PhD student Katharina Hone discusses how the UN Climate Summit and global protests can impact on climate change policy in Wales

This weekend and early next week, two big events on climate change action will take place in New York. On September 23rd the UN Climate Change Summit will take place on the invitation of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. 122 heads of government are expected to attend. Two days earlier, the streets of New York and other major cities across the world will be flooded with the People’s Climate March which the organisers call “a weekend to bend history.” The urgency behind the two events stems from the need to negotiate a binding global agreement on emission reduction and support for developing countries by the end of 2015.

However, despite the crucial importance of a global deal, two things should not be forgotten. First, regional and local partners have a place at the global negotiation table. Second, all action happens locally; there is no substitute for the implementation of climate goals through the activities of people living their lives and managing their businesses. From this perspective, Wales is a partner in the fight for climate action as well as an important actor.

At the global negotiations on climate change and sustainability, Wales acts as para-diplomat. For example, at last year’s UNFCCC negotiations in Warsaw, First Minister of Wales, Carwyn Jones said that he wants ”Wales to continue to lead by example. The UN event is an opportunity for us to learn from others and to share our own experience and our own vision with people from across the world.” While diplomacy is a game dominated by sovereign states, one aspect that should not be underestimated is the possibility to acquire symbolic capital through attending and speaking at high-level diplomatic events. It is this symbolic capital that can then be brought home to galvanize further action.

However, with regard to the upcoming summit, it seems that Wales is missing out as it will not be represented at the UN Climate Change Summit. The First Minister will not be attending and there not will be any other involvement from the Welsh government. It is hard to judge whether or not this is a missed opportunity.

Yet, there is ample reason to look ahead. As world leaders are meeting in New York, the Climate Change Commission for Wales will be holding its next meeting on the 24th and 25th of September. Two of the main points will be The Well Being of Future Generations Bill and the Climate Change Strategy Refresh undertaken by the Welsh Government. Especially the latter is a much needed and much awaited document at this time.

But just like the global stage, political will needs to be galvanized. Wales has a non-legally binding target of 40% emission reduction, compared to a 1990 base level, by 2020. However, the First Minister recently announced that Wales is lagging behind.

Yet, it seems that there is potential to remedy this situation. Recent studies show that the most economic growth is coming from the energy and environment sector. Further, there is a clear recognition in Wales that climate change is a threat. The destructive coastline flooding this Winter serves as a crucial reminder of that.

If we had to take two ingredients from what is happening in New York this weekend and the coming week, what is needed is high-level political commitment and a march on the street. Maybe, as the former Welsh Minister for Environment said upon returning from Rio+20, the UN Conference on Sustainable Development held in 2012, “[n]ow is the time to take action and recognise that regional governments really can make a difference.”

Katharina Hone can be found tweeting at @kathone.  She studies International Relations at Aberystwyth University.