Wales in the World: what can a small country do on climate change, trade etc?

December 5, 2008 2 By admin

I’ve just got back from promoting the book in Wales – the universities in Aberystwyth and Swansea, followed by a launch at the National Assembly of Wales. Since the Assembly was established in 1999, it seems to have galvanized a sense of nationhood – Welsh is much more widely spoken these days and more schools are teaching it – and that has also tapped into Wales’ long tradition of internationalism. Many Welsh socialists and communists went off to fight in the Spanish civil war in the 1930s, and in the 1970s Welsh trade unionists took in Chilean refugees who fled the Pinochet dictatorship. Discussion revolved around what international role a relatively small country can play, when it has limited powers (e.g. the Assembly has no foreign affairs responsibilities) and only counts as a sub-national entity in places like the UN and EU.

One advantage of being small is that you can be relatively nimble – so Wales has become an innovator in some areas, becoming the world’s first ‘fair trade nation’ in June this year. Under the scheme, all the cities in Wales are now registered Fairtrade cities and all the counties have active Fairtrade groups. In addition, almost 400 schools have promised to use and promote fairly traded products. The Assembly also runs an innovative ‘Wales for Africa’ programme linking up Welsh schools, hospitals and communities with African counterparts.

Wales also became one of the first countries to commit to annual carbon emissions reduction targets and is ahead of the UK game on wind farms. Now its Minister for Environment, Sustainability and Housing, Jane Davidson is off to the climate change talks in Poznan, (by train), partly to explore how Wales can make an impact on a Kyoto 2 process dominated by national governments. Wales is working with other regional (i.e. sub-national) bodies through the Network of Regional Governments for Sustainable Development (NRG4SD) and the Forum of Global Associations of Regions – maybe they could link up with other non-national actors like large companies, or academics, to put pressure on national negotiators to deliver.

In his remarks at the launch Carwyn Jones AM, Leader of the House and widely tipped to take over as First Minister when Rhodri Morgan stands down in September next year, argued passionately that Wales had to ‘do its bit, and more’ on international issues. Seems to me that they’re doing just that.