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New Environmental Watchdog

31 October 2018

Watchdog

Current Environmental Regulation 

The UK Government has set out the desire to capitalise on Brexit as an opportunity to introduce stronger environmental policies and legislation to enhance environmental protection. In its first move to demonstrate its commitment to improved mechanisms to protect the environment, the Government will be transferring all EU environmental law to UK environmental law with the EU Withdrawal Act and published the ’25 Year Environment Plan’.

To further prove its commitment to better environmental protections, the Government has put forth the concept of an environmental watchdog. This environmental watchdog, which will be created under the new environmental principles and governance bill, has been described as an independent and statutory body ‘to hold Government to account for upholding environmental standards’ (25 Year Environment Plan). It has been stated that this watchdog will replace the role the EU Commission has filled, will be ground-breaking in its powers and be embedded in the UK’s parliamentary democracy.

However, many NGOs, environmental organisations, members of the public and political parties have voiced concerns over the proposed watchdog. Some of the concerns that have been raised include:

  • Powers are limited – not enough legal ‘teeth’ to replace the EU Commission and the European Court of Justice;
  • No explicit commitment to ensure the continued adherence to key EU environmental principles, e.g. polluter pays principle;
  • Failure to set out any actions or powers regarding climate change.

In its response to the lack of support of the proposed watchdog, the Government added to the EU Withdrawal Act that the watchdog will be allowed to deliver enforcement action, including legal proceedings, if necessary. However, this action can only be taken against central government and no other public bodies, e.g. Environment Agency.

It is apparent the reasons why various organisations and individuals are concerned over the UK Government’s commitment to a ‘green Brexit’. In its present state, the proposed environmental watchdog does not afford the same (or greater) environmental protection than currently provided by the EU.

So, what are some proposals for how this environmental watchdog can be made stronger and more effective at achieving its goal?

Proposals for a Stronger Environmental Watchdog

In order to meet its conditions to protect, conserve and enhance the environment, the UK Government must give more power to the proposed environmental watchdog. These powers would include:

  • Ability to ensure compliance with international standards and/or agreements, e.g. Paris Climate Agreement
  • Capacity to take legal action against the Government and other public bodies for failure to perform duties that align with the protection, conservation and enhancement of the environment.

In summary, ensure the watchdog is afforded the power to, at the very least, maintain the current level of governance and protection provided by the European Commission and European Court of Justice.

What powers would you like to see given to the new environmental watchdog?

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