Welsh Government launches consultation on environmental governance post-Brexit

The Welsh Government has launched a consultation on Environmental Principles and Governance aimed at considering how to maintain coherent and effective environmental governance once the UK leaves the EU.

The consultation was launched yesterday (18 March) by Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs Minister, Lesley Griffiths, and seeks to gather views on how an effective governance framework can be established that builds on Wales’ current legislative framework.

The Welsh Government has placed sustainable development and the environment at the heart of its decision-making agenda, with notable examples including the Well-being of Future Generations and Environment Acts, and it seeks to ensure that existing legislation continues to provide the same level of environmental standards and protection after the UK withdraws from the EU.

Welsh Government launches consultation on environmental governance post-Brexit
The Senedd, the seat of the Welsh Parliament.
Wales’ proactive approach to environmental matters is particularly evident with regard to waste management, with the latest Local Authority Municipal Waste Management Statistics for Wales showing that the country currently has a recycling rate of 62.7 per cent, a figure that far outstrips that of the other nations of the UK.

The Welsh Government has introduced a number of environmental principles, drawn from international best practice, that align Wales closely with governance structures at the EU level. However, after Brexit, environmental law and policy derived from the EU will no longer be subject to the oversight of EU institutions and the European Court of Justice (ECJ).

Wales already has a unique framework in relation to sustainable development, where the Auditor General and Future Generations Commissioner support public bodies on sustainable development. The consultation seeks views on how environmental governance can be improved in a way that aligns with this wider framework. This could include improvements to existing structures and a specific oversight body.

The consultation also recognises that whilst Brexit presents an opportunity for Wales to build on its existing legislation, there are instances where it will be important, post-EU membership, for the four administrations of the UK to work more collaboratively. For example, where there are common UK obligations, UK-wide governance may be appropriate.

Loss of oversight poses environmental risk

Brexit has been recognised as posing serious risks to the UK environment, with a large factor of that risk coming from the loss of oversight from the European Commission and ECJ. The UK Government released its draft Environment (Principles and Governance) Bill on 19 December 2018, after a period of consultation last year, to replace EU legislation and ensure that standards and governance are maintained following the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.

This hasn’t stopped Greener UK, a coalition of 13 major environmental organisations co-ordinated by the think tank Green Alliance, from rating every area of environmental policy and protections at high risk of being weakened or negatively affected by the ‘increasingly ominous prospect’ of a ‘no deal’ Brexit in its latest Brexit Risk Tracker, with the lack of a ‘strong legal framework’ to uphold environmental standards one of the most pointed issues.

The consultation period for the Welsh Government’s consultation on Environmental Principles and Governance will last 12 weeks and close at 11:59 pm on 9 June 2019.

Launching the consultation, Griffiths said: “We are fortunate in Wales to be a nation with a rich natural environment. Our natural resources are not only important environmentally but are a key part of our identity and culture and are also vital to our prosperity.

“Existing environmental governance has driven a marked improvement in the health of our environment. As a government, we are determined to ensure there is no drop in these environmental standards and we will continue to improve environmental regulation once the UK leaves the European Union.

“Our ground-breaking and internationally renowned legislation – the Future Generations and Environment Acts – will remain in place and will continue to put sustainable development at the core of everything we do. However, leaving the EU will cause us to lose some aspects of environmental governance.

“In Wales, we recognise our environment is intrinsically linked to our economy and essential to our society. In developing solutions for Wales we will continue to avoid creating a siloed approach to the environment recognising environmental challenges and realising the significant opportunities requires social and economic action.

“This is a complex issue which deserves careful consideration so we put in place the right governance arrangements for the future. I urge everyone with an interest to get involved and share their views with us.”

The consultation can be found on the Welsh Government website

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