Current English Affairs: Budget
Times 30/10/18: DEVOLVED FUNDING: An additional £950miIIion has been pledged for the Scottish government, £550 million for the Welsh government and £320 million for a Northern Ireland Executive in the period to 2020-21.
English politics: A green (English) future?, Brexit Agriculture Bill
The Government published its 25-year plan to improve the environment ‘A Green
Future’ on 11 January 2018.
Background to the plan: The idea of a 25-year environment plan arose from a proposal in a Natural Committee Capital (an independent advisory committee to the Government) report in March 2014 that the Government should provide a 25 year frame- work to maintain and improve natural capital. The Government then endorsed this recommendation. A commitment for a 25-year environment plan was later made part of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ (Defra) former single depart- mental plan (2015-2020), published February 2016. The Natural Capital Committee published advice and recommendations on what the Government should consider in developing the plan on 28 September 2017.
Aims of the Plan: The Prime Minister identified the protection and enhancement of the natural environment as a “central priority” for the Government as part of delivering its manifesto pledge to “be the first generation to leave the environment in a better state than we inherited it”. Aspects of the Plan relate to England only, whereas others relate to the UK as a whole. The executive summary commits the Government to championing sustainable development and further elaborates the broad aims of the Plan:
“…to deliver cleaner air and water in our cities and rural landscapes, protect threatened species and pro- vide richer wildlife habitats. It calls for an approach to agriculture, forestry, land use and fishing that puts the environment first. The Plan looks forward to delivering a Green Brexit – seizing this once-in-a lifetime
chance to reform our agriculture and fisheries management, how we restore nature, and how we care for our land, our rivers and our seas.”
Government Goals: Clean air; Clean and plentiful water; Thriving plants and wildlife; A reduced risk of harm from environmental hazards such as drought and flooding; Using resources from nature more sustainably and efficiently; Enhanced beauty, heritage and engagement with the natural environment.
In addition: managing pressures on the environment by: Mitigating and adapting to climate change; Minimising waste; Managing exposure to chemicals; Enhancing biosecurity.
Brexit: The plan is framed in the context of Brexit and the Government’s previous commitments to continue EU environmental rights on a UK legal basis and its intention to uphold its obligations under international environmental treaties. The Plan clarifies that it is not pre-empting discussions with the devolved nations regarding the shape of common frameworks after Brexit, but confirms the Government will continue to work with the devolved Administrations on these aspects.
It reiterates the Government’s intention to consult on a new, independent statutory body that would hold Government to account for upholding environmental standards in England; and to consult on the scope and content of a new policy statement to ensure environmental principles underpin policy making.
Key policy Areas: Using a ‘natural capital’ approach to protecting and enhancing the environment, by recognising its tangible and non-tangible economic benefits.
The establishment of a green business council to advise government on “environmental entrepreneuri- alism”. A natural environment impact fund is being mooted to support this which would use natural capital valuations; Introducing a principle of “environmental net gain” into planning decisions where wider natural capital benefits will be assessed as part of the planning process; Achieving zero avoidable plastic waste by the end of 2042 through a number of initiatives;
A commitment to reducing the risk of harm to people, the environment and the economy from natural hazards including flooding, drought and coastal erosion.
The aims for a post-Brexit sustainable fisheries policy, based on a natural capital approach; A new commitment to publishing an overarching chemicals strategy to set out the UK’s approach as it leaves the EU; Initial proposals for a new environmental land management system (based on paying public money for public ‘goods’ such as environmental enhancement), which will be set out in a Command Paper later this spring – a precursor to the Agriculture Bill which will set out post-Brexit support arrangements for farmers;
A target of ensuring the sustainable management of soil by 2030 and establishing sufficient data to understand the current state of soil health;
An aim to increase woodland in England in line with the aspiration of achieving 12% cover by 2060: this would involve planting 180,000 hectares by the end of 2042; and
A goal to mitigate and adapt to climate change by doing “what is necessary to adapt to the its effects”. The Government proposes to update the Plan at least every 5 years, and to report annually on progress to Parliament. A set of indicators will be developed to monitor progress.