I had just arrived in Durham for the first day of the RSPB’s (excellent) reserves’ conference when I heard two bits of significant and related news.
First, Defra announced more detail about the proposed Environment Bill and responses to six consultations including some firm positions on various issues including net gain and conservation covenants.
And then, within the hour, it was confirmed that Boris Johnson was the new leader of the Conservative Party and, as of tomorrow, will be our new Prime Minister.
Inevitably, in a period of political transition there are loads of questions swirling around, but on the environment the key ones are…
…will Mr Johnson embrace the commitment made by Theresa May to ensure the UK become the first major economy to set a net zero carbon emissions target?
…will he set in motion potentially ground-breaking legislation in the draft Environment Bill?
…will he avoid a no-deal Brexit?
Mr Johnson’s views on Brexit are clear. He has said that he will seek a new deal with the EU before the 31 October deadline and if he isn’t successful, he has pledged that the UK will leave without one.
In a previous blog, I set out why the RSPB and many other environmental NGOs believe that ‘no deal’ would be very bad news for the environment…
…future environmental standards and legislation would be at risk
…there would be a significant gap in the enforcement of environmental law across the UK
…we would be without a framework for environmental co-operation with our near neighbours thereby reducing our ability to work together on transboundary environmental issues which would be particularly problematic on the island of Ireland
…there would be further pressure to weaken domestic environmental standards (especially for farming and land use sectors) due to a sudden change in the UK’s trade arrangements. This could lead to an increase in the UK’s global environmental footprint
In short, ‘no deal’ would create enormous environmental uncertainty and could severely compromise the UK Government’s pledge to restore the environment in a generation.
Mr Johnson has praised his party’s record on environmental improvements but the actions he takes as Prime Minister will shape the environmental record of the whole country. A commitment to include legally binding targets for nature’s recovery in the Bill, noticeably missing from Defra’s announcement yesterday, would be a great start.
And finally, here is a quick critique of the Defra proposals provided by my colleagues who have looked at the detail of yesterday’s announcements…
Image of a cliff edge at Eastern Moors, a joint RSPB-National Trust nature reserve, courtesy of Colin Wilkinson's image (rspb-images.com)
I wouldn’t dare say what I think about Boris Johnson on this forum, as I know the RSPB has to be politically neutral!
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