Environmental policy professionals set out what their focus will be in 2017

Martin Baxter, chief policy advisor, IEMA

‘It promises to be a critical year for environment and sustainability policy. Longer-term strategy looks set to lock in the direction of travel for many years; getting it right and maintaining momentum will be a challenge in the face of short-term competing demands.

The development of the UK’s industrial strategy offers the opportunity to embed the transition to a low-carbon, resource-efficient economy – one that is flexible and agile and gives a progressive outlook for a future outside the EU.

The starting point is positive: recent estimates from the Office for National Statistics show that, in 2014, UK turnover from the low carbon and renewable energy (LCRE) economy, including direct and indirect activity, was £83.4bn and that the sector employed more than 447,000 people (full-time equivalent posts). It is vital that this strength is reinforced and used as a platform for establishing future trade deals, enhancing the export potential of UK expertise and leading green-tech. High environmental standards underpinned by effective regulation prompt investment in innovation and research and development, providing the basis for UK-based companies to develop new products and services that help to meet the challenges ahead.

The forthcoming 25-year environment plan for England, with the vision to enhance natural capital over a generation, offers great scope to set clear outcomes for waste and resources, ecosystems and biodiversity and water, and to improve environmental standards over the long term.

It is vital that the industrial strategy and 25-year plan are mutually supportive – our economic prosperity is contingent on a healthy, functioning natural environment and policy must recognise that these are intertwined.

These long-term plans must also provide the basis against which measures to be set out in the Great Repeal Bill, which will transpose EU law into UK law, will be judged. IEMA will engage members to support our contribution to these key initiatives as they develop in the year ahead.

Josh Fothergill, policy and practice lead on environmental impact assessment, IEMA

‘The next 12 months are important for defining how quality environmental and sustainability competence and expertise will be integrated into the projects and systems that will shape our future. In the UK, recognising the need to enhance sustainability understanding by upskilling those working to deliver the country’s ongoing infrastructure boom and integration of such knowledge in the forthcoming apprenticeship levy will be crucial to ensuring they deliver a more sustainable workforce.

In Europe, the amended EIA Directive comes into force this year, with increased emphasis on competent experts producing impact assessments and ensuring that decision-makers have enough expertise to examine the environmental information they contain.

At the global scale, the World Bank will implement its new Environmental and Social Framework, putting greater focus on environmental and social skills.

These moves will provide specific opportunities for improvements in environment, social and broader sustainability performance, especially where their delivery is supported by competent professionals. There is a greater opportunity here, which we must all seek to progress in 2017, to drive a clear message through our work and that of our colleagues that the environment and sustainability profession will actively support the upskilling of other professions to enable an effective understanding of environmental challenges and opportunities; and that we will also be open to adopting a collaborative approach to delivering progress across the sustainability agenda.

We can achieve a great deal by working together, through IEMA, our profession and more widely across society. It is such a collaborative spirit that will help to drive a more impactful legacy than the individual contributions we will all make. As such, while I work on, and engage members with, the above agenda, I’ll always be looking for opportunities that contribute to the wider goal of working to help upskill everyone to ensure progress across the sustainability challenges we all face.

Nick Blyth, policy and practice lead, IEMA

Each year, UNEP reports on the emissions gap, outlining how close the world is to realising its climate targets. Last year, UNEP included the so-called ‘ambition gap’ for 1.5°C and indicated that emissions would have to peak by 2020 at the latest. Although this is a challenge, UNEP’s chief scientist has estimated that, if the intended nationally determined contributions submitted to COP21 in Paris are achieved, there is a 50% probability that the 1.5°C pathway could be met. Clearly we need momentum and ambition at all levels and the environment and sustainability profession has a unique contribution to make.

In the UK, several climate policy initiatives are anticipated in 2017 to which IEMA will seek to contribute through its work with member networks and partners. The government has agreed the fourth (2023–27) and fifth (2028–32) carbon budgets, and had been expected last year to produce an emissions reduction plan addressing these periods. It was delayed with Decc merging with the business department to form BEIS. It is essential the plan is unveiled this year. A further delayed consultation anticipated in 2017 will consider changes to organisational energy and carbon reporting. Also, the Committee on Climate Change will provide a second and final statutory report on the National Adaptation Programme in June.

This year, I will continue to work with members on climate change, natural environment and corporate sustainability. There are some huge challenges ahead for the profession and a real opportunity for us all to contribute and make a real difference.

Claire Jakobsson, head of energy and environment policy, EEF

The impacts of Brexit and a Trump presidency have yet to be realised, but it would be fair to expect that it will not be business as usual in terms of where next for international and domestic climate, energy and environment policy. It is therefore imperative to keep focus on developing policies that support the successful integration of the energy and climate agenda as part of a wider industrial strategy. This approach will not only assist us in meeting our environmental goals but will also serve to boost UK competitiveness and bolster industry. Setting aside political turbulence, what manufacturers need is policy certainty and regulatory stability. We must avoid a policy vacuum. That is why EEF has urged the government to ‘grandfather’ as much of the existing regulatory framework as possible, at least in the short term.

Once the UK has left the EU, it should undertake a comprehensive environmental legislative review, in close consultation with industry, on what elements to revoke and retain. That is not to say that the UK contribution on EU policy should grind to a halt during the transition. This year phase IV of the EU emissions trading system (ETS) negotiations will be at a critical juncture. The ETS has significant implications for UK industries at risk of carbon leakage and, part of the EU or not, will continue to have a major impact. The UK government must continue to actively influence and engage on this issue.

Domestically, we also have big energy questions to answer. Security of energy supply remains a major concern for manufacturing and the UK must address the disparity in electricity prices compared with its EU counterparts. The autumn statement did little to allay concerns. With virtually no detail on what would happen to the carbon price floor into the 2020s and the absence of any announcement on the levy control framework, we are left wondering what direction UK energy policy will take.

In addition, EEF called for a fund to help energy-intensive industries with the upfront costs of installing energy-efficiency measures – on which there was nothing. It is why EEF is calling for the introduction of an annual energy statement, which would go some way in giving clarity on where progress was being made in securing Britain’s future energy supply.

Alan Whitehead, Labour MP for Southampton Test

It is easy to predict what parliament will be spending most of its time on this year – Brexit, of course. But as far as the environment is concerned, it is important that what is decided does not throw away some or most of the pillars on which environmental protection is based. It is the policy area most dependent on EU legislation to work effectively – most of our rules, standards and legislation on air quality, soil and land protection, waste management, groundwater standards hazardous substances and environmental damage depend on EU directives and their transition into UK legislation.

The government, as far as can be divined right now, looks to want to trigger article 50 in the spring, and is intending to run during that period a Great Repeal Bill, which will convert existing European-derived UK legislation into domestic laws.

For environmental legislation, it is suggested that perhaps a quarter or more of our present rules would not be transposed in this way. In other words, whether we re-legislate similar standards or simply let them wither as we complete our exit will be up in the air. If that is the course of action, it will present a disaster for environmental protection, with the possibility that many of the safeguards we take for granted will either lapse or will be so indeterminate as to allow miscreants a free hand to pollute and despoil while we catch up with the frameworks that get us back to effective regulation once more.

If a hard Brexit presages the destruction of our environmental standards it will be far less a case of ‘taking back control’ as one of being ‘out of control’. I want to see the strongest possible pressure placed on the government to ensure that what we have in environmental protections is properly transposed into UK-based rules and regulations. It is just too important to play Brexit games with.

Catherine Bearder, Liberal Democrat MEP

‘Last year marked the start of the European fightback against crimes against the natural world – the trade and collection of plants and animals, skins, bones or tusks, live and dead animals all for human amusement as trinkets, medicines, food or adornment. The new comprehensive EU anti-wildlife trafficking action plan presents a golden opportunity to turn the tide against the mindless poaching and destruction of the natural environment that is decimating some of the most vulnerable parts of the planet.

The plan was pretty solid but it needed tightening, which is why I included in my parliamentary report suggestions on how to strengthen enforcement and ensure governments take action. It received overwhelming support from the MEPs. Now the paperwork is done, both in the European Commission and the parliament, I will be using this mandate to ensure that member states and the commission deliver. For a start, wildlife crime must be included in Europol’s Serious Crime Threat Assessment. Only with the support of national governments will Europol have the authorisation to arrest wildlife traffickers as they do with human and drug traffickers. Also, there must been minimum penalties for this crime throughout Europe. Criminals should receive a prison sentence, not a slap on the wrist, for the most serious offences. There are already many pressures on our law and enforcement agencies but, with the political will and financial support to stop wildlife trafficking, we can turn the tide.

Rufus Howard, chair of IEMA’s IA network and director of renewables and marine development at Royal HaskoningDHV

It is potentially a pivotal year for environment, energy and sustainability, not just in the UK but globally. In terms of big ticket items, we have the new EIA Directive being rolled out in May. This has triggered discussions on expert competence and professionalism among environmental practitioners.

The impact of Brexit and a Trump presidency in the US will put further pressure from business and government lobbies for reduced environmental protection and legislation under the guise of economics and ‘red tape’ reduction, but in reality to maximise profit at the expense of environmental commons and quality of life for people and communities. The World Bank will begin implementing the new environment and social standards, and we are likely to see continued moves in the international arena towards harmonised standards. Globally there is a shortage of educated, well-trained experts and practitioners in environment and sustainability who can work with public and private sector organisations to deliver the transition from a failing, consumption-based global market economy to a more equitable, sustainable, and circular economy needed for long-term prosperity.

Absolute priority in my opinion is the rapid and full implementation of the UN sustainable development goals, in particular the decarbonisation transition, which requires a fundamental shake-up of our energy, transport and industrial sectors. The UK and Europe will need to take pole position on this. Achieving the goals, particularly on climate, is of paramount importance to global security, poverty and wellbeing. It cannot afford to be another wasted year of debate.

Jacob Hayler, executive director, Environmental Services Association

Despite the outcome of the EU referendum, the waste and recycling industry’s priorities for 2017 will continue to be heavily influenced by what is going on in Brussels.

The European Commission’s circular economy package is continuing to be negotiated and is likely to be concluded, setting the strategic direction for Europe’s waste and recycling policy through to 2030 and beyond.

Whenever article 50 is triggered, the UK will not have finalised its exit from the EU before the circular economy package is agreed. It will therefore be part of the legislation that is frozen as part of the government’s proposed Great Repeal Act and the UK will be bound – at least in the first instance – to meet whatever new European targets are agreed. Brexit does, of course, raise the possibility that the UK government may decide to reverse any new targets if it deems them too ambitious. Domestic initiatives will therefore be more crucial than they have been for a generation.

The year will start with a Defra consultation on its 25-year plan for the environment in England. The year will hopefully end with the publication of a final document that recognises the vital role waste and resources play as part of our natural environment and as an economic resource. The waste and recycling industry’s biggest priority for the year will be to work with Defra to ensure that the plan provides a long-term strategy to drive a thriving and sustainable waste and recycling sector. This should include a greater role for producer responsibility – in line with the ‘polluter pays’ principle – to make designers, manufacturers and retailers think about what happens to their products at the end of the products’ lives.

Paul Reeve, director, Electrical Contractors’ Association

Although we expect a national and international energy policy rollercoaster in 2017, there will also be plenty of commercial and technological drivers for change – or even disruption. In building and infrastructure engineering, these will include: very big data and the internet of things; mobile telecommunications; electric and automatic vehicles; smarter infrastructure; and batteries and other energy storage.

Despite Brexit, Europe will still play a definitive role in UK environmental policy and legislation in 2017. There are few examples of UK green building initiatives that have stayed the course – and far too much ‘start and stop’ policy – so the prospect of EU policy and regulation on energy in the built environment is welcome. At home, we will be looking for evidence-based energy-efficiency measures, based on what drives commercial and domestic users’ energy behaviour, and rolling out what works at scale.

In 2016, it was possible to be both elated and deflated about the future of renewables, all in the same month. However, the technical challenge in 2017 is not how to produce enough renewable electrical energy but how to distribute, store and use it. Battery storage will be on the up in 2017 but, despite the hype, it will still be too expensive to achieve the much-vaunted point when storing electricity matches the cost of grid distribution. To help get us there, we will look for significant government support for research and development into battery and other forms of energy storage. Most of all, we will be looking for the government to provide stable conditions for commercial investment in renewable energy and smart grids and to promote a more circular economy. If financial help is not available we will respectfully ask government at least to step out of the way.

Matthew Farrow, executive director, Environmental Industries Commission

There’s no getting away from the fact that 2016 was a bruising year for the environmental movement. This year will be dominated by Brexit but it also needs to see us getting back on the front foot. There are three ways this needs to happen. First, we need to clearly identify the benefits of the existing suite of EU environmental law. My view is that this requires a more nuanced exercise than simply asserting that all the directives and regulations are vital and that any change would be vandalism. My experience is that, although most legislation remains vital in ensuring environmental protection, there are elements that have been overtaken by events and some parts that have never worked well in a UK context.

Second, and linked to the previous point, we need to ‘own the detail’. Environmental issues are highly complex and so are many policies and their impacts. We will need to ensure we can articulate a specified framework for environmental policy and regulation that is workable in detail in whichever Brexit scenario we end up with.

Last, I want the business side of the green movement to grasp the opportunity presented by Theresa May’s enthusiasm for industrial strategies. Ministers are keen to support sectors that are innovative, use the UK’s strong science base, are geographically dispersed and have export potential to markets outside the EU. The environmental technology and services sector fits every one of these. With a coherent post-Brexit policy framework that encourages innovation and investment in the home market and a better approach to identifying export markets, there will be no limit to what the sector can achieve.

Nick Molho, executive director, Aldersgate Group

As it starts the process of leaving the EU, the government will need to act decisively in 2017 to show that it remains committed to improving the state of the UK’s natural environment and growing its low-carbon economy.

The government’s upcoming emissions reduction plan, due by the end of March, needs to provide detailed measures that will increase affordable private sector investment in the energy-efficiency, low-carbon heat and power, and clean transport technologies the UK needs to meet its climate targets. To maximise the positive impacts the plan could have on the growth of the UK’s low-carbon supply chain, it should be accompanied by an industrial strategy that seeks to better connect businesses, including SMEs, with the government’s low-carbon agenda and specific supply chain opportunities; promotes a greater emphasis in the education system on skills essential to a low-carbon economy (such as for sustainability and engineering); and considers where UK energy-intensive industries are best placed to play a growing role in the low-carbon supply chain.

It will also be important that the government, with support from business and civil society, puts forward initial proposals for a 25-year plan to improve the state of England’s natural environment, much of which is in decline. Not only do our economy and society rely on a careful management of critical natural resources such as soil and water but the resilience of our infrastructure against risks such as flooding will be much improved if we invest in our natural environment through schemes such as peatland restoration. A comprehensive 25-year plan could do much to address this and would also provide an opportunity to ensure that the environmental standards introduced through EU legislation are either maintained or, in areas such as agricultural policy, improved.

Terry A’Hearn, chief executive, Sepa

Sepa’s statutory purpose gives it the job of protecting and improving the environment in ways that also create health and wellbeing benefits and sustainable economic growth. This is the essence of our regulatory strategy. Environment protection agencies were established primarily to reduce industrial pollution, principally through regulatory compliance. This is still important: compliance is non-negotiable. Compliance in Scotland has increased from 88% to 90.4%, but is only the first step on the journey towards one-planet prosperity. We have made progress towards full compliance, but ‘close enough’ isn’t good enough. What we require to create a vibrant economy in the 21st century is for businesses to go beyond compliance.

We are committed to helping forward-thinking, responsible businesses turn environmental excellence into commercial advantage. We are equally committed to providing backward-thinking, deliberately irresponsible businesses with the tough and punitive enforcement their behaviour demands.