Defra and BEIS planning delays increase fears over Brexit impact on green policy

Resource Minister Theresa Coffey has confirmed the postponement of Defra's 25-year environment plan until 2017, in the same week that Energy Minister Nick Hurd revealed that the Government may also delay the release of a plan on the UK's carbon reduction targets until next year.

Appearing before the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) in Westminster this week to discuss the future of the natural environment after the Brexit vote, Coffey confirmed that the referendum result had prompted the delay of the plan until next year, although she insisted a framework was expected “shortly”.

“In our manifesto, we said we’d develop a 25-year environment plan,” Coffey said. “That is underway and I’d hope we’d be able to publish the framework shortly with more detailed work for next year. The decision of the country to leave the EU has changed the potential remit of that… it’s now a slightly different context that we have.

“I would rather take the time rather than just rush it, because I think we have this unique opportunity now to consider what is best for the environment, and for the outcomes for the people of this country. The plan will be next year, but I can’t give you a date.”

‘Not leaving Europe’

The comprehensive 25-year plan, spearhead by the Natural Capital Committee, was initially due to be released later this year. This confirmed delay will come as a big concern for the green economy, which has already warned of “periods of uncertainty” during the Brexit negotiations which could ultimately “erode” key environmental policies. It has been suggested that, with an estimated 80% of environmental regulations originating from the EU, there is a real danger that withdrawal might result in many protections being removed.

Coffey sought to alleviate those fears by asserting that the Government remains fully committed to leading on environmental issues through international pacts such as the UN Programme on Bio Diversity and collaborative efforts with Britain’s European neighbours.

She continued: “Remember that environment is a shared competence anyway, and although quite a lot of our environment laws derive from the EU, often that’s through multinational agreements which we are parties to as well, so I don’t want anyone to think that just because we are leaving the EU we will be losing these environmental protections.

“This Government is committed to leaving the environment in a better place for the next generation. So from my perspective, being in or out of the EU doesn’t change that ambition or commitment. We may be leaving the EU but we will not be leaving Europe.”

The Defra Minister was joined by Department for Exiting the EU Minister Robin Walker, who stated that throughout his meetings with stakeholders “no one suggesting it would be a good idea to scrap existing legislation”. Both Walker and Coffey insisted that UK will remain a global leader when it comes to the environment, as highlighted by the recent decision to ban microbeads from cosmetics by the end of 2017.

Emissions reduction delay

Confirmation of Defra’s 25-year plan postponement arrives in the same week that Climate Minister Nick Hurd stated that he was reviewing the country’s progress on meeting its carbon reduction targets for 2030, and would therefore delay the release of a plan which had widely been expected this autumn.

The Emissions Reduction Plan, which will set out the Government’s plan for limiting the annual emissions to 57% below 1990 levels by the year 2032 in line with the Fifth Carbon Budget, is hoped by green business to “secure jobs and give confidence to investors, by setting a clear long-term framework for support for renewable energy, developing a coherent energy efficiency strategy.”

“I think there’s some flexibility around the publication,” Hurd said at an Aldersgate Group event on Tuesday (6 September). “It’s more important to get this right than to rush something out that doesn’t hit the target.”

‘Fit for the future’

Hurd provided the keynote speech at the business event in London, in which he also confirmed that the UK will ratify the Paris Agreement on climate change “as soon as possible”, but insisted that the treaty must be replicated by a resilient domestic low-carbon energy policy developed in collaboration with the business sector.

Hurd was speaking on the same night that Business and Energy Secretary Greg Clark held a BEIS reception for journalists, where the BEIS leader proclaimed “there is an opportunity for an upgrade” across British industry, to ensure the nation’s businesses, infrastructure and cities are “fit for the future”. 

The spotlight is now firmly on Clark and his BEIS team to use the opportunities presented by the formation of the BEIS department to boost environmental and energy issues higher up the Government’s agenda.

George Ogleby

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