The Prime Minister has announced that her Government will bring forward the first Environment Bill for 20 years. It offers an opportunity not simply to fix the Brexit governance gap when we leave the EU, but to establish a world-leading framework for the environment. It’s an exciting opportunity, one that we can’t afford to miss.
To this end, we’ve been working as part of the Broadway Initiative to develop ideas and proposals for how to make the ambition for enhancing the environment a reality over the longer term. To this end, we’ve set out initial proposals on what an Environment Act would need to include. Broadway members include senior representatives of organisations from business, NGOs, professional bodies, and policy thinktanks and nationally recognized environmental, legal, regulatory and governance experts – a truly collaborative effort!
As part of our work, we’ve identified 9 Pillars of Governance that we think need to be addressed in the Environment Act:
- Objectives, targets, milestones and metrics
- A process for plans at national level
- Maps and plans for the place-based environment
- Clear responsibilities for key actors
- Aligned incentives
- Effective enforcement
- Purpose driven feedback loops
- Independent oversight
Responsibility as the new default
Successive governments have introduced rules and policies as we have learnt, issue by issue of the environmental, social and economic impact of failing to be responsible for the environment. This has given rise to a situation today whereby we have an unnecessarily prescriptive, compliance driven, reactive (rather than strategic) and complex approach to the environment.
Single use plastics and poor air quality are current examples that show this approach has gaps, is poor at anticipating new issues and has not been capable of reversing environmental decline; some parts of society are pursuing unfair and short term economic gain at the cost to our long-term prosperity.
There is therefore the potential for a paradigm shift towards responsibility for the environment, with two potential elements:
- A duty of care for the environment for all organisations
- Activity specific “net gain” responsibilities, including for developers, utilities, producers and others with important influence over natural assets.
Duty of Care for the Environment
A duty of care could be the underpinning foundation for a societal shift towards responsibility towards the environment. In effect, it would put responsibility where businesses and people are best placed to act and resolve problems early and at source, rather than government making rules reactively and at a distance. As confidence grows in this approach, it should replace prescriptive rules where the outcomes are better secured by the new duty. Specific policies would then focus on where environmental improvements require prescriptive approaches or additional carrots or sticks.
Environmental net gain and leaving the environment in a better state
‘Environmental net gain’ is a way for specified activities that strongly influence the state of the environment to be responsible for making positive environmental impacts. This is, in a sense, a microcosm of the national commitment to leave the environment in a better state. The government has already agreed, in the 25 year environment plan, to apply this responsibility to developers. In principle it could apply to others who own, manage or control land or have a material impact on the state of the environment e.g. water and energy companies.
In time applying this responsibility to a wider range of activities could create a self-generating positive force for achieving a better environment in aggregate. The quid pro quo, with the appropriate safeguards in place, is greater autonomy and flexibility to achieve more ambitious outcomes in ways that work better for specific circumstances. In principle, organisations could have the option to adopt a net gain obligation, in return for more flexibility about how that obligation is applied.
The draft Blueprint is offered in a spirit of collaboration to try and find the best possible environmental solutions for society as a whole, and to stimulate others to identify improvements or better ideas. The aim is to give government the confidence to help set a firm and progressive direction for future prosperity.
During September and October, we are widening the circle of sectors and groups, across the UK, to ask for ideas and feedback to improve our initial recommendations.
Take a look at our proposals here and email me your thoughts to email@example.com
About the Author
Martin Baxter, Chief Policy Advisor - IEMA. Martin Baxter leads on IEMA's policy and external engagement activity. He works in the UK, and internationally, to support the transition to a low carbon, resource efficient, and sustainable economy. Martin is a regular media spokesperson on a range of business sustainability topic areas. He has extensive experience of networking and communicating at all levels, including with senior parliamentarians, Government officials, business leaders, and academia. Martin has national and international experience in developing and negotiating global and European standards and developing capacity for effective and widespread implementation. He is chair of the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) sub-committee on environmental management systems and head of the UK delegation. Martin represents the UK on the European Commission Eco-Management and Audit Scheme regulatory committee. Martin is a board member of IEMA and also the Society for the Environment (SocEnv), where he chairs the SocEnv Registration Authority. He is a Fellow of IEMA and the RSA, and a Chartered Environmentalist.