A policy update by Dr Tatum Matharu, Policy and Parliamentary Lead
The first quarter of 2018 has seen the landmark publication of the Government’s long-awaited 25 Year Environment Plan and a flurry of related activity.
The production of the Plan (or 25 YEP), which was formally recommended by the Natural Capital Committee in its March 2014 report, had stalled under a number of changes of Secretary of State at DEFRA, but the Government’s self-styled eco-warrior now at the helm has managed to drag this document out into the limelight and have it publicly launched by the Prime Minister in January. Whilst some may have seen his raft of measures since in post as somewhat ‘tokenistic’, it’s undeniable that Michael Gove has enabled his team at DEFRA to produce a significantly more detailed and wide-ranging 25 YEP than the leaked draft that had been in circulation.
As ever, the devil is in the detail. And we’re being invited to contribute to that detail through a number of consultations processes. Already open, for example, is a consultation around single-use plastics, which the Government, through the 25 YEP, is attempting to tackle as part of its broader commitment to eliminate all ‘avoidable’ plastic waste by 2042 (and, indeed, all avoidable waste by 2050). Significantly, this consultation focuses specifically on the use of the tax system to steer towards this target and the consultation is being hosted by HM Treasury, indicating a welcome step towards joined-up thinking. You can read our former Chair’s initial thoughts on the 25 YEP and plastics here; and note that the issue of plastic waste also takes centre-stage globally as the theme for this year’s World Environment Day, which we’re celebrating here alongside our Annual Awards and Lectures event on the 5th June (register here).
Whilst the mainstream media may have concentrated on this particular issue – and rightly, to reflect and enhance public attention on plastic waste – the 25 YEP is a lengthy document that seemingly collects together a multitude of streams and strategies, some planned and some promised, into a single reference point. And, notably, they’re at different stages of fruition, with varying levels of explicit connection to the ongoing Brexit negotiations. In the area of chemicals, for example, the 25 YEP recognises the role of chemicals in air quality, fertilisers for farming and pollution more generally, and states an intention to publish a specific strategy on chemicals, but there is only brief mention of the huge undertaking that will be required in extracting the UK from the EU’s collective chemical regulation system (REACH) and potentially recreating that or otherwise negotiating some form of continued membership to the overseeing body, the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA), post-Brexit, which the Prime Minister has publicly committed to exploring.
We have, alongside colleagues from a number of professional bodies, briefed members of the House of Lords on this area of policy as they discussed amendments to the Brexit Bill on REACH and ECHA. We’ve seen encouraging levels of engagement from the Lords on this and our previous briefing to them on our concerns for the environment raised by the current version of the EU (Withdrawal) Bill more generally. Find out more about these briefings here. We will continue both to work with our colleagues in the Society’s constituent professional bodies and to keep up the pressure in this area together, but please do get in touch with me directly if you’d like to contribute your thoughts into this work, particularly if you work in the chemicals industry and can share your perspective on ‘live’ applications and implications of leaving REACH.
Otherwise, all eyes are on DEFRA for any word on environmental governance post-Brexit. The Environment Secretary has outwardly accepted the argument made by ourselves as well as many others that governance around environmental matters – that is the public structures and processes of accountability around environmental regulation and legislation – post-Brexit needs much more meaningful and urgent attention. Whilst our calls for an independent body with statutory powers has not (yet) been agreed to, the 25 YEP does commit the Government to opening a consultation on environmental governance. We are, therefore, currently working up the detail of our proposals in preparation for responding to this consultation. Again, your thoughts are welcome so please do get in touch with me directly.
A final and relatively minor detail of the 25 YEP, but hugely significant for us, is the connection between the 25 YEP and the Industrial Strategy, published by BEIS in November last year. There is a declared link between them and they are triangulated by the Clean Growth Strategy (also published by BEIS in October last year). The links are admirable and certainly nod towards joined-up thinking, but, as yet, any substantive integration of approach is lacking beyond energy and carbon considerations. We’re working to improve understanding in this area. We’re currently compiling a collection of case studies that demonstrates the work of environmental professionals as they simultaneously meet the strategic aims of the environmental and industrial sectors. This showcase report will be the first in a planned series, so there’s still an opportunity to be included in one of the themed follow-ups – get in touch to register your interest. In the meantime, look out for the publication of our first report at our Awards and Lectures on World Environment Day!
Dr Tatum Matharu, Policy and Parliamentary Lead