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Government warned over Brexit environmental enforcement gaps

Environmental Audit Committee report says a range of deficiencies in the government’s proposed post-Brexit environmental legislation would drastically undermine climate change mitigation

“Serious concerns” over a lack of oversight and enforcement for the government’s environmental policies and targets post-Brexit have been identified in new findings from a major parliamentary committee.

The Environmental Audit Committee has argued that many government departments could be exempted from their environmental responsibilities under the draft Environment (Governance and Principles) Bill published back in December, should the UK leave the EU.

Government unveiled the Bill to detail how it plans to enforce of all its environmental commitments once it leaves the EU, while also outlining aims for realising its 25 Year Environment Plan. This would directly impact zero carbon buildings standards and new low carbon heating approaches.

The creation of an Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) was also pledged in the proposed legislation to replace scrutiny functions currently provided by the European Environment Agency and other EU institutions.

Enforcement deficiencies

However, a number of deficiencies in the Bill have been identified by MPs sitting on the Environmental Audit Committee that they fear would severely downgrade current EU environmental legislation.

A key concern identified by the group is a lack of any government agency being given the necessary powers to enforce climate change mitigation measures. Some of the committee’s MPs argue this measure has been “purposefully excluded” from the scope of the Office of Environmental Protection (OEP).

The committee also noted that greenhouse gas emissions were excluded from being classed in the bill within its definition of environmental law. A core recommendation within its report is for the inclusion of climate change mitigation within the remit of any OEP established under the bill.

Failure to do so is viewed by the committee as creating an enforcement gap where there would be no direct replacement of EU enforcement around climate change mitigation, should Brexit go ahead.

MP Mary Creagh MP, chair of the audit committee, said that UK ambitions to be a world leader in environmental protection outside of the EU demanded an enforcement body with sufficient capability to hold government to its targets independently.

She said, “The government promised to create a new body for governance that would go beyond standards set by the European Union. The Bill, so far, falls woefully short of this vision.”

“Far from creating a body which is independent, free to criticise the government and hold it to account, this Bill would reduce action to meet environmental standards to a tick-box exercise, limit scrutiny, and pass the buck for environmental failings to local authorities.”

Ms Creagh said it was shocking that climate change mitigation enforcement had been deliberately left out of the OEP’s remit.

“The draft Bill means that if we leave the EU we will have weaker environmental principles, less monitoring and weaker enforcement, and no threat of fines to force government action.”

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