Why the government’s post-Brexit environment plan isn’t good enough – and what you can do
In January, the government issued its ‘’25 year Environment Plan” in a grand bid to foster the first generation to leave the environment in a better state than before. Hurrah! Except… plans for protecting the environment in the Government’s Brexit legislation agreed in June still contain some serious loopholes. Here’s an explanation of what’s been going on, and how you can help protect our environment for decades to come.
This week we’re handing in 105,000 of your signatures to Defra – the ministry for environment. Together, we’re demanding that the government keeps its promise to create a “world-leading watchdog” after Brexit. It would take the place of the EU institutions that hold our government to account on things like water quality, managing our waste sustainably, wildlife and air pollution. They’ve been extremely useful in the past.
Your signatures have already achieved a lot: the government committed in law to establishing a new green watchdog within the EU Withdrawal Act in June, and the Environmental Principles and Governance consultation proposed in May, which outlines legislation for protecting the environment post-Brexit, included a green watchdog – just like we asked for. But there were a few crucial things missing:
At present we don’t know if the watchdog will be fully independent. Imagine an environmental body designed to monitor government performance on the environment, but it’s full of government ministers or their close political contacts! It would be like the government marking its own homework.
The watchdog should be accountable to Parliament, and transparent in its decision making.
Environment Minister Michael Gove said that the watchdog would have teeth, declaring that it would “give the environment a voice and hold the powerful to account… we are in no doubt that it must have real bite.”
But the government’s proposal says nothing about the watchdog having any legal power whatsoever. We want the watchdog to have the power to issue legally binding notices to all public bodies. This would be to ensure they comply with environmental laws, including on crucial issues like climate change. In our version, if public bodies wanted to overturn these notices, it would be on then to go through the courts to do so.
The environmental challenges we face right now are huge. We can’t risk government bodies being flexible with the law.
Under the EU it is possible for members of the public to make complaints about public bodies breaching environmental law – it’s free, accessible, relatively quick and effective in getting public authorities to comply with the law. But the government’s proposal doesn’t currently back this idea, ignoring the vital role society plays in the enforcement of such laws.
There should be a complaints mechanism so that every one of us is able to report breaches of environmental standards. Spot something worrying in your local area? You should be able to report it free of charge.
The government’s proposal hasn’t committed any particular funding for the watchdog as yet, but one thing is certain: we can’t afford to skimp on this – the environmental watchdog must be properly funded with access to the experts it needs. This is an investment in our environment for decades to come.
Raising future environmental standards
Finally, the government’s new Environment Bill represents an unmissable opportunity to embed ambitious environmental principles and targets for restoring nature into law. These could be applicable to all relevant public authorities, and give us a once in a generation chance to raise the bar on crucial issues like water quality, wildlife and biodiversity, tackling ocean-polluting plastic waste, and ensuring the air we breathe is as clean as possible.
We can be world leaders in protecting the environment for generations to come – but the government needs to listen to all of us and make sure they act.
So what can you do?
It might feel like the issue is out of our hands but I promise you, it’s not.
Luckily for us, the government’s current proposals are out for consultation. That means any member of the public can respond with their thoughts on the proposals. So here we go – time to give them the feedback they asked for.
We’ve written a response to the consultation that outlines all of the above. All you have to do is enter your details and send off the email, adding your voice. It’s your chance to speak truth to power! So what are you waiting for?