What Is the Environment Worth to Wales? as the Welsh Government Moves towards New Legislation on Sustainable Development and Planning, AMs Debate the Importance of the Environment to Wales

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Over the coming months and years the National Assembly will be considering several pieces of legislation intended to transform the way we manage our environment and natural resources sustainably.

In December the Welsh Government published its long awaited white paper on sustainable development, and launched a three-month consultation on the proposals contained within it.

The proposals include a new duty to embed sustainable development as the central organising principle of selected organisations in Wales, creating an independent sustainable development body, and improving the accountability framework for sustainable development in Wales.

Meanwhile the clock is ticking down to April 1, when the new single environment body Natural Resources Wales begins operations.

The Welsh Government has pressed ahead with the creation of this new organisation, produced through a merger of Environment Agency Wales, the Countryside Council for Wales and Forestry Commission Wales, despite the opposition of some, especially within the forestry industry.

The body has a chief executive, chairman and board of directors and has been recruiting staff.

The Welsh Government is also expected to issue a white paper this year on improving the planning system.

Finally an environment white paper is in the pipeline, with a target date for an environment bill in 2014 or 2015.

Against this background of legislative initiatives, last autumn nature conservation charity the RSPB asked AMs from all four parties represented in the Assembly to answer questions about the importance of the environment in Wales' national life.

Russell George for the Conservatives, Vaughan Gething for Labour, Llyr Huws Gruffydd for Plaid Cymru and William Powell for the Liberal Democrats wrote in turn on their priorities for the Welsh natural environment, the importance of wildlife to the Welsh economy, what should be done to tackle wildlife loss and the importance of a healthy natural environment.

We are publishing extracts from their answers here.

Russell George AM, Conservative, Montgomeryshire The Welsh environment as it stands is at a critical tipping point.

Figures published by the Welsh Government in its State of the Environment 2012 report during the summer show a marked deterioration in this country's environmental performance and overall ecological footprint.

This comes on the back of Government failure to halt biodiversity decline, the introduction of a National Transport Plan that will see an increase in transport emissions, a 7% habitat decline in the last decade and a significant lack of information relating to the annual pressures that are being put on our marine environment.

The Government has a number of significant pieces of legislation and policy decisions on its plate at the moment relating to how we plan, shape and protect our environment for the future; how the public sector is expected to deliver its business sustainably in the future; and how we make best use of our natural resources in a way that will truly create a green and sustainable economy.

In terms of my key priorities, I want to ensure that as a nation, Wales utilises its environmental resources in a sustainable manner and that we have a functioning organisation to achieve this aim.

Vaughan Gething AM, Labour, Cardiff South and Penarth The economy of Wales is often in the spotlight - as we would all expect. Tourism is a major economic sector worth between PS4bn and PS6bn depending on which report you read. …