attractions focussed on the strong industrial geological heritage of Wales, and this should be reflected in the Natural Resources Policy. Although the ongoing resource requirements of Wales are not explicitly covered in the Key Challenges as listed at Annex 2, it is nonetheless important that this is addressed in the delivery phase so that Wales’ natural resources can be effectively and sustainably managed.

7. We welcome the inclusion of the key challenge of ‘Retaining the distinctiveness of our places and historic landscapes’ in the report. The geosphere has an important role to play in underpinning and shaping landscapes and controlling the location of natural resources, both of which contribute to the unique visual and cultural identity of Wales. The industrial heritage of Wales is a strong component of its national identity and many former industrial sites have been repurposed as places to learn about the local industrial heritage. In addition to the sites of Wales’ industrial heritage which are very popular with visitors and tourists, the stunning landscapes of Wales, themselves a natural resource, are also an enormous draw for visitors and tourists from around the world. The contribution to the Welsh economy of geotourism and initiatives such as the UNESCO Global Geoparks of GeoMôn and Fforest Fawr also needs to be included in the holistic approach to natural resources management.