Five-year plans and non-regression clauses: IEMA lays out demands for Environment Act

The finalised version of the Act is due to be published before Parliament's summer recess

Published last December, the draft Environment Bill outlined the powers and limitations of the nation’s new post-Brexit watchdog for green standards – the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) – and confirmed that the UK will continue conforming to the EU’s environmental laws through a non-regression clause.

While Environment Secretary Michael Gove has argued that these factors will make the Bill “world-leading”, MPs on the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) have warned that the implementation of the Bill without any changes would lead to key national environmental policies becoming “severely downgraded” from those currently mandated by the EU.

Today, several of the concerns voiced by the EAC have been re-surfaced by IEMA, which has published a string of seven recommendations for improving the Bill ahead of its finalisation.

The document of requested assertations begins by requesting that Ministers create a “shared” set of long-term environmental objectives by consulting with business and civil society, aligning the Act with existing legislation such as the Climate Change Act and bolstering the policy framework’s non-regression clause.

It then calls on the Department for Food, Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra) to publish shorter-term environmental improvement plans every five years, in order to ensure progress against key targets is being made and that “SOS” measures can be implemented in the event of stalled progress. This, it states, would help to ensure that responsibility is shared across Governmental departments.

Its third recommendation is for the Bill not to weaken any environmental principles from Theresa May’s existing Withdrawal Agreement, which includes a non-regression clause for the two-thirds of British law which come from the EU. It adds that this principle should be considered when setting all future national policies.

Fourthly, it urges the Government to create a singular and open-source “map” showing the state of the environment across the UK, highlighting areas of opportunity for priority action and identifying best-practice case studies. This tool should be complemented by a new national framework for implementing environmental considerations in local decision-making, IEMA claims. 

The document’s fifth call to action is for the Bill to include an environmental “net-gain” requirement for all property developers. Defra is currently consulting on whether developers should be required to deliver a “biodiversity net-gain” when building new housing or commercial projects, but IEMA would like to see this clause’s remit extended.  

Point five additionally covers Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) – a key facet of the recently published Resources and Waste Strategy (RWS). If the RWS is implemented in its current form, producers will be forced to pay full net-costs of disposal of packaging they place on the market – up from just 10% now – and the framework could be extended to cover products such as textiles, fishing gear, vehicle tyres, certain materials from construction, and bulky waste such as mattresses, furniture and carpets.

The last two recommendations are for independent oversight and scrutiny of the Government’s progress to be provided by the OEP, and for the Government to unify the Bill’s approach across England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. The draft Bill applies only to England and to reserved matters across the rest of the UK, but the final version is widely expected to cover – or include additional reserved matters – across Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Should its recommendations be made in full, IEMA claims, “all parts of society” will be enabled to “play their part in improving the environment” and green economy investments will grow.  The recommendations were agreed upon by all participants in the organisation’s Broadway Initiative, which unites businesses, NGOs, industry bodies, policymakers and academics in a bid to fortify post-Brexit environmental standards.

“It’s clear that to improve our environment in any fundamental way, we need a legal framework that respects the long-term nature of environmental challenges and their solutions, and enables businesses to factor the environment into their plans and investments from the earliest stage,” IEMA’s Broadway Initiative conveyor Ed Lockheart said.

“The Environment Bill is the moment to make sure that happens.”

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The BIG Brexit Questions Podcast 

With the UK’s green economy is continuing to ask questions about when and how we will exit the EU, and what impact this will have on business, edie has launched a new series of podcast episodes exploring what Brexit will really mean for key environmental areas, in under 15 minutes.

You can listen to the first of these episodes, which covers resource efficiency and waste management with the Environmental Services Association’s (ESA) policy and parliamentary affairs officer Libby Forrest, by clicking here. The second episode explores natural capital with Friends of the Earth’s senior policy advisor and nature campaigner Paul De Zylva, and can be found here. The third episode, covering renewable energy with the Renewable Energy Association’s (REA) policy & external affairs director James Court, is here, and the fourth – a discussion on green finance with the chair of the City of London Corporation’s Green Finance Initiative and former Lord Mayor of London, Sir Roger Gifford, is here

Sarah George

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