Michael Gove’s Environmental Principles and Governance after EU Exit consultation document should be used as an opportunity to set up binding environmental standards.
Climate change will affect all of us: rising temperatures, poor air quality and unpredictable weather do not distinguish. When announcing a consultation on the contents of the new Environmental Principles and Governance Bill, which shall lead to the creation of a new, world-leading, statutory and independent environmental watchdog, environment secretary Michael Gove has stated that ‘we will discuss with the devolved administrations the possibility of shared environmental principles and whether they wish to be covered by the new body. Alternatively, they may wish to create their own national arrangements’. Now that the UK is leaving the EU, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will be autonomous on this subject and differences among their regulatory frameworks may occur.
As this issue that affects all British citizens equally, whether in Glasgow or Portsmouth, the UK government together with devolved administrations should seize the opportunity to ensure all regions of the UK are held to the same minimum environmental standards. To do so effectively, it should establish a watchdog holding all governments accountable over delivery of and compliance with environmental law.
The current consultation instead would concern and affect environmental governance in England only, although the government is also exploring with national administrations whether they want to follow a similar approach. If disparities among regions’ environmental policies are permitted, regions which have less stringent regulations will hurt people from across the country. Air, water and earth are shared commodities.
In addition, in his March speech announcing ‘Green Brexit: a new era for farming, fishing and the environment’, Gove kept labelling people and mentioning differences between Leavers and Remainers, as if environmental issues affect these groups differently. When speaking about the environment, the Environment Secretary should rather abandon this referendum rhetoric, as this may actually detract him from his greater goals: strengthening environmental protection and establishing an effective environmental watchdog for the UK.
In fact, the majority of UK citizens does believe we need to do more to tackle climate change. A poll conducted by ComRes in 2017 found that 69 per cent of people polled in Scotland, 67 per cent in Wales and 63 per cent in England believe that climate change is a reality Moreover, 80 percent of respondents considered harm to wildlife and nature as a key concern. Accordingly, protecting the environment shall transcend the shallow ‘Leave/Remain’ boxes.
Whether a Leave or Remain voter, Scottish or Cornish, all British citizens deserve an enforced minimum of environmental standards. The fight to save the environment is bigger than Brexit, and tribal labels should remain outside of the conversation.
Roz KennyBirch (22) is a Communications Officer at Local Partnerships, living in London.