All change, no change, says Martin Baxter

19th July 2017

The outcome of the UK general election marks a shift in the balance of power. With no overall majority, the process of forming a government and setting out a legislative programme became significantly more challenging.

Deals are being struck and compromises are being made. Meanwhile, the Brexit clock continues to mark the time when the UK will leave the EU.

From an environment and sustainability perspective, while the Cabinet and ministerial reshuffle has changed some of the key people, the priorities remain as they were.

Most pressing is the need for government to finalise and implement an air quality plan that will deliver improvements to ensure that legal limits for NO-x and PM10 in urban areas are met. The stakes are high – with an estimated 40,000 people dying prematurely from poor air quality, this must be a high priority. There’s also the small matter of a court order to comply with.

The transposition of EU law into UK law through the ‘great’ Repeal Bill will be critical. While the government’s plan is to maintain the “operable status quo” through this process, this won’t be easy in terms of chemicals regulation, renewable energy targets and carbon emissions trading.

A number of separate bills announced in the Queen’s Speech will also be important – the Agriculture and Fisheries Bills are inextricably linked to environmental protection; ensuring these are framed in a way that they contribute to enhancing natural capital, which is the government’s stated aim for the environment, will be important. So too will be the Customs and Trade Bills; it is essential that these enshrine sustainability at their core.

The other pressing concern is the ongoing delay to the publication of the government’s carbon emissions reduction plan. It is a year since the fifth carbon budget was approved by parliament, and the Climate Change Act requires the plan to be published “as soon as reasonably practicable” after the carbon budgets are set. Don’t be surprised if, as with air quality, government is hauled before the courts for failure to set credible plans for environmental improvement.

Martin Baxter, chief policy adviser at IEMA @mbaxteriema


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