Tag Archives: Environment Bill

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]

Why aren’t Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt talking about the environment?

Uk smallLast week, Green Conservatism came of age. The Conservative Environment Network launched a manifesto, supported by 41 MPs including senior backbenchers and members of newer intakes. This is significant because, at this time, it seems that parliament agrees on very little. But it is also significant as it is bursting with solutions to the environmental crisis and is a positive statement of intent on what can and must be done to preserve and restore our planet for future generations. Read more

We need to worry about what Theresa May’s speech means for our environment

Ruth's blog smallIn her Mansion House speech in March 2017 the prime minister said “As we leave the EU we will uphold environmental standards and go further to protect our shared natural heritage”. But her speech yesterday appears to ignore the government’s commitments to improve and not just maintain standards.

On the face of it the commitment that “there will be no change in the level of environmental protection when we leave the EU” should be reassuring as the government has repeatedly said that standards will not be weakened by Brexit. But no change infers no improvement which, when facing an environmental crisis, seems very wide of the mark. Read more

Nature is in crisis: now the UK government must respond

nature in crisis smallIt’s hard to ignore the findings and recommendations of the hard-hitting global assessment of  nature led by the UN’s Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). Its stark finding is that nature is declining globally at rates unprecedented in human history and the health of ecosystems on which we and all other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever. Read more

Businesses need a better Environment Bill

canoe smallThis post is by Daniel Johns, head of public affairs, Anglian Water Services Ltd. It was first posted on Business Green.

We now have both the EFRA and the EAC select committee reports on the draft Environment (Principles and Governance) Bill. Both find critical weaknesses in the proposed protections for the environment outside of the structures of the European Union.  On this issue environmental organisations, parliamentarians and a range of leading business voices are entirely aligned. Read more

The government must not be allowed to mark its own homework on environmental standards

big ben smallThis post is by Lord Robin Teverson, chair of the House of Lords EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee. 

Back in February 2017, our committee published the report of its inquiry on Brexit, the environment and climate change. While covering a wide range of issues, one of the key findings was the vital role that the European Commission and the Court of Justice of the European Union play in ensuring that member states (including the UK) comply with environmental legislation. We heard evidence that the effectiveness of EU regulation was due, in part, to the deterrent effect of the power of EU institutions to hold member states to account and to levy fines upon them for non-compliance. From recycling targets, to air quality plans, to nature conservation, we heard that the threat of EU infraction had shaped the UK’s environmental policy. Read more

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