THE creation of a powerful new ministry in Wales means the government is putting the environment and climate change "at the heart of decision-making," Mark Drakeford has said.

The first minister marked his return to office with an extensive shake-up of departmental responsibilities and cabinet roles, none bigger than the redistribution of several portfolios to a new and far-reaching ministry for climate change.

Housing, transport, planning and energy will be combined with responsibilities for the environment in the new portfolio, signalling the start of a more integrated approach to climate matters in the Welsh Government.

Mr Drakeford said the thinking behind the shake-up was that the new ministry "will bring together all the major drivers which contribute to climate change".

Heading the new department is Julie James, the Swansea West MS who served as the housing minister from 2018 until the recent Senedd election.

She will be supported by Llanelli MS Lee Waters, who will bring in his three years of experience from serving as Ken Skates' second-in-command as the deputy minister for economy and transport. Mr Waters is now the deputy minister for climate change.

READ MORE:

By giving responsibilities for transport and housing to Ms James, the first minister aims to ensure that all policy decisions in those areas will be made with climate change in mind.

"The climate change emergency has not gone away while we have been dealing with the pandemic," Mr Drakeford said. “Wales is a beautiful country with immense natural assets, which will help power our recovery and create the jobs of the future.

“In my new government, the environment doesn’t just have a seat at the Cabinet table, it will be a consideration in all we do.”

The move is similar in some ways to the legislation on future generations that was introduced by Mr Drakeford's predecessor, Carwyn Jones, and became law in 2016.

Since then, all public bodies in Wales have had to make sure all their decisions are made in a way that promotes community cohesion, health and prosperity in the long-term.

Likewise, in the new Senedd, Ms James' responsibility will likely include ensuring all Welsh Government policy on new infrastructure projects, energy schemes, and planning decisions can meet environmental targets and be justified in the context of Wales' current and future climate challenges.

The government has an existing target of reaching net-zero emissions by 2050. While Wales is currently the third-best recycling nation in the world, ministers are keen to claim the top spot. On energy production, there is a broad consensus across the parties that make up the current Senedd that Wales is yet to make the most of its vast capabilities for renewable power.

There is much to do, and the warnings this week that Wales was among the worst-performing countries for biodiversity preservation emphasised the speed at which the new government must act.

READ MORE: Wales 'at critical point' over biodiversity loss, says RSPB Cymru

The fine details of the new ministry's role and responsibilities are still being ironed out, but Mr Drakeford took time in the most recent Senedd session to lay out some of the projects that will be taken on: the abolition of more types of single-use plastics, a National Forest for Wales, and a new national park.

And in an early indication of how the new ministry may combine policy areas with climate in mind, he pledged to build 20,000 new social homes for rent that will be built to low-carbon standards.

"None is more pressing and none is more urgent than the climate and nature crisis we face," Mr Drakeford told Senedd members, adding: "All parties represented here during the election quite rightly signalled the need for bold steps to tackle the crisis we face. Now will be the time to translate that commitment into practical action."

The National is running its first Environmental Awards to celebrate the best green practices and climate-action projects across Wales.

The awards will shine a spotlight on the individuals, companies and organisations doing outstanding work to protect the environment and tackle climate change.

Find more information on the criteria and how to nominate here.

The National Wales: