Tag Archives: Defra

The new government will need more than willpower and confidence to solve the environment crisis

Boris Johnson smallWe will have a new prime minister on Wednesday, almost certainly Boris Johnson, and new ministers by the end of the week. What should the environmental sector hope for?

1. Number 10
The environment has had a low profile in the Tory leadership context and Boris Johnson will have a lot on his plate. But given the severity of the climate and wider environmental crisis, and growing public concern, he would be wise to take the issue seriously.

In her first year as PM, Theresa May’s Downing Street was pretty hostile. The prime minister’s chief of staff, Nick Timothy, stopped any meaningful engagement on climate change and Number 10 seemed blissfully unaware of Brexit’s importance for the environment. This changed after the June 2017 general election. A new chief of staff, Gavin Barwell, quickly held a meeting with green NGOs, and soon after John Randall, now Lord Randall, was appointed as the PM’s environmental adviser.

In the few moments of her premiership not swallowed by Brexit, Theresa May was something of an environmental champion. She regularly highlighted the importance of climate action in her speeches; wrote the forewords to the clean growth strategy and the 25 year environment plan; gave the first major environmental speech by a prime minister since the early days of Tony Blair’s tenure; and, in her last days in office, pushed through the commitment to net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

The new PM will inherit two important commitments: net zero and the promise of an ambitious Environment Act. If they are to mean anything, Mr Johnson must appoint a green champion at the heart of his operation and demonstrate that they are an important part of his vision. Environmental policy goes one way when the rhetoric from Number 10 is about getting rid of “the green crap”; it gains momentum when clearly championed by the prime minister.

2. Other departments
The story of the past two years has been one of environmental progress from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS); flickering support from Number 10; resistance from the Treasury to anything that costs money or could be interpreted as hindering growth; and hopelessness from the Department for Transport (DfT), the Department for International Trade (DIT) and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG).

On MHCLG, every time a new communities secretary or housing minister is appointed (there have been five since the last election) I write to say how important energy efficiency is to the UK’s climate commitments; every time, I get a reply informing me that energy is the responsibility of BEIS and suggesting that I write to them instead. Doh!

If the government is to get on track to net zero, more will be needed from every department, much more from DfT and MHCLG. The UK’s trade policy must also wake up to the huge economic opportunities that global decarbonisation will bring. Will there be enough good ministers in a Johnson cabinet to push the action we need? Some of the best Conservative politicians are unwilling or unlikely to serve; some of the most alarming are tipped for high office.

If Rory Stewart, Greg Clark and Claire Perry return to the back benches, Michael Gove will be the sole green survivor. I will get into trouble for calling him “green”, but his record speaks for itself. I hope he stays at Defra, perhaps with climate change added to its responsibilities. Better still, as chancellor he could oversee a spending review as if climate change and environmental breakdown really mattered. It is hard to see any other potential chancellor doing so.

But no one really knows how someone will behave in office. Few expected Michael Gove to champion the environmental cause, but he looked at the evidence and came down on the right side of the fence. Maybe others will too. Sajid Javid, for instance, had a reputation as a free market dogmatist when he became communities secretary, but he championed public spending to solve the housing crisis. And it is clear that the net zero announcement is causing all but the most boneheaded politicians to think about the environment in ways they have not previously done. There is hope.

3. One early test
A good deal of the government’s green credibility rests on the Environment Bill. Defra’s intentions are good, but the draft bill, published shortly before Christmas, was deficient in important respects, with the Treasury and other departments apparently fighting a rearguard action to drain it of ambition. To be truly effective, the remit of the Office for Environmental Protection must include climate and have strong enforcement powers, and there must be a cross government commitment to legally binding targets on nature’s recovery, air quality and resource efficiency, as well as a deposit return scheme for all drinks containers.

4. No Deal
A no deal Brexit carries serious risks for the environment (I could use stronger language). It must be avoided. It also contains serious risks for the longevity of the government. But Boris Johnson appears oddly convinced that all problems can be dissolved by sufficient willpower and national confidence. We shall see.

[Image courtesy of Foreign and Commonwealth Office, via Flickr]

Plans for new Rivers Authorities are flawed and threaten our environment

rivers smallThis post is by Tom Lancaster, acting head of land use policy at the RSPB.

The world of flood and coastal erosion risk management (FCERM) is complex, and at times niche. But it is something that affects the lives of millions, and will become an increasingly pressing priority as the impacts of climate change get worse.

We all have a stake in the decisions to protect communities, businesses and nature from floods, whilst making the best use of the nation’s resources. They should be debated openly, both locally and nationally. Above all, managing flood risk should take place within a long term strategic framework, rigorously assessed to ensure maximum bang for our FCERM buck. Read more

Beyond the no deal panic, we need full scrutiny of Brexit legislation

SI smallThis post is by Libby Peake, senior policy adviser at Green Alliance, and Ruth Chambers, senior parliamentary associate for Greener UK

Now the EU has granted a Brexit ‘flextension’ until the end of October, the immediate threat of no deal has subsided. In fact, the government has stood down the ‘army’ of 6,000 civil servants preparing for that contingency. But this wasn’t the only preparation being undertaken: many of the 10,000 other civil servants working on Brexit had been creating the torrent of regulations required to bring European laws into the UK legal framework. This process, comprising 10,091 pages of technical legislation (a quarter of which came from Defra), is now largely complete. So, given the breathing space, it’s timely to take stock of where this process has got to. Read more

A new Environment Bill is momentous; the hard work begins now

Eurasian OtterSomething quite momentous happened on 18 July. The prime minister announced the first dedicated environment bill for over twenty years. Have no doubt that this is as major a policy announcement as they come, although it might easily have been missed as it was tucked away in an answer to a question on air quality when Theresa May was grilled by select committee chairs on their subject areas. Luckily this tweet sealed the deal and the announcement is now common knowledge and an important platform from which to build.

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What is the future of environmental governance in Northern Ireland?

northern ireland.jpgThis post is by Ciara Brennan, Mary Dobbs, Viviane Gravey and Attracta Uí Bhroin, authors of  a recent report on what Brexit means for Northern Ireland environmental governance.

The influence of EU membership on environmental governance in Northern Ireland has been profound. Now Brexit raises the very real possibility of major environmental governance gaps right across the UK. A risk which is exacerbated in Northern Ireland where environmental decision making and the implementation of environmental law is notoriously problematic.

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Could fines be the green watchdog’s sharpest teeth?

watchdog.jpgThis post is by Andy Jordan and Brendan Moore, who are respectively the co-chair and manager of the Brexit&Environment academic network.

The EU Withdrawal Bill has finally received Royal Assent. Around 200 hours were spent debating it. These discussions clarified some aspects of governance post-Brexit, but left many others open, chiefly those around the enforcement powers of the proposed green watchdog.

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Let’s not lose sight of the big picture: “green Brexit” is impossible without force of law

Hourglass, concept of timeA year on from the prime minister’s letter invoking Article 50, the Brexit hourglass is now half full, or half empty depending on your political disposition. Optimist or pessimist, Leaver or Remainer, the fact is there is now less time for Theresa May and her enthusiastic Environment Secretary Michael Gove to deliver on their promise of a “green Brexit”. Read more

Why does Michael Gove want to treat farmers and water companies differently?

gove smallMichael Gove was in pugnacious form in his address to last week’s annual Water UK City Conference. Pulling no punches, his subjects included water company abuse of monopoly power, the use of offshore companies and complex financial engineering, and the privileging of shareholders at the expense of the UK’s billpayers, taxpayers and the environment. It would be no surprise if, in the aftermath, a number of bruised industry executives were tempted to beat a retreat to their Cayman Island offices so criticised by Gove. Read more

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