With the government due to publish its Environmental Improvement Plan (EIP) imminently, bringing together an informed group of stakeholders to discuss the evolving environmental policy landscape was timely. The breadth of stakeholders in attendance – including local government and national infrastructure clients, through to environmental NGOs and legal experts – also made for a varied and insightful session.
The EIP is expected to set out more detail on how the government plans to work with industry to meet the long-term targets that were published towards the end of last year in the areas of air quality, biodiversity, resource efficiency, and water quality. Interim targets will also be included.
Looking ahead to the publication of the EIP, much of the roundtable discussion focused on the need for it to deliver a robust governance regime that ties together the targets with the other policy and regulatory instruments that have emerged from the Environment Act. This is something that IEMA has written about previously.
The targets must work in harmony with the environmental principles policy statement, that has been developed by Defra to help all Whitehall departments better consider the environment when taking decisions on public policy. Specifically, the policy statement should aid decision-makers in fully understanding the requirements of the targets framework and how it can be best factored into all areas of policymaking.
Likewise, a robust governance regime will also set out how the Office for Environmental Protection can most effectively perform the role of a system steward, ensuring that public authorities are operating in a way that is consistent with the environmental targets and the key environmental principles put forward in Defra’s policy statement. These are:
- The integration principle that policymakers should look for opportunities to embed environmental protection in other fields of policy that have impacts on the environment.
- The prevention principle that government policy should aim to prevent, reduce or mitigate harm.
- The rectification at source principle that if damage to the environment cannot be prevented it should be tackled at its origin.
- The polluter pays principle that those who cause pollution or damage to the environment should be responsible for mitigation or compensation.
- The precautionary principle that where there are threats of serious or irreversible environmental damage, a lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation.
Discussion at the roundtable also focused on a perceived lack of ambition in relation to the levels at which the environmental targets have been set, with specific concern expressed at the absence of a target for protected sites on land.
Others contributing to the conversations alluded to the disconnect between the environmental targets and the net zero agenda, plus the many different delivery dates that have been set for the targets which are creating practical challenges for the organisations that will ultimately be responsible for their delivery.
Overall, there was a sense that government isn’t joined up in its thinking and that there remain significant gaps in the supply of the green jobs and skills that are going to be required to put England and the rest of the UK on the right pathway to achieving better outcomes for the environment and society more widely.
Following the publication of the EIP, IEMA will be running a further roundtable session next month focused on implementation. We will be joined at that session by Andrew Jackson, deputy director for environment strategy at Defra.
Today’s discussions were the fourth in IEMA’s series of policy roundtables. We were previously joined by the International Environment Minister, The Rt Hon Lord Benyon to discuss COP15 and have hosted other sessions with Shadow Ministers focused on levelling up and green skills.
We are planning further roundtable sessions to explore the UK’s net zero strategy and its approach to sustainable finance. To find out more get in touch at [email protected].
Posted on 26th January 2023
Written by Ben Goodwin
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