Tech sector responds to consultation on environmental principles and governance after EU Exit.
Defra’s consultation, which closed last week, set out plans for a new Environment Bill to fill an environmental governance gap after we leave the EU. It sought to explore which existing EU environmental principles (for example, the polluter pays principle and the precautionary principle) should be adopted in the UK and the role and responsibilities of a new environment body which would provide advice to government and, if necessary, hold it to account if targets are missed.
The key points highlighted in techUK’s response include:
- For business, the most important factors are to have a clear long-term direction of travel, certainty and policy stability – these factors must be designed into the fabric of the future Environment Bill to ensure businesses can make decisions and invest reliably against government strategy.
- For business certainty, techUK supports the adoption of all existing EU environmental principles into UK law, supported by a policy guidance to ensure interpretation is consistently applied across the UK. We also support the adoption of the innovation principle, which aims to ensure that whenever a policy or regulatory decision is under consideration the impact on innovation as a driver for jobs and growth is fully assessed and addressed. It sets out to provide a new and positive way of ensuring that policy makers fully recognise social and economic needs for both precaution and innovation.
- techUK also supports the proposal for a new environmental body to hold government to account. We have seen in the past government reigning in on previous commitments and making u-turns that have led to losses to business that have invested against previous policy decisions. If companies are to invest in business models in line with the intentions of the 25 year environment plan, it is absolutely vital that the new environmental body is independent of government and capable of holding it to account.
- It is important that the body operates in a clear, proportionate and transparent way and that the business community can engage with them, when appropriate. Furthermore, techUK believes climate change should also be in scope. The new law is also an opportunity to consider whether to bring relevant, existing bodies together rather than to design the new body to avoid overlapping with other bodies and agencies.
- The body should be UK-wide. A UK-wide body will help to reduce cost and provide more alignment for business. We recognise that environmental issues are devolved but that doesn’t preclude the development of one standard with national flexibility in how it is applied. This approach works well in the case of the Committee on Climate Change, for example.
- However, we question whether a body which is providing advice to government is also capable of impartially carrying out enforcement activities too and question whether there needs to be two separate bodies – one providing analysis, expert advice and scrutiny and another acting as the enforcement body.