Government urged to address funding and data concerns for post-Brexit environment watchdog
The UK Government has been urged to equip any new watchdog for future environmental standards with adequate funding and performance measuring qualities, a new report from the National Audit Office (NAO) has claimed.
Released on Thursday (17 January), the NAO report is an update to a 2015 briefing on environmental metrics and measuring capabilities. Specifically, the report highlights that one-third of published data from Defra on key environmental metrics is three or more years old.
While the report praises Defra and the wider UK Government for reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and progress against the UK Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the NAO has warned that transparent data and secure funding are vital to ensure the Government delivers on its 25-Year Environment Plan.
The NAO’s head Amyas Morse said: “Robust performance data and transparent reporting is essential for Parliament and the public to hold government to account on its ambition to improve the natural environment within a generation. Government’s new system of environmental metrics could transform its approach.
“But the critical tests will be whether all parts of government actually use this information to monitor progress and take action, and whether the new environmental watchdog has the ‘teeth’ to play its part effectively.”
The 151-page document of the 25-Year Plan focuses on how the Government aims to improve the UK’s resource efficiency, biodiversity, air and water quality, and deliver ecological restoration, including a pledge to eliminate all "avoidable" plastic waste by the end of 2042.
However, the NAO report notes that up to 161 reporting obligations that have to be submitted to European bodies may no longer be reported once the UK leaves the EU. There are also concerns that Defra has not engaged with other parts of government that have impacts on the 25-Year Plan in areas such as transport.
Defra’s draft clauses have vowed to create a new a new independent environment body – the Office for Environmental Protection - with the power to bring legal proceedings against the government and to create a statutory framework for environmental principles.
The chair of the House of Commons’ Environmental Audit Committee (EAC), Labour MP Mary Creagh, has also suggested that this body is funded in a way that gives it the power to actually hold the Government to account.
“The 25-Year Environment Plan must work across Government departments to ensure transport, business and local government take their responsibility on the environment,” Creagh said.
“My committee recommended that the new OEP be funded by parliament, not government, to avoid it becoming another environmental watchdog that the government puts to sleep.”
The report notes that data is available for almost two-thirds (64%) of SDG indicators, but that outdated data had been provided for certain indicators. In comparison, the UK Stakeholders for Sustainable Development (UKSSD) found that the Government was only performing well on 24% of its targets.
Commenting on the report, a Defra spokesperson told edie: “We recognise the importance of putting an effective system in place to measure our performance against our ambition, building on our leading work to develop reliable data sources. That is why, before Christmas, we delivered on our pledge to publish a new, draft indicator framework.
“The framework considers all of the indicator sets highlighted by the NAO’s report, helping to deliver on our ambition to be the first generation to leave the environment in a better state than that in which we found it.”