Report: Enforcement mechanisms ‘critical’ for post-Brexit environmental prosperity

Introducing and transposing key environmental legislation that enforces political stability once the UK leaves the European Union (EU) will be "critical" to ensuring investor confidence, a new report from a House of Lords Committee has claimed.

The EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee released the “Brexit: environment and climate change” report today (14 February), which found that effective enforcement of new and existing legislation would be crucial to overcoming short-term “vulnerabilities” in relation to protecting the environment.

The report claims that the “patchwork quilt of measures” derived from EU law would make maintaining existing environmental standards increasingly complex. Even if the Government can integrate a seamless new climate agenda, the report highlights concerns over the Government’s ability to enforce the legislative regime, which is currently handled by the European Court of Justice.

“The European Commission and the Court of Justice have played absolutely vital roles in monitoring and enforcing environmental law in the UK,” EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee chairman Lord Teverson said.

“The bottom line is that if the UK fails to honour EU environmental law, it will end up in court. That’s going to change after Brexit, but the vast majority of our witnesses were emphatic that an effective and independent domestic enforcement mechanism will still be needed.”               

The Government hopes to have transposed all EU-derived legislation into law through the Great Repeal Act and the Environment Secretary Andrea Leadsom recently confirmed that around two-thirds of EU environmental legislation will be transferred across into UK law in the immediate aftermath of Brexit.

Defra’s determination

The Committee quizzed a range of witnesses, including the Grantham Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, the Aldersgate Group and WWF UK, on various implications that could arise during Brexit negotiations.

One of the main concerns listed by witnesses was the Government’s “worryingly complacent” attitude towards the loss of the enforcement regime, while concerns also arose regarding Defra’s ability to handle the transferal progress, despite its “applaudable” determination.

Defra, which has an overarching responsibility for safeguarding Britain’s natural environment, has seen its day-to-say spending cut by 15%, and the department’s administrative costs have also been slashed by 26%. The report notes that Defra will need a “substantial increase” in resources if it is to succeed in maintaining environmental legislation.

Speaking to edie on the eve of the report’s launch, Lord Teverson added: “We don’t criticise Defra for their wish to do all of this, the ambition is there, but the Committee is aware that Defra has suffered some of the largest cuts to public spending.

“Defra has the whole agricultural policy to deal with, and has to act as the ‘bridge-head’ going into these negotiations. It is a huge ask. The worry is, although we don’t question the wish to accomplish it, that the resource and time constraints are going to make it an all-too-difficult task.”

One of the main concerns over the enforcement issues is that Leadsom has previously claimed that the “UK courts are perfectly able to deal with matters of enforcement”, going as far to confirm that “we won’t be needing to replace European courts”.

Enforce and fund

The report raises concerns over the Government and the UK court’s abilities to hold itself to account, stressing the importance of discussing additional mechanisms that can help fill the gap left by the European Commission.

Overarching concerns regarding the transposal of EU regulations have re-ignited fears that environmental policies could be watered-down, a concern of Green Party MP Caroline Lucas, or even eroded.

Alongside calls for clarity over funding post-Brexit, so far only approved Horizon 2020 projects will have funding underwritten by the Treasury up to 2020, the report warns that restrictions and new tariffs could increase the cost of waste management in the UK. Investment researcher Sustainalytics has previously warned that Brexit could ‘weaken’ business standards for recycling and air quality.

The report also calls on the Government to communicate on new emissions trading scheme (ETS) reforms, due to commence this week. Witnesses argued that adopting a carbon tax with a similar price floor to any new ETS reforms could be more beneficial in the long-term for UK businesses.

Matt Mace

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