By Joe Ventre, digital campaign manager
The farmlands of Wales are world-renowned. From lamb to leeks, agriculture has long been a staple of the Welsh economy. In a changing world, big business has become increasingly keen to lap up this land - but not for the reasons you might think.
As the spotlight turns evermore towards climate change, our political lexicon is expanding, with terms such as “net zero” and “carbon neutral”. Another such term is “greenwashing”, which the Cambridge Dictionary defines as “to make people believe that your company is doing more to protect the environment than it really is.”
These days, you’ll often see companies boast of carbon neutrality - that is to say, they have achieved a balance between how much carbon dioxide they produce and how much they remove or eliminate. This is a desirable public relations move in an increasingly environmentally conscious world, and although it may sound like an arduous task, it can be achieved (at least on paper) through the planting of trees to reduce carbon footprint.
Though some may see this as a bit of a loophole, it would be hard to object to companies planting forests when it’s their own money and land on the line. In Wales, however, the Glastir Woodland Creation (GWC) fund has made this venture far more cost-effective - unless you’re a taxpayer. Administered by the Welsh Government, this fund forms part of a national initiative to plant 86 million trees by 2030; offering initial grants of up to £4,500 per hectare of trees to successful applicants. For context, that’s 29,452 trees a day!
Well-intentioned though this may sound, the “green rush” that has ensued is bound to leave taxpayers red-faced. Eager investors have leapt at the opportunity to receive such a handsome subsidy – and not just in Wales. According to data obtained from the Welsh Government, over £1.3 million from this fund has been granted to multinational companies.
Farmers have raised valid concerns about the effects this may have on existing ecosystems and communities, but we should be equally concerned for the interests of taxpayers. Why should hard-working households facing a 71 year high sustained tax burden be made to dip into their pockets to subsidise corporate environmentalism? After the “cash for ash” scandal in Northern Ireland, you would hope that devolved governments would be wary of subsidy schemes that leave taxpayers with such considerable liability.
There are many upsides of moving towards a cleaner and more sustainable environment. If big companies want to seek praise for helping with these efforts, then more power to them - but why should the taxpayer have to pay them for it? The Welsh Government might believe that this is a price worth paying to achieve their target, but over-burdened taxpayers have to foot the bill. The GWC fund must be urgently reviewed to put an end to publicly-funded greenwashing. When it comes to protecting taxpayers, you really have to wonder if Welsh ministers can see the woods for the trees.