Days after the unveiling of the Resources and Waste Strategy for England, Environment Secretary Michael Gove has published draft clauses on environmental principles and governance to be included in an ambitious, broader Environment Bill set for introduction next year.
Announced by the Prime Minister in July, the Environment Bill aims to create a new framework for environmental governance and maintain environmental protection as the UK leaves the EU.
The body will set out to provide independent scrutiny and advice, and hold government to account on development and implementation of environmental law and policy. The government believes the independent body should have a “clear remit”, acting as a “strong and objective voice for environmental protection”, it says.
Environment Secretary, Michael Gove said: “Today we have published our draft clauses for the Environment Bill which place our environmental ambition and accountability at the heart of government.
Michael Gove – “We will explore options for strong targets to improve our environment, and provisions on air quality, waste and water resource management, and restoring nature.”
“They set out how we will create a pioneering new system of green governance, placing our 25 Year Environment Plan on a statutory footing. We will explore options for strong targets to improve our environment, and provisions on air quality, waste and water resource management, and restoring nature.
“Our ambition is to be the first generation to leave the environment in a better state than that in which we found it. We will keep building on our successes by enhancing our environmental standards and delivering a Green Brexit.”
Alongside the draft clauses, the government has published a policy paper setting out a broader vision for the UK’s environment when the UK leaves the EU.
These draft clauses will be part of a broader Environment Bill – introduced early in the second session of parliament – which will include “legislative measures to take direct action to address the biggest environmental priorities of our age”: air quality; the protection and enhancement of our landscapes, wildlife and habitats; more efficient handling of resources and waste, and better management of our surface, ground and waste water.
The policy paper also aims to set out how the UK will explore options to include additional cross-cutting targets for environmental improvement as part of its legislative framework.
The core elements published in the draft clauses are:
- The environmental principles – such as the “polluter pays” principle or that the public should be able to participate in environmental decision-making – are fundamental to achieving our environmental ambitions. These will act as guiding principles to help protect the environment from damage and will encourage decision-makers to further consider the environment in the development of government policy.
The Office for Environmental Protection
- A world-leading, green governance body will be established – the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) – to uphold environmental legislation. The OEP will be an independent, statutory environmental body that will hold government and public bodies to account on environmental standards, including taking legal action to enforce the implementation of environmental law where necessary, once we leave the EU, replacing the current oversight of the European Commission.
25 Year Environment Plan
- The 25 Year Environment Plansets out how we will recover nature, replenish depleted soils, rid seas and rivers of the waste damaging the planet, cut greenhouse gas emissions, cleanse our air of toxic pollutants, and develop cleaner, more sustainable energy sources.
- The draft Bill proposes making it a legal requirement for government to have a plan for improving the environment, to monitor and report annually to Parliament on progress and update it at least every 5 years. The 25 Year Environment Plan, published in January, would become the first such plan, giving it the status and permanence to deliver our ambitious goals.
Currently environmental decisions made in the UK – from improving air and water quality to protecting endangered species – are overseen by the European Commission and underpinned by a number of these principles, such as the precautionary principle, sustainable development and the ‘polluter pays’ principle. While these principles are already central to government environmental policy, they are not set out in one place besides the EU treaties.
The proposals set out are concerned with environmental governance in England and reserved matters throughout the UK, for which the UK government has responsibility. However, it says it will continue to explore with the devolved administrations whether they wish to take a similar approach.
Government says it would welcome the opportunity to “co-design proposals” to ensure they work across the whole UK, taking account of the different government and legal systems in the individual nations.
More detail on all policy areas will be published in due course.
The Bill builds on one of the largest responses to a Defra consultation on the requirements for this draft legislation. The level of public interest in the Environment Bill is clearly demonstrated through the 176,746 responses.
The Institute of Environmental Management & Assessment (IEMA) ‘s chief policy advisor has responded to the ambition and scope of the clauses, saying while IEMA welcomes the “promising” prospect of new objectives, targets, plans and the 25 Year Environment Plan being given statutory status, there are continued concerns about the independence of the Office for Environmental Protection – the proposed Green Watchdog.
IEMA said recently that the independence of the government’s proposed new “green watchdog” will be crucial from the start.
IEMA – “It’s a step in the right direction but right now it doesn’t meet our independence tests, as it will very clearly be resourced by and its appointments made by the Secretary of State.”
“At first look there are some promising provisions in the Bill, but IEMA members will be concerned about the status of the new Office for Environmental Protection. It’s a step in the right direction but right now it doesn’t meet our independence tests, as it will very clearly be resourced by and its appointments made by the Secretary of State.
“To us that sounds like the watchdog will be constrained from holding Government to account,” said Martin Baxter this evening.
Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Michael Gove has described the draft Bill as “an unprecedented step forward” but Baxter claims there appears to be some “escape clauses” on environmental principles and argues the draft Bill still has far to go before it is satisfactory:
“Lots more needs to be done to bring the draft Bill up to the level of ambition needed for a comprehensive environmental governance framework that will deliver the future we want. IEMA will be working closely with our members and Government over the next month to ensure ambition levels are raised to where they should be,” said Baxter.
“Still Work To Be Done”
Nick Molho, executive director of the Aldersgate Group said: “We welcome the government’s ambition to establish a world-leading green governance framework. Progress has been made in several areas of the government’s proposals such as improving the Office for Environmental Protection’s powers on enforcement, although there is still work to be done to ensure as strong an enforcement system once the UK has left the European Union.
“The pre-legislative scrutiny process should aim to reinforce the progress made on governance arrangements, by in particular clarifying how the Office for Environmental Protection can be set up in a way that best ensures its proper independence, elevating the government’s statutory duty to act in accordance with environmental principles rather than just have “regard to” the policy statement and broadening the scope of the policy statement to include the government’s fiscal and spending decisions.”
Aldersgate Group – “An ambitious Environment Bill backed by clear targets will deliver environmental and economic benefits for the UK and cement its reputation as a world-leader in environmental action.”
Nick Molho added: “It is welcome to see confirmation from government that they are exploring the inclusion of new environmental targets in the Environment Bill. Businesses have repeatedly welcomed the environmental improvement ambition shown in the government’s 25 Year Environment Plan but without the clarity provided by underpinning legislation, sufficient business investment to deliver natural environment improvement goals will not be forthcoming.
“As we have seen following the impacts of legislation on waste, vehicle emissions and climate change, clear objectives in the Environment Bill, backed by the introduction of statutory measurable targets and delivery policies, will unlock business investment in new technologies, production processes, facilities and products.
“An ambitious Environment Bill backed by clear targets will deliver environmental and economic benefits for the UK and cement its reputation as a world-leader in environmental action.”