Michael Gove, Defra Secretary of State, set out his latest thinking on the forthcoming Environment Act on Tuesday 16th July. The key aspects on the governance framework in the Act speak directly to the assurances that IEMA has been advocating as part of the Broadway Initiative, extracts from the speech (read the full speech here ) as follows: 

1) the Bill will ensure that, for the first time, we in the UK take a coordinated, long-term, system-wide approach to the environment….. set the world’s first legally-binding commitment to comprehensive environmental improvement in the areas where we as a country can make a decisive difference - air quality, water management, waste reduction and wildlife revival 

2) the Bill must create a robust, legally sound, framework for a comprehensive and integrated set of environmental targets which taken together can ‘bend the curve’ on environmental decline. And to ensure that the targets are informed by the latest science and evidence, we must make arrangements for independent, authoritative advice on the level at which they should be set…… ensure all our targets are robust, underpinned by the best available evidence from science, that they are developed holistically and Government is then to be held to account for meeting them. 

3) Environment Bill should learn from the success of the Climate Change Act. It set a clear double duty: for the Government to achieve its climate change aspirations, and to publish a plan for doing so ….and that is what our Environment Bill must have. 

4) of course, any law is only as strong as its enforcement…that’s why to underpin our commitment to change, we have to create a new Office for Environmental Responsibility to hold government to account. Compelling arguments of how to ensure its teeth are properly sharpened and united in proposing a truly independent governance structure for the OEP….obvious merit that any body which is designed to hold the Government to account is independent of ministerial interference. Offering Parliament the chance to have a say in crucial appointments of senior officers it is also underpinned by upfront, multi-year budgetary guarantees. 

5) in enforcing climate change law as well as wider environmental law the case is compelling…convinced that if we want a watchdog with teeth on every environmental issue it should be able to bite on climate change. 

6) An Act that combines compelling and comprehensive objectives with strong enforcement powers and policies to drive innovation and investment will, I hope, enable us to demonstrate appropriate leadership 

7) there will be a legal obligation for all Government policy making to pay due regard to a policy statement which will outline the core principles of environmental protection: a precautionary approach; the principle that the polluter should pay; the principle harm should be prevented or rectified at source; and environmental considerations should be integrated across government policy areas. This will constitute a baseline - against this greener backdrop, we can strengthen and reform our approach where we can make the biggest improvements. 

The forthcoming Environment Act provides an opportunity to significantly improve our natural world and put sustainability at the heart of our future economic model.  From an IEMA perspective, we’re pleased that the approach we’ve been advocating to Government for a long-term policy framework that gives confidence for investment in a sustainable future is supported by the Secretary of State; it’s vital that this is reflected in the Bill put forward to Parliament by the incoming Government.   

In addition, the speech set out a long list of topic-specific commitments in the areas of nature’s recovery, air quality, water, and resources and waste. 

There’s still a way to go to ensure that i) the new Government adopts this as the core governance framework for the Bill, and ii) it survives Parliamentary skirmishes and Brexit……but this feels like an important step forward. 

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.