The Government’s 25 Year Plan for the Environment Contents
The Government’s 25 Year Plan for the Environment signals a cross-government ambition for the restoration and recovery of the natural environment. This is both welcome and necessary. Worryingly, however, it lacks details of how these objectives will be achieved. The Government needs urgently to bring forward details on targets, implementation, governance and funding before the publication of the draft Environmental Principles and Governance Bill. Legislation will be required to implement the Plan’s key proposals and to ensure it has a lasting impact. Government departments other than DEFRA need to embrace the Plan’s ambitions and integrate them into their decision making.
To meet the Government’s ambition, legislation is required, as a minimum, to:
- Replace the one third of EU environmental legislation (air, waste, water, chemicals) that cannot be copied and pasted into UK law through the EU (Withdrawal) Act;
- Put into UK law the environmental principles that the UK has signed up to in international law and which are embodied in the European Treaties and include provisions for all public bodies to act in accordance with the principles;
- Put into UK law the commitments the UK signed up to at the 2015 Paris Climate Change Conference;
- Establish a principle in UK law that policy and public bodies will seek to ensure a high level of environmental protection and a presumption that environmental protection will not be reduced, but rather enhanced in line with repeated assurances from the Secretary of State;
- Establish an architecture of long-term, legally-binding environmental targets supported by a five-yearly planning and reporting process taking the Climate Change Act 2008 as its model;
- Ensure that the Plan’s ambitions are properly reflected in other areas of Government and law beyond DEFRA’s remit;
- Create in UK law an independent oversight body—The Environmental Enforcement and Audit Office (EEAO)—reporting to Parliament to ensure that the governance, enforcement, oversight and policy functions currently carried out by the European Commission and European Environment Agency are not lost on leaving the European Union;
- Set out that the EEAO’s role includes monitoring how public authorities are complying with their duties, making policy proposals to meet the Government’s objectives, providing strategic oversight and reporting bi-annually to Parliament on progress against the Government’s environmental targets, including scrutiny of the 25 Year Plan’s 5 yearly and annual progress reports;
- Set out that it should also have a regulatory function complementary to the Environment Agency, within, or alongside its policy and scrutiny function, to investigate compliance with the law, including complaints brought by the public, and the power to take the Government and other public authorities to court where standards are breached;
- Establish a statutory body of parliamentarians, modelled on the Public Accounts Commission, to set the EEAO’s budget, scrutinise its performance and oversee its governance; and
- Provide a robust statutory basis for natural capital and environmental net gain to ensure they enhance environmental protection and do not become licences to pollute and/or offset.
The Government has made a commitment that environmental protections will not be weakened by leaving the European Union. The Government must be prepared to bring forward emergency environmental legislation, before the role of the European Commission and the Court of Justice of the European Union in respect of the environment ends.
The Plan is primarily a Plan for England. However, environmental policy involves cross-border impacts and cross-border markets. There are benefits to the nations of the United Kingdom in agreeing co-ordinated policies, common frameworks and shared institutions in some areas of environmental policy. In particular, we heard compelling evidence that a co-designed and co-owned EEAO would be more resilient, independent and effective. The process of agreeing such policies, frameworks and institutions needs to be a conversation between Governments and legislatures, not an imposition from Westminster.
We believe that leaving the European Union poses a potential threat to delivering the goals set out in the Government’s 25 Year Plan for the Environment; in terms of the risk of reduced standards, lower enforcement powers, the threats to common frameworks and regulatory oversight.