2017 presents plethora of policy opportunities for sustainability, says IEMA

The Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment (IEMA) has outlined the five key areas of policy reformation that will shape the sustainability agenda as the UK begins its departure from the European Union (EU) in 2017.

Theresa May has signalled that she intends to trigger Article 50 in March 2017 and kick-start the UK’s Brexit formalities. Much has been made about the “uncertainties” surrounding this departure, especially in regards to what it means for environmental legislation, but IMEA’s chief policy advisor Martin Baxter has informed sustainability professionals that 2017 is likely to lock-in the direction of travel in the policy landscape for many years to come.

“It is essential that we grasp the opportunity to accelerate the transition to a low carbon, resource efficient and sustainable economy,” Baxter said. “We will ensure that the environment and sustainability profession makes a positive contribution in these policy areas, helping to set the conditions to unlock investment, enhance natural capital and provide employment and export opportunities for UK business.”

Industrial Strategy

Baxter noted that Greg Clark’s anticipated industrial strategy would provide sustainability professionals with the opportunity to embed the low-carbon transition, and converse with policymakers to ensure that the transition is “flexible and agile and which gives a progressive outlook for a future outside the EU”.

Businesses willing to give advice won’t have long to wait to do so. Clark has recently revealed that proposals of policies for the industrial strategy are expected to be announced in the next few weeks.

Carbon emissions reduction plan

Clark, and other members in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), have also confirmed that the carbon emissions reduction plan will be released in early-2017, with February acting as a potential deadline.  

The plan will outline how to meet post-2020 reduction targets as well as how to achieve the fifth carbon budget’s goals for 2028-32. For Baxter, reaching these goals requires “comprehensive action” specifically in the areas of heat and transport. IMEA has called for a “credible plan with cross-government support” to be implemented to ensure that no sector is left behind in the low-carbon shift.

Corporate Governance Reform

IMEA has also outlined the importance that the corporate governance reform will have in re-establishing trust in companies – some of which have been placed in the spotlight for quandaries over food waste and human rights in supply chains.  

For Baxter, key areas that should be targeted are strengthening the voices of employees and consumers in decision making and the exploration as to whether enhanced transparency and reporting should be implemented for the UK’s largest privately-held businesses.

25 Year Environment and Food & Farming Plans

Another policy reform, and perhaps one which isn’t getting as much attention as it should, is the 25 year environment and food and farming plans. The Food and Drink Federation has recently called on the Government to unite the two 25-year plans, but Defra seems intent on running them as separate entities.

The Government has established that it is committed to matching the €5.8bn that the UK currently receives from the European Regional Development Fund. In total, the EU pays British farmers up to £3bn a year, of which around 20%, or £600m, is paid to farmers to protect the environment.

For IMEA, these two policies will need to be “mutually supportive” in setting high standards for environmental protection and enhancement. Baxter called on the Government to set long-term frameworks for land-management and food production once the EU Common Agricultural Policy no longer applies in the UK.

Great Repeal Bill

The fifth and final policy that IMEA is focusing on in 2017 is the Great Repeal Act. The Act will establish how to overturn the superiority of all existing EU law into the UK’s own law and the Committee on Climate Change has already revealed that companies it has spoken to want EU laws retained post-Brexit.

IMEA has warned that “quick thinking” will be a necessity in protecting and enhancing areas where EU environmental law cannot be directly converted into UK law. Set to be announced in the Queen’s Speech, the Act will grant power to rewrite some environmental legislation. However, current environmental legislation is devolved across Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and the “uncertainty” clouding Brexit still remains as to how the act will react with devolved powers.

IEMA has an established track record when looking ahead to map the trends that will impact sustainability professionals. The organisation’s “Beyond The Perfect Storm: The Corporate Sustainability Challenge” report outlines how businesses should move away from “sustainability trade-offs” and focus on driving a new era of innovation and resolution geared towards tackling issues such as global food security and a growing population.

IEMA’s policy and practice lead Nick Blyth previously told edie that companies must be able to map and plan against future megatrends and policy formations or risk becoming “unviable businesses“.

Matt Mace

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