South Wales Valleys, United Kingdom
About the case study
Port Talbot, in South Wales, has a legacy of metal working stretching back to the 1770s. Steelmaking has not only shaped the local economy, but also the social and cultural heritage and the natural environment. Today, the town is dominated by the Tata Steel UK plant, the largest slab steel manufacturer in the UK and one of the largest in Europe. In 2018 the local authority area of Neath Port Talbot had the highest rate of CO2 emissions in Wales and was the source of around one quarter of all Welsh emissions, much of which emanates from the steel production process. To meet the decarbonisation targets of the Welsh and UK governments will require a transformation of economic activity in and around Port Talbot.
To explore the cross-cutting issues associated with the prospective energy transition and its consequences for the area of Port Talbot, the study used the common methodology developed for the ENTRANCES project. This included the analysis of socio-economic datasets; an exploration of socio-cultural dynamics with representatives of the local community; the quantification of socio-psychological perceptions through an online-survey with members of the local Citizens Panel; interviews with key stakeholders to identify the capacity of socio-ecological transformations, and an interrogation of the wider socio-political context through the textual analysis of policy, strategy and media documents. Three spatial geographies formed the foundations of the analysis: a focused ‘carbon’ territory (Port Talbot), a wider labour market area and a broader political and administrative territory (Wales/UK).
The main findings / results so far are the following:
- Our survey findings suggest that decarbonisation is viewed positively by respondents in Port Talbot. The socio-political analysis found, however, that there is a dominance of technology-centric net-zero narratives in the discussion of Port Talbot and steel decarbonisation. This is noteworthy in the context of sustainability transition as it outlines the positive momentum for change, but at the same time the focus on technology has the potential to limit the extent of transformative change that will be embraced. The limited economic complexity of the locality, with a reliance on steel as an employer, poses a risk to a “just transition” that addresses structural inequalities. Evidence shows that there is a strong focus on the local community by Welsh and Port Talbot governance actors, making this research important to future policy considerations.
- The socio-ecological and technical components identified a range of actors that are undertaking purposive actions around decarbonisation – different layers of the Welsh Government, the public sector, and universities amongst other civil society organisations. There are several collaborative projects that seek to drive forward Net Zero initiatives. However, concerns were raised that not all sectors of society that will ultimately contribute to the transition are engaging, and this was attributed to lack of knowledge and capacity. Importantly, experimentation in decarbonisation is taking place but it is noteworthy that ENTRANCES research in South Wales identified a need for a clear roadmap that is supported by extensive system thinking to co-ordinate decarbonisation approaches across actors to better assure a positive outcome.
- Overall, residents express a very strong sense of attachment to Port Talbot as a place and as a community, but note that it is not ‘unique’. Respondents valued strong social ties, close-knit family, and had a sense of satisfaction with their current home. Respondents reported a strong sense of personal resilience and ability to adapt, with an optimistic outlook on life. Almost three-quarters reported that they are not easily discouraged by failure. This perhaps reflects the outlook of a community that has been subject to economic restructuring for many decades. It suggests a community that will seek to adapt to the challenges and opportunities of decarbonisation, does not regard itself as determined by steel-making, and looks to be engaged as a partner in future decision-making rather than simply being subject to the outcome of external decisions.
The project will be supported by the Welsh Government. Other local stakeholders will be contacted during the implementation of the project.
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