Poor and marginalised communities in Wales are most likely to be hit by disasters such as flooding caused by the climate emergency – and by measures to combat the crisis, a major report says.
The report says that while people from the most deprived areas are least responsible for the crisis, their homes and livelihoods are most at risk from extreme weather events. It argues that measures to tackle the climate emergency, such as reducing the number of cars on the roads, are likely to make life more difficult for poorer people in remote locations, who cannot afford or get access to greener methods of transport.
Another example it cites is the cost of introducing energy saving measures to homes, an upfront investment that poorer people may struggle to afford. It also says residents from more deprived areas are less likely to be able to pay for organic low-carbon food.
The report, Inequality in a Future Wales, from the future generations commissioner for Wales, Sophie Howe, Public Health Wales and Cardiff University, concludes: “The poorest and most marginalised populations are least responsible for climate change but are the most likely to be exposed to its negative effects and have the least resources to respond, cope and recover.”
It calls for ways to be found to involve such communities in making policies to tackle the climate emergency, such as inviting them to regional citizens’ assemblies.
The report was published on Thursday along with heartfelt testimonies by people from across Wales affected by devastating flooding.
A poem created by members of the Llanrwst Flood Action Group and edited by the writer Taylor Edmonds was released to give an insight into the fears of people in the market town in north Wales that was flooded last year.
Called Emerging from Winter, the poem describes how when the rains next come, “we’ll be dragged from our beds at 3am to fill sandbags … boys will stand guard on each estate, texting updates as fields transform to open water, gathering waves. We’ll become isolated.”
One Llanrwst resident, Sharon Williams, 58, said people were fearful whenever storms swept in. “It’s like walking on eggshells – every time we have heavy rain we are thinking, is this going to happen again?”
Indo Zwingina, from Treforest in south Wales, which was also badly flooded last year, said more than 18 months on, the effect of the flooding was still acutely felt.
“Every week, volunteers are still collecting rubbish the floods left behind. There’s a damaged footbridge near my home which still hasn’t been repaired, meaning everyone’s walk into town takes longer. Flood water brought knotweed to the community garden where I volunteer – it’s a lasting memory of when the water came.
“Politicians need to listen to people in order to tackle climate change. We can only make the changes we need if they engage people and understand their lives and the reality for them. They can’t force ideas on people, it needs to be about what communities need and can do.”
Howe said: “Climate change is an equality issue and this report finds that the link has so far been overlooked. We must reinvent policies to address the disadvantages to those who are most vulnerable.
“People in our poorest communities, many of those who’ve been hit hardest by Covid-19, are least able to afford insurance and the cost of putting things right after floods, and that’s drastically unfair.
“You’re also less likely to be in positions to take advantage of the new high-quality jobs that we will need to address climate change, and we need to put that right. With flooding occurring more and more often, we need a plan to ensure the financial burden doesn’t fall on those least able to pay – and an agreed Wales-wide approach to ensuring public services are able to respond in the right way.”