On 16 February, the Scottish Government issued a consultation on environmental principles and governance in Scotland. It is easy to miss the importance of this, after all what do principles and governance mean in practice?
Quite a bit as it turns out.
From fracking to GMOs and from the introduction of a deposit return system to ambitious action on climate change, our natural environment has relied on the application of EU environmental principles. At the same time, European institutions have also provided effective oversight of compliance with EU environmental law. One example is the ongoing legal case on air quality laws where the UK was referred to the European Court of Justice for repeatedly failing to tackle illegal levels of air pollution.
The foundation of future environmental protections
So it is very important, as the cabinet secretary rightly points out in the consultation document, that “we have robust arrangements for a future where there is no longer oversight from Europe” and “prepare to fulfil any new obligations to demonstrate compliance with environmental standards”.
Indeed, the consultation is the Scottish Government’s first effort to prepare the country’s environment for a post-Brexit reality, if and when this happens. However, it also represents wider efforts to “develop future environmental governance arrangements based on a careful and systematic exploration at the issues and evidence”.
But, if this will determine the very foundation of our future environmental protections, what is the Scottish Government actually proposing?
Unfortunately, the consultation does not reveal much beyond already stated commitments. As welcome as the promises were to maintain and enhance our environment, including retaining the EU environmental principles, we now need to know what they mean in practice.
There are no concrete proposals
At this point the consultation is just a set of open-ended questions. Even on gaps regarding environmental governance, where the Scottish Government’s own expert roundtable concluded that there are no equivalent domestic arrangements to replicate important EU functions, there are no concrete proposals.
Scottish Environment LINK is sending a strong message that, to achieve the stated ambition to maintain and enhance Scotland’s environment, we need a Scottish Environment Act that:
- embeds EU and international environmental principles in Scots law so that they can underpin all environmental decision making;
- creates an independent and well resourced watchdog to enforce environmental protections in the same way that the European Commission and Court of Justice do today; and
- sets clear and ambitious targets for environmental protection alongside adequate financial resources.
The stakes are high. It makes the work of the environmental sector and all those who want to see a clean and healthy environment more important. Our campaign is gathering support right now to make sure that Scotland’s globally important environment gets the Environment Act it deserves
This post is by Daphne Vlastari of Scottish Environment LINK. Find out more about Scottish Environment LINK’s campaign.
[Photograph taken by Paul Stümke, under Creative commons licence]