Climate change is one of the most important issues facing not only the UK but the planet. Our wildlife is close to extinction and our environment is under huge stress.
Even though EU environmental regulation is not perfect, and it has not solved our climate crisis yet, without EU regulation our environment could have been in an even worse position.
Before joining the EU, the UK was the “dirty man” of Europe and EU regulation helped us to clean up our act. For example, we pumped sewage into the sea in the 1970s. The EU regulators, and the threat of fines, ensured that we stopped putting untreated sewage into the sea.
The chance for a greener UK
The Environment Bill is a unique opportunity to protect our environment and to ensure that we are serious about tackling climate change in the future. While DEFRA has called this bill the 'gold standard' of environmental standards, the Bill softens the enforcement power we had under EU regulations. This is likely to lead to backsliding rather than reaching new heights in environmental protection. The memory of the untreated sewage being pumped into the seas before joining the EU is enough to encourage us to clean up our act.
All bark and no bite
The bill outlines the creation of the independent watchdog of the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP), to replace the environmental oversight of the EU. However, both the independence and the enforcement power of this new body outlined in the bill are questionable. Yesterday, at the second reading of the Bill Eustice was questioned on the "teeth" of the OEP.
Despite the bill defining the OEP as separate to the government, the personnel appointments and the budget of the OEP will be determined by the government. Independence of the OEP will be essential if his new body is to match the independent watchdog powers of the EU.
Furthermore, the enforcement powers of the OEP will be reduced to a slap on the wrist if the OEP cannot issue fines and if they do not have enough legal force to ensure compliance with environmental law. When it came to sewage in our seas, it was the force of the regulator and threat of fines that ensured that we cleaned up our act.
For our planet
Leaving the EU must not be used as an opportunity to loosen environmental regulation. We need an environmental bill that grasps this opportunity to protect our planet and maintains or exceeds EU environmental standards.