MPs have kept up pressure on the government to set up a new enforcement body to uphold air quality targets and other environmental obligations post-Brexit.
The Environmental Audit Committee, a cross-part panel of MPs tasked with scrutinising the government’s environmental policies, has claimed that ministers have offered a ‘worrying lack of detail’ as to how future environmental obligations will be achieved.
In a report published today, the Committee calls for government to establish a new independent body, modelled on the National Audit Office, to ensure that enforcement and oversight functions carried out by the European Commission and European Court of Justice, are maintained after Brexit.
The Committee’s findings come several months after the European Commission confirmed it will pursue legal action against the UK and several other EU member states over failure to meet legal air quality obligations.
Some environmentalists fear that without a new body with similar enforcement powers as the Commission, the UK could fail to be held to account for missing other environmental obligations in future. Government is currently consulting on the establishment of an enforcement body for environmental laws, but it is not known what powers this could have.
The Committee has also criticised government’ 25 Year Environment Plan for a ‘lack of clarity’ as to how future targets will be met.
EAC has recommended setting legally-binding targets on key environmental indicators – with five yearly action reports along the model of the 2008 Climate Change Act.
It recommends that the government brings forward details on targets, implementation, governance and funding before the publication of its draft Environmental Principles and Governance Bill, which is expected to be passed before the UK leaves the EU.
Labour MP, Mary Creagh, the chair of the Audit Committee, said: “If we want a world-leading environment we need a world-leading environmental watchdog. But in recent months the government has been referred to the EU’s highest court for failing to tackle illegal levels of air pollution in the UK. We are facing a biodiversity crisis and risk losing iconic species like the hedgehog.
“The government’s 25 Year Plan is high on ambitions, but low on milestones. The government has more experience of getting rid of environmental watchdogs than of setting them up.
“We want an Environmental Governance and Principles Act that sets legally-binding targets and creates a new Environmental Enforcement and Audit Office to measure progress and enforce this new law.
“The government needs to set out detailed delivery and funding proposals for the Plan and departments across Whitehall need to commit to its ambitions, rather than trying to water them down behind the scenes.â€?