Johnson looks set to prioritise “getting Brexit done” during his first few days within his new majority and while that will have huge ramifications for UK green policy, there are also a few other areas that the Prime Minister needs to address immediately in order to boost business confidence in delivering a net-zero economy by 2050.
So, what should be at the top of the Tories’ bulging in-tray of green policy issues?
1) Future-proof post-Brexit environmental standard loopholes
As mentioned, Johnson will look to pass his “oven-baked” Brexit deal, before Christmas, including a raft of changes that would alter 40 years of EU environmental regulations.
Part of the Withdrawal Agreement on the departure from the EU customs union and the laws that it enforces is a new regulatory system that the UK will need to stick to as part of any future trade deals with EU nations. This has been called a “level playing field”.
This would require the UK to conform to EU standards on environmental policies and others as part of a trade deal, but the UK has no legal obligation to maintain current standards if no trade deal is agreed, this has already sparked concern that the UK could renegade on environmental standards in pursuit of other trade deals, notably with the US. This includes directives on industrial emissions, transport emissions – including a variety of rules on Euro 5, 6 and 7 vehicles – waste, and biodiversity.
The Prime Minister needs to immediately address concerns that the UK could renegade these standards in pursuit of short-term trade deals. Ideally, the approved deal that eventually passes through Government has mechanisms in place for an independent body – notably the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) – to ensure that environmental standards aren’t relaxed and are improved upon as the UK nears its net-zero target deadline.
Earlier this year, a coalition of almost 40 environmental organisations including Greenpeace, WWF UK and ClientEarth called for the Draft Environment Bill to be altered, to ensure that the public can request disclosure from the UK’s post-Brexit watchdog.
Speaking of the Environment Bill…