IEMA raises concerns over independence of new green watchdog

Sustainability body IEMA has cast doubt on the independence of a new green watchdog unveiled in the UK government’s draft Environment Bill yesterday.

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The government’s proposed watchdog will be called the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP), and will be tasked with safeguarding environmental standards after Brexit.

However, IEMA said the OEP does not meet its ‘independence tests’ because it will be resourced, and have its appointments made, by the secretary of state.

“To us, that sounds like the watchdog will be constrained from holding government to account,” IEMA chief policy advisor, Martin Baxter, said.

“Lots more needs to be done to bring the draft bill up to the level of ambition needed for a comprehensive environmental governance framework that will deliver the future we want.”

Despite these fears, the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) said the new watchdog would be “world-leading” and able to take legal action to enforce the law when needed.

The draft clauses describe environmental principles like the ‘polluter pays’ approach, and allowing the public to participate in decision-making, as fundamental, and states that they will guide government policy.

The bill also proposes a legal requirement for the government to have a plan for improving the environment that is updated at least every five years, with progress reported to parliament annually.

Environment secretary, Michael Gove, said: “Our draft clauses create a pioneering new system of green governance, placing out 25-Year Environment Plan on a statutory footing.”

However, IEMA warned that the bill appears to have a number of “escape clauses”, and said proposals for a green watchdog must be judged on accountability, resourcing and appointments to determine its independence.

The sustainability body said the OEP must report directly to parliament, which must also be responsible for allocating appropriate resources to the watchdog, not the government.

In addition, IEMA said appointments of key roles – particularly the chair of the new body – must have direct support from parliament if public confidence and trust it to be established from the start.

“At first look there are some promising provisions in the bill, but IEMA members will be concerned about the status of the new OEP,” Baxter continued.

“IEMA will be working closely with our members and government over the next month to ensure ambition levels are raised to where they should be.” 

 

Image credit | iStock
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Chris Seekings is a reporter for TRANSFORM

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