Green groups call for clarity and certainty on Defra’s 25-year plan

The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) must build a robust framework of domestic legislation in order to ensure adequate protection of Britain's natural environment post-Brexit.

That was the view of panellists who were called up to put forward their expert views to the European Union (EU) Energy and Environment Sub-Committee in the House of Lords yesterday (26 October), as part of a discussion about the priorities for environmental policy after Britain’s EU departure.

WWF’s director of advocacy Trevor Hutchings expressed his confidence that the UK now has the opportunity to become a “world-class leader” in environmental legislation. Hutchings noted the potential for the Government’s proposed 25-year plan frameworks on the environment and food and farming to work as apparatus for ambitious policy on issues such as air quality, agriculture and natural capital.

“All of that could be clearly articulated in the Government’s upcoming plans,” Hutchings told the Sub-Committee. “These should be the vehicles to offer that certainty to those who are regulated and those who need that certainty. That’s the place where the Government should be able to articulate its plan.  

“We are very much pushing to go further than that and set out the long-term trajectory for halting the decline and restoring the environment in the UK, and indeed the UK’s footprint globally as well. And again, it comes down to this long-term 25-year plan commitment. We very much want to see that articulated in such a way that reverses the decline of the environment, and actually arrive at where the Carbon Budget and Climate Change Act are providing us with a pathway to an end-point.

“We don’t really have that in the wider natural environment. We need a 25-year plan that come articulate that outcome, but also a pathway to get there through five-yearly milestones that provide the clarity and understanding that we’re progressing towards an outcome that everybody has agreed to reach.”

Clear direction

Also speaking to the EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee was Green Alliance acting director Leah Davis, who concurred that environmental legislation required clear policy direction and focus over a predictable time-period. Davis cited the Government’s Carbon Budget as a prime example of long-term policy certainty breeding investor confidence, which she suggested was lacking in the natural environment sphere.

“Those sorts of cycles are helpful for driving particularly business investment and delivery on the ground,” she said. “Is it happening with the softer green issues? I’m not sure we have those cycles and I would argue it would be very helpful to replicate in the upcoming years.”

Davis and Hutchings were speaking in the Lords a day after Defra Secretary Andrea Leadsom announced that the majority of EU environment regulations would be transferred into UK law following the Great Repeal Act, which is likely to be introduced next March.

The pair sounded their encouragement that the Government had taken steps to roll-out EU legislation across UK legislation “where practical”.

“Clearly there’s some questions about what that means in practice,” Hutchings added. “But I think as a starting point that is exactly what we would like to see.”

Holistic approach

Leadsom had also confirmed that the two separate 25-year environment and food & farming plans – due to be launched in the next few months – would be dealt with in isolation. This decision was questioned by Hutchings, who stated that environment policy ought to be “interconnected” and treated in a holistic manner. His views were supported by RSPB’s head of policy and advocacy Abi Bunker, also speaking in yesterday’s discussion, who said the two plans need not be mutually exclusive.

“Keeping those in silos is ecologically not very sensible,” Bunker said. “It is in the very interaction between agricultural production and the environment that problems arise and therefore keeping those separate you will continue to lose the opportunities to tackle those negative interactions and to build upon the positive interactions.”

George Ogleby

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