24 May 2017

The Brexit election: Red, white, blue… and green?

We have a new blog post out in The Environmentalist comparing the manifestos of the Labour, Conservative, Lib Dem and Green Parties in the run-up to the June 8 General Election. In what is said to be the 'Brexit' election, is there any room for the environment? Are the main parties raising to the Brexit & Environment challenges of protecting standards, keeping legislation dynamic and building new governance arrangements?

4 May 2017

Winner of 'Insight of the Year' at the ENDS Awards 2017

We are delighted to announce we've won 'Insight of the Year' at the first edition of the ENDS Environmental Impact Awards

ENDS is Europe’s primary provider of intelligence for environmental professionals, delivering news, analysis and reference across the carbon, environmental and sustainability agenda. 

The new Impact awards seek to spotlight examples of innovation and positive impact: new thinking, new procedures and new technologies, expertly delivered, that make a meaningful contribution to immediate or long-term environmental protection and sustainability.

Our project (co-convened by Green Alliance), ‘The EU referendum, Brexit and the UK environment’ has won ‘Insight of the Year’ award, reflecting the knowledge generation and impact activities it undertook before during and after the referendum.

This award celebrates “thought leadership on an environmental or sustainability topic, either developing brand new thinking or communicating to new audiences or in new ways, and that clarifies and enables more effective action on sustainability challenges or solutions”. 

The full list of winners is available here

Three unintended consequences of Brexit for UK energy and climate policy

Charlotte Burns, Senior Lecturer in Environmental Policy, University of York, and lead author EUrefEnv

Energy, the environment and climate change were barely mentioned during the EU referendum campaign, and Theresa May has since spent little time worrying about how Brexit will change things. One reason for this oversight is that energy and environment policies are often regarded on the international stage as “low politics” – technical and unimportant issues, compared to the wars and conflicts that represent the “high politics” of statecraft. The Conversation


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capitanoseye / shutterstock

Yet the prime minister cannot avoid the environmental consequences of Brexit, as a new report from the House of Commons’ business, energy and industrial strategy committee illustrates.

27 Apr 2017

Government's reponse to House Lords Brexit & Environment report: still a governance gap?

The government has responded to the House of Lords EU Committee report on Brexit & the Environment. The HoL report, published in February was particularly critical of the government's handling of governance questions (read our summary of the report) stressing that "the Government’s confidence in its ability to ‘hold itself to account’ contrasts with the concern expressed by the vast majority of our witnesses".

The government's response raises a number of key points on governance, devolution, and agriculture.

On governance, the Government rejects the Committee's call for additional enforcement mechanisms, to address the gap left by the EU. Instead, the Government argues it can rely on existing Judicial Review & Parliamentary oversight.

On devolution, the government rejects the idea that powers would go straight from Brussels to the devolved administration. Instead, some powers would be "passed" by Westminster to the devolveds. The government will decide which are the "right" powers to be exercised at which level of governance.

Finally on agriculture the government explains replacing the CAP will take time and future policy should not felt bound by the current arrangements. Policy will be driven by a twin ambition for competitiveness and environmental protection.

Throughout the document, the government reiterates call for a 'smooth and orderly' transition mentions repeatedly its manifesto commitment to be the first generation to leave the environment (in England) in a better state and its pledge to publish a 25 year plan for the environment in the course of this Parliament (but this has been changed, of course, by the snap election). It further calls for "a partnership of friends and allies, of interests and values" with the EU. 

But beyond these commendable objectives the government does not budge on governance at all, both with regards to enforcement (existing UK arrangements will have to suffice) and with regards to devolution (Westminster will choose what remains centralised). Reading the government's response, the governance gap appears to be here to stay -- this contrasts with Labour's new Brexit policy pledging to address post-Brexit enforcement challenges

20 Mar 2017

Environmental implications for Scotland of the UK leaving the EU

The Scottish Parliament's Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee held last week a hearing into the environmental implications for Scotland of the UK leaving the EU. 

The Committee asked questions of a panel of experts -- Professor Gavin Little (University of Stirling); Professor Elisa Morgera (Strathclyde University); Professor Colin Reid (University of Dundee, EUrefEnv); Dr Annalisa Savaresi (University of Stirling); Bob Ward (Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment) --  about the scale of the task of disentangling the EU elements from Scottish law, the enforcement of environmental law after Brexit, the consequences of international agreements and the implications of Brexit for the devolution arrangements. 

The oral evidence can be viewed here. Written evidence submitted in preparation for the meeting (including by Prof Colin Reid) can be accessed here.  

14 Feb 2017

Government 'worryingly complacent' about Brexit governance challenges: latest House of Lords Report

The House of Lords European Union Committee just published its new report on Brexit: Environment & Climate Change. Building on evidence from leading academics, civil society organisation, industries, devolved and UK governments, it studies risks and opportunities of Brexit for the UK environment. 

It covers a wide range of topics, from providing a short history of the development of EU environmental policy to discussing trade implications and future UK influence. The report reiterates and expands on some well-known issues -- for example, the need to apply equivalent environmental standards to trade with the EU, the risk that all of DEFRA's time and energy will be spent on dealing with Brexit, and the particular need for continued cooperation in environmental matters alongside the Northern Irish-Irish border. Out of the many issues raised, the following were particularly striking:
  • Environmental policy standards are only as strong as the governance arrangements which underpin them.
The report as a 'patchwork quilt' of different types of legislation, adopted at different periods of time under varying legal basis. It argues that 'the EU’s environmental acquis is more than a corpus of law: it is also a complex but effective trans-national system of governance and enforcement.'

At the heart of this system you will find the European Commission (notably regarding monitoring implementation) and the European Court of Justice (concerning infraction proceedings for example). How will such a system be replaced in the future?
  • The UK government is 'worryingly complacent' about this potential governance gap
The need to consider governance arrangements is well known. As former LibDem MEP Andrew Duff explained last week 'the legal effect of EU regulations and directives if orphaned from the executive, legislative and judicial institutions which spawned them will be dubious at best and jeopardised at worst.' In the environmental field, Green MP Caroline Lucas has called earlier this week for 'an independent body to ensure UK compliance with environmental regulation'. 

But the House of Lords report show that these calls have not -- not yet? -- been heard by government. The report is particularly damning on this issue. It finds that 'the Government’s confidence in its ability to ‘hold itself to account’ contrasts with the concern expressed by the vast majority of our witnesses' and argues that:

The report furthermore identifies additional governance challenges, in the coordination with the devolved administrations:

  • Future UK influence on EU environmental policy will mostly occur through informal channels, via civil society and industry.
The report explores future UK influence and finds that, with the UK leaving the EU, the UK government will lose tremendous influence -- a seat at the table, voting rights etc. -- when it comes to decide new legislation. This matters as, for trade purposes, the UK may need to closely follow EU policy developments in key fields such as chemicals, pesticides etc. This dependence on back channels and non-state actor appears at odd with aims to 'take back control' of UK laws. 

10 Feb 2017

Bringing powers back from Brussels - but to where?

This blog post summarises Dr Jo Hunt’s (Cardiff University, Senior Fellow UK in a Changing Europe) contribution to a roundtable on Brexit & the Environment organised by the British Academy and EUrefEnv on 30 January 2017. Looking at devolution, she investigates scope for further policy divergence across the UK after Brexit and how to deal with it. 

The ongoing process of devolution of powers away from London to Cardiff, Edinburgh and Belfast has to date taken place in the context of the UK’s membership of the EU. EU membership has provided a framework for the expression of regional interests, both feeding into EU policy making upstream, and implementing EU obligations in devolved areas downstream. 

EU law has at the same time set important parameters for how devolved nations exercise their powers, limiting the degree to which laws across the UK can diverge in those areas which are both devolved and Europeanised. To date, rule-making in these areas has taken place in a framework of pooled state sovereignty, and in which responsibility for action is shared. Subsidiarity has been a defining principle for the exercise of competences. In an EU context, this principle provides:

 ‘Under the principle of subsidiarity, in areas which do not fall within its exclusive competence, the Union shall act only if and in so far as the objectives of the proposed action cannot be sufficiently achieved by the Member States, either at central level or at regional and local level, but can rather, by reason of the scale or effects of the proposed action, be better achieved at Union level’. (Article 5(3) Treaty on European Union).