Government

EAC report highlights ‘serious issues’ across environmental agenda – R&WUK

The Environmental Audit Committee’s (EAC) report into the UK’s natural environment after Brexit highlights ‘serious issues’ across the sustainability agenda, according to Resources & Waste UK (R&WUK).

The cross-party parliamentary committee today (4 January) published the report, which calls for a new Environmental Protection Act to be drawn up in preparation for the UK’s departure from the EU in order to protect vital European legislation that could otherwise be lost.

Commenting on the report, Steve Lee, the Director General of R&WUK, the partnership between the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management (CIWM) and Environmental Services Association (ESA), said that the EAC’s recommendations “reflect the concerns of many in the waste and resource management field”.

“UK waste policy has been shaped and underpinned by EU legislation for over two decades, during which we have made significant improvements in the safe and sustainable management of waste and secondary resources”, said Lee.

“The considerable uncertainty about the impact of Brexit in this policy area is, therefore, of significant concern.”

The EAC report warns that if simply transposed into UK law, environmental protections derived from European law could become ‘zombie’ legislation that does not get updated and does not have relevant bodies assigned to its regulation.

Lee commented: “The report rightly flags up the potential pitfalls ahead, including the difficulty of transposing some of the key environmental legislation into UK law, the risks of zombie legislation, and the level of resource that will be available within Defra to manage the transition.

“There are also question marks about the process and level of parliamentary scrutiny should UK governments then seek to change some of this legislation, and how performance and standards will be monitored and enforced in future in the absence of the current EU infraction system and resort to the European Court of Justice.”

‘Shared vision’ must be articulated across UK

R&WUK says that the committee has also ‘captured the concern that environmental standards may be compromised in the pursuit of new trade deals’, with potential long-term impacts not just on the quality of the environment but also on jobs, competitiveness and the UK’s future economic prospects.

In light of these issues, R&WUK also welcomed the committee’s suggestion that a thorough assessment of the body of environmental legislation to be transposed is undertaken, that the frameworks for the 25-year plans for the environment and for food and farming are published in time to inform the Article 50 negotiations, and that consideration is given to the development of an overarching UK-wide legislative framework to ensure that similar or better environmental standards are maintained.

ESA’s Executive Director, Jacob Hayler said: “[The report] underlines the fact that to date the EU has been the driving force behind our environmental protection. It is therefore imperative that the UK government puts in place an alternative long-term legislative framework for the environment, including waste and resources. The big question is whether this can be achieved by 25-year plans or if we need to put something else in place.”

Lee added: “While this would clearly take some time, it would also address the somewhat piecemeal nature of the current body of legislation, drawing together and rationalising the environmental protection regimes for biodiversity, land, air, water and waste, and reducing the risk of antagonistic policies.

“It would also help to avoid the otherwise inevitable divergence in environmental policy across UK countries that will occur if a shared vision and set of high-level objectives are not articulated.

“It is all very well for the government to say that it wants to be ‘the first government to leave the environment in a better state than it found it’ – now we have to see action to make this happen and clear evidence that this will be one of the underpinning principles in the forthcoming Brexit and trade negotiations.”

Details on the EAC’s ‘The Future of Natural Environment After EU Referendum’ report can be found in Resource’s news story.

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