For a fair transition to a green economy, the South Wales Valleys must not face a repeat of the injustices confronted during the last industrial transition.

So says Wales’ first 'climate citizens’ jury' who are calling for new green transport networks to be established, and much greater government investment in digital technology in the Valleys "so no one has to leave home to get a decent job".

Job creation, public transport development, car-free town centres, work hubs and treating digital infrastructure as a basic human right are among the 30 bold new ideas generated by a 'jury’ of South Wales valleys residents, to help their community shift to a ‘net zero’ carbon economy.

In the first such 'local democracy experiment' on climate in Wales, organised by the UK think-tank - the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) Environmental Justice Commission, the 19 residents heard from a panel of climate change experts before formulating their proposals.

The South Wales Valleys climate citizens' jury was organised by the IPPR Environmental Justice Commission – a UK-wide cross-party research initiative to present an ambitious and positive vision of a green future shaped around people’s experiences and needs.

Key to the commission’s work is engaging with communities tha face unique challenges as a result of the green transition. The South Wales Valleys citizens jury is one of four in the UK.

Drawn from across the South Wales Valleys, the jury comprised urban residents from Caerphilly and Merthyr Tydfil, and local people from rural areas including Ebbw Vale and Abderdare.

4000 residents were contacted about the jury in 2020 whittled down to 19 local residents who took parttake part in 20 hours of virtual meetings. The discussions were informed by insights from an advisory board of local political, business and community leaders. The jurors heard from a range of speakers who provided advice on climate emergencies, the local context and potential interventions.

Drawing on their own life experiences the Valleys' jurors sought to provide recommendations for their report founded on what a good quality of life should look like.

The landmark report published today, proposes that a "fair response" to mitigating against climate and nature emergencies must mean more and better jobs, improved transport infrastructure, and revitalised towns that make it easier for people to work locally.

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The South Wales Valleys continue to face adverse impacts from historic coal mine closures and the resulting loss of local employment. And the jobs deficit severely affects travel behaviour, with many Valleys' residents dependent on  cars to travel out of the area for work, a phenomena exacserbated by limited public transport.

The residents on the jury were admant that any drive to net zero emissions within the Valleys should not deepen inequalities, and argue that the linchpin to a successful green transition in the Valleys will be to ensure people can succeed in work while staying local.

A key demand of the report is the creation of a new South Wales Valleys economic strategy focusing on creating jobs in "future-proof" green industries – health and care, environmental protection, food, energy and homes.

The report goes on to suggest the identification of key ‘anchor towns’ - with work hubs for remote online working. As one of the jurors said:

“The tide of industry may have left Wales … but the capacity and the ability of the people here hasn’t changed. That’s an unfound superpower that just needs unlocking.”

The report highlights the need for more Valley's residents to work locally and proposes significant investment is made in green public transport options - to make local commutes easier and cheaper.

A roll-out of electric vehicle -charging infrastructure, and expanding train and bus connections is also needed says the report, along with car-free town centres to improve air quality and prevent any inessential road building.

One juror said of the current situation:

“One of the walls I face as a woman with a young family, is being able to get my children to school on time and then travel to one of the bigger cities (Swansea or Cardiff) to work, and get there on time, making public transport an impossible option.”

The citizens' jury says key to enabling good jobs in the area is to ensure good broadband internet connectionsand the the jurors have call for digital infrastructure to treated as a basic human right.

Reflecting on the report's recommendations, Becca Massey-Chase, co deputy head of the Environmental Justice Commission, said:

“Tackling the climate crisis and restoring nature will require a transformation of our carbon-dependent economy. The transition will need to be handled differently in different places, with plans shaped with distinct communities in mind.

“The South Wales Valleys climate citizens’ jury has produced 30 insightful and practical proposals for tackling the climate crisis and restoring nature in a way that is fair for everyone. They make clear that green job creation, improved transport and revitalised towns are key for a successful transition in the area.”

Meanwhile, Christine Boston, director of the charity Sustrans Cymru (which has recently published its 2021 manifesto 'Tomorrow’s Wales, for everyone') said the report was an important initiative.

“Changing the way we think about transport is essential to tackling the climate emergency.

“This report has succeeded in ensuring citizen’s voices are heard throughout the process. And by doing so, the solutions will meet local needs.”  

“A key part of decarbonising transport is to lessen people’s dependence on the private car. By working holistically to improve job opportunities, creating working hubs, improving sustainable transport infrastructure and revitalising town centres, it's possible to start building a fairer and healthier society."

The report - South Wales Valleys Climate and Fairness Panel: Briefing and juror recommendations can be downloaded here