‘We just need to eat less meat’ say Extinction Rebellion campaigners in demands made to council on carbon zero plan

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From disaster planning to food production, electric vehicles to rewilding, campaign group Extinction Rebellion put Carmarthenshire Council leaders under the spotlight with a series of questions about their new net zero carbon plan.

The group had draped a huge banner over the walls of Carmarthen’s County Hall saying ACT NOW (in both English and Welsh), and further banners were on show on the steps leading up to the building.

Inside the chamber, executive board member for communities and rural affairs, Cllr Cefin Campbell, repeatedly rose to answer questions and supplementaries from the group, which wants to halt biodiversity loss and reduce greenhouse gases to net zero by 2025.

The debate was respectful, although it touched on particularly sensitive issues for a rural county like Carmarthenshire.

One campaigner claimed the council was spending money to “boost food production indiscriminately when we understand that one of the most effective actions that consumers can take is to eat less meat”.



The River Towy and surrounding agricultural landscape

Cllr Campbell said he didn’t want to get into an ethical argument about eating meat, but said the plan referred to by the campaigner recognised that agriculture was the backbone of the county’s rural areas.

“We are talking about living communities,” he said.

“We also recognise the way agriculture is funded, and has been heavily subsidised, is very likely to change as a result of us leaving the European Union.

“In turn, this is likely to change the face of agriculture in the future – and if it’s adversely affected, will have a seriously detrimental effect on the resilience and future sustainability of our rural communities.

“I don’t think anyone in this chamber would wish that to happen.”

Cllr Campbell said the council was not committed to spending money to boost food production indiscriminately, but wanted the agricultural sector to diversify.

The woman who asked the question said she wanted to support farmers, and said the “accelerating” move to veganism was taking its toll on them, and wondered if the council could help with the transition.

Cllr Campbell said farmers were well aware of the issues involved, and that if they changed their (livestock) methods they could reduce the production of greenhouse gas methane.



Extinction Rebellion campaigners on the steps of County Hall

On disaster planning, Cllr Campbell said the council was part of the Dyfed Powys Local Resilience Forum, which plans for major incidents.

He said the forum had identified severe coastal flooding as the highest risk event, with other types of flooding also on its radar.

Cllr Campbell also said he would like more renewable energy production on county, town and community-council owned land, which would have the extra benefit of keeping the associated profits within the county.

According to the State of Nature report:

  • Changing agricultural management has had the biggest single impact upon nature in Wales in recent decades with 88% of Welsh land managed for agriculture

  • 48% of moth decline is due to climate change

  • 60% of Aphid increase is due to climate change.

  • Swallows are arriving in Wales 15 days earlier and breeding 11 days earlier than in the 1960s.

  • Numbers of butterflies have fallen by 52% since 1976 and the numbers of species that require more specialised habitats, such as the high brown fritillary and grayling, have declined by more than three quarters.

  • In the UK many species, including birds, butterflies, moths and dragonflies, have moved north over the last four decades.

  • Shifts for these groups averaged 23km per decade between the 1970s and 1990s, and 18km per decade between the 1990s and the mid-2000s.

  • In the marine environment, warming seas have led to changes in plankton and fish distribution resulting in changes to species composition.

He spoke about bogs, marsh land and the need – in tandem with Natural Resources Wales – to maintain a register of habitats and risk analysis of indigenous species.

“I can assure you that we are giving this our full attention,” he said.

“That fragile link with the ecosystem is so important.”

Asked if the council had rewilding plans, with reference made to its park land and tenanted farms, Cllr Campbell said: “I think there is a great debate about rewilding.

“It means different things to different people.”

He cited environmental campaigner and journalist George Monbiot, saying he had called for the reintroduction of wolves, bears and wild boars.

“Personally I would not support that,” said Cllr Campbell.

“There is a balance between those who farm and conserve the land, and those who want to change it.

“On the land we own, we will actively look at planting as many trees as we can.”



A coracle comes in handy in Carmarthenshire after Storm Callum hit the region in October 2018

Quizzed about Carmarthenshire’s solar power contribution, Cllr Campbell said it was the second highest out of Wales’s 22 council areas, behind Pembrokeshire.

He also said he would look to replace council-run buses which operate as part of the Bwcabus scheme with electric versions when they need replacing, and that the council was drafting bids for a new rapid-charging hub at Cross Hands, which would fully charge an electric car in less than an hour.

The executive board member was also asked about a current planning application to remove 110,000 tonnes of coal from a mine near Llandybie.

Cllr Campbell said the council could not comment as the scheme in question had not been determined by the planning committee, but he added: “Personally, I would expect our planning officers and members of the committee to give regard to our net zero carbon plan when deliberating on this particular application.”

After the last of the questions, councillors debated and approved the net zero carbon plan, which commits the authority to reducing its emissions and offsetting the remainder by 2030.



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