Bannau Brycheiniog National Park Authority is joining Race to Zero: it is transforming the ability of its communities to act on climate

27 June, 2023
Photo © Anthony Pease
This article is written by a community climate activist in Bannau Brycheiniog, to tell others in the National Park of the incredible opportunity that is opening up for us all right now.
If you are not from the National Park, then please join the national campaign to press your own local authority to join Race to Zero and create the same opportunities for you.

Bannau Brycheiniog goes global

The National Park launched a “name from our past to take us into our future”, Bannau Brycheiniog, with a stunning film scripted by Owen Sheers and performed by Michael Sheen. The story of the Welsh name went viral globally: hundreds of millions of people saw it.

But that wasn’t the most important part of the story. The National Park was unveiling a radical management plan, with an approach to climate change more substantial than any other local authority in Wales has attempted.

Bannau Brycheiniog is in the process of joining the UN-backed Race to Zero, the most powerful climate change coalition in the world. Race to Zero provides the tools, incentives, scrutiny and support that local governments need to advance radical climate action, according to the targets agreed in the Paris Climate Agreement.

Going further, in line with its Welsh Government’s request for all Welsh national parks to be “exemplars in response to the climate and nature emergencies”, Bannau Brycheiniog National Park has been instrumental in setting up Race to Zero Cymru, to accelerate the Race to Zero in Wales, including encouraging every local authority in Wales to join the global Race to Zero.

What Race to Zero means for community climate action: acting like there is a crisis

Let us imagine that, during Covid, we had been told that Government does not want to tell us what to do, and that we should organise local discussions to decide a response. Apart from being incredibly frightening, it would have been deadly. It is the same with the climate crisis. We need to be told what the science says must be done. Then we can work out how – that’s by far a big enough challenge in itself.

So, the first thing that the National Park has done – and this is the first thing that all local governments participating in Race to Zero must do – is to work out what the carbon problem is and what the carbon reduction targets are. These reduction targets directly align with the Paris Climate Agreement and are verified through Race to Zero. This is important: these targets have absolute authority, because they are based on scientific evidence and international agreements about a fair share of effort globally. They are non-negotiable, unless we want to give up on the Paris climate goals.

These targets, however, go beyond the norm in Wales in three ways that transform the ability of communities to act.

  1. All carbon emissions are included, which means everything associated with goods we consume, wherever they are made. This stops the cheating, the hiding of polluting habits somewhere else less lovely than our National Park, but just as damaging because they are on the same planet.

This analysis has led to two shocking results:

  • By far the biggest source of residential carbon emissions, 23%, is something we are hardly talking about – the carbon released by our food and drink consumption. Bigger than household heating which accounts for 16%, and terrestrial transport, 19%. In Wales, we import a huge amount of what we eat (and export most of what we grow), having dismantled our local food economy through Government policies like the farm subsidy system and planning rules. As Philip Lymbery of Compassion in World Farming said at the Hay Festival this year, the global food system which we are feeding off is responsible for the most land use of any sector, the most water use, the most deforestation, the most species extinction, the most carbon emissions and the most air pollution. We need a new food economy in the National Park that supports the production and consumption of ecologically sustainable low-carbon food.
  • The residents of the National Park emit 22% more carbon than the UK average. For example, we take holiday flights 57% more than the average. 
  1. The second game-changing departure from the norm is that the National Park is turning these into tangible decarbonisation targets for the region over the next five years:
  • 39% cut in emissions arising from travel 
  • 22% cut in emissions arising from food consumption
  • 51% cut in emissions arising from energy use
  • 31% cut in non-CO2 emissions arising from land use

The next and final step is to turn these into comprehensible action targets for communities, like the number of homes to be insulated, or the amount of electricity to be generated locally. This work is starting.

The action targets are likely to be eye-wateringly challenging. It is often said, you should not frighten people too much in case they zone out. This view is wrong. We did not zone out during Covid. What does paralyse us is having no clue what to do about an immediate danger and seeing no-one anywhere acting like there is a crisis. 

  1. The third game-changing departure from the norm at the National Park is their acceptance that, in a crisis of this level of threat, they must galvanise action on things for which they have neither the resources nor the direct powers. If extra funding is needed, they will seek it. If new powers are needed, then robust partnerships are needed with those who do have the power. Acting like there is a crisis means taking responsibility for finding ways to safety.

And this is what is driving the National Park to partnerships, including with local authorities, land owners, farmers, NGOs, and importantly with local communities. Real partnerships of shared endeavour based on evidence and a willingness to jointly imagine and co-create solutions. Because there is no other way.

This creates an entirely new situation for our communities. We will now have highly rigorous, and scientifically non-negotiable targets for carbon reduction, expressed in practical terms that everyone can understand; and then an offer of robust partnership with the National Park to work out together how we are going to meet these incredible challenges, and how to fund the changes.

Climate action must not make other problems worse

Climate change is not the only challenge facing our communities. Restoring nature is vital, as is reducing the appalling phosphate and nitrate pollution in our rivers. And then there are all the social challenges we face – housing, affordable food, poverty and inequality, language, transport and so on.

All these need to be fixed too. So we must try to craft local climate solutions that contribute other positive outcomes. Insulating leaky homes is a good example of a double benefit – it tackles the cost of living crisis. Another example might be crafting local food solutions that make nutritious food more accessible to those on low incomes and create affordable homes for new food growers.

Bannau Brycheiniog used Doughnut Economics to analyse the full range of environmental and social problems in the National Park, and its whole new management plan is all based on this holistic analysis.

The same approach is being replicated at community level through “holistic Place Plans”. If we get a complete perspective, we can start to get very creative in forging clever solutions that bring more than one benefit at a time.

Building the partnership

Community climate activists in Bannau Brycheiniog like myself are currently absorbing the significance of what the National Park has done – it is gradual! Local action groups are reviving, they are starting to network with each other. New strength is emerging and this will result in a new and strong partnership among communities and between them and the National Park. As our confidence and capacity grow, so will our ambitions and our ability to rise to the eye-watering challenges that we are about to face.

And through Race to Zero, what we do here will be watched intently by communities across Wales and by all those across the globe who find out about us through the United Nations High Level Climate Champions. What we do in our tiny corner of the world matters. We will rise to the task.

Please jump into the Race to Zero!

If you live in Bannau Brycheiniog, and you have got this far in this article, then please get in touch, racetozerobannau@gmail.com. There will be monthly get-togethers from September across the National Park for those organising climate action in their communities.

And if you don’t live in the Bannau Brycheiniog, you can join the Climate Cymru network as an individual or a partner. If you are already involved in the network and want to stay more in the loop on this campaign, drop us an email to helo@climate.cymru asking to join the Climate Cymru Race to Zero campaign email list. 

You might also like

View all

From Soil to Soul: The Hidden Benefits of Sustainable Living

Seaweed: A Tide of Change for Our Coastal Waters

View all

Protect what you love

Tell our leaders to protect the Wales we love from the climate and nature emergency. Send a giant ice heart to the Senedd to show them just how much you care.

Add your voice
Add your voice We use cookies

We use cookies to improve your experience and deliver personalized content. By using this website, you agree to our privacy policy.