The government has acknowledged that leaving the EU could lead to an environmental governance gap.1 It has committed to maintaining the same – or better – standards of environmental protection after Brexit, and this consultation proposes options for how this could be achieved. It explores:
- Environmental principles – the broad basis to inform policy and interpret it. This is currently covered in EU treaties, which are not transferred into UK law by the EU Withdrawal Act
- Governance – the processes and bodies that ensure compliance. For private individuals and companies, this is covered by UK bodies such as the Environment Agency. The significant gap is oversight of government – whether policies and regulations meet overarching principles and objectives. This role is important; over the past 15 years, almost half of the cases between the UK and the European Court of Justice were on environmental matters, and most were lost by the UK.2
Defra’s proposals have been deemed so weak by the House of Lords that the Withdrawal Act now offers more guarantees than the consultation proposals, requiring some environmental principles in primary legislation.
Notwithstanding this, and broadly speaking, the minimum offered by the proposals is the creation of a new environmental ‘watchdog’ for England, with the remit of Defra’s 25-year Environment Plan and, possibly, other policies (excluding climate change), plus the ability to issue advisory notices to central government. The main concerns with the proposals focus on three areas:
- Consistency across the UK to avoid artificial borders and to help more stable policy and enforcement
- The body should reach across government departments and possibly beyond – for example, local authorities
- Enforcement powers and duties are needed beyond advisory and scrutiny roles. This may mean, for example, an advisory body similar to the Committee on Climate Change, and a separate one responsible for enforcement, including legal action and fines if necessary.
The latest draft is the result of government’s third defeat in the High Court for failing to meet its obligations under the Air Quality Standards Regulations 2010. Previous strategies were deemed unsatisfactory, with unambitious timescales and too narrow a focus on emissions from transport vehicles, rather than a broader range of measures. This strategy proposes to update air quality targets to ‘take into account’ the World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines. No doubt this wording is important, and the draft falls short of committing to align targets with WHO guidelines, as advocated by CIBSE, Public Health England, and others.3
BEIS consulted on heat decarbonisation, starting with off-gas buildings in the 2020s as a way to set up and test a framework for wider decarbonisation. Our response is available online, with a summary in the June Journal.4
CIBSE’s insistence on the need for energy efficiency retrofit was echoed by the recent CCC report, and we hope it will receive increased attention from government with a combination of regulations, incentives, support to innovation, and leadership by example.
After our written submission, Dr Anastasia Mylona, head of research at CIBSE, submitted oral evidence covering current knowledge, regulations, and gaps in how overheating is addressed. Our written response is available online, and Mylona’s submission is on Parliament TV.5
All members are welcome to contribute, and all consultations we engage with can be found here.
- ‘Achieving a green Brexit’, CIBSE Journal, January 2018.
- 2018 analysis by the Institute for Government.
- For example, response to the Joint Committee’s inquiry on air quality, November 2017.
- ‘Policing the policies’, CIBSE Journal, June 2018.
- UK’s resilience to heatwaves examined, CIBSE Journal, January 2018.