NEWS / Brexit

Consultation on proposed environment watchdog criticised by UN and many Sustain members

The UK government has launched a consultation on environmental governance after Brexit, widely received with disappointment by environment and wildlife groups, with one industry commentator saying that it shows “the misperception that regulations are bad for growth still stands in the way of good environmental policymaking”.

The United Nations (UN) has warned the UK government that Britain’s reputation is at risk over plans that would significantly weaken protections for the environment after Brexit. Executive director of the UN’s environment programme Erik Solheim called on UK environment secretary Michael Gove to honour his promise to deliver a “green Brexit”, ensuring the environment would not suffer from Britain’s EU departure.

Shaun Spiers, chair of Greener UK, executive director of Green Alliance and Trustee of Sustain, said: “The government set high expectations with promises of a world leading environmental watchdog and enhanced environmental standards. Yet the consultation released today proposes to give the environment and countryside less protection after Brexit than exists now.

“There is no commitment to give the proposed new watchdog power to initiate legal action, nor is there any commitment to enshrine vital environmental principles, such as the precautionary principle and the polluter pays principle, in law.

“This is hugely disappointing and suggests that some ministers do not want to be held to account on laws that protect our beaches, habitats and air quality.

“Since the general election the government has set out bold plans for the environment and made great progress on issues such as plastic pollution and protecting pollinators. There is much to welcome in this consultation, not least the commitment to an environment act and the promise that the new watchdog will be independent and adequately funded. But it fails the fundamental test of ensuring that environmental protection is not weakened after we leave the EU.

“It is not too late for government to deliver on its commitments, but with less than a year to go until we leave the EU, time is running out.”

Amy Mount of Greener UK, a coalition of 13 environmental charities, many of whom are also Sustain alliance members, told Climate Home News it was “really surprising” to see climate change excluded from the watchdog’s brief. “It is quite an artificial carve-out,” she said, as many environmental policies have climate benefits and vice versa.

Government has indicated that they consider that climate change policies are already adequately dealt with elsewhere, including by the Climate Change Act and Climate Change Committee.

“The Committee on Climate Change is a really important body and we are not saying that any of its functions should be taken away from it,” she said. “What we are saying is in addition to that, you need a process for enforcing all of the environment laws including climate-related laws,” said Amy Mount.

Client Earth has made detailed proposals for a new Nature and Environment Commission that could speak up for nature and hold the powerful to account, through formal investigations and legalling binding notices on public authorities requiring them to act. 

Rumour has it that HM Treasury have weakened environmental proposals. Defra’s Michael Gove attacked Chancellor Philip Hammond over environment policy in a leaked letter enabling him to signal that the toothless nature of the proposed new environment 'watchdog' is due to Treasury resistance.

Read Greener UK principles for nature’s recovery and a healthy environment

For those interested in the role of the law in good environmental governance, we recommend this 20-minute presentation by James Thornton, chief executive of Client Earth.

Respond to the government’s consultation on Environmental Principles and Governance after EU Exit  



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