A year from today, the UK will cease to be a member of the EU.
We’re facing a potential ‘cliff edge’ in terms of environmental governance – the means by which we ensure our environmental legislation is properly enforced – and the clock is ticking. This is why, with our partners in Greener UK, we are today launching a call to arms to governments across the UK.
Under the legislation and governance arrangements offered by the European Union, we have managed to protect sites and restore some threatened species, but action has been insufficient to stem the losses. For the UK Government to realise its ambition of restoring nature in a generation, before exiting the European Union, it must take action maintain and bolster existing levels of environmental protection and governance. That is why, with our partners in Greener UK, we're calling on the Westminster Government, in particular, to commit to a Environment Act. This would enshrine in law ambitious and measurable goals for nature’s recovery, strong principles and the ‘world-leading environmental watchdog’ promised by Michael Gove back in January.
We’ll come back to each of these asks in future blogs. For now, I’d like to introduce our England Director, Chris Corrigan, on the crucial issue of four country cooperation for nature’s recovery.
Gannet by Danny Green (rspb-images.com)
“As regular readers of Martin’s blog will know all too well, nature knows no borders. Our membership of the EU has held all four countries of the UK to the same environmental laws and governance, so close cooperation and common standards have been hard-wired. When we leave the EU for the sake of nature that knows no borders, we will need to establish new processes to ensure this close collaboration continues.
That’s why we have been working with colleagues across the four countries of the UK to better understand how our nations might collaborate to tackle the governance gap for nature in 2019. This text below signed by RSPB directors for the four countries of the UK explains our thinking so far, and calls upon the governments in the UK countries to move forward together.” Chris Corrigan, England Director, RSPB
The four nations of the UK are home to a diverse and special set of species and habitats. Each country has its own iconic landscapes and seascapes to celebrate and protect, from mountains, woods and moors to sea cliffs, sea caves and reefs. However, nature does not recognise political boundaries. Rivers, mountains and seas naturally cross borders and many of our most threatened species regularly move between the four nations and beyond. Likewise, actions in any one country can have far-reaching impacts on nature elsewhere. We all have a responsibility to protect and restore our shared natural heritage for current and future generations to enjoy. And we can only achieve this by working together.
Powers to manage our natural environment (including our agriculture and fisheries) are largely devolved to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. However, environmental legislation across all four nations is currently guided by common EU frameworks such as the overarching environmental standards that the UK as a whole is bound by as an EU Member State. For very good reason the EU has promoted cooperation and collaboration on transboundary environmental issues that affect us all – including for the protection of our wildlife.
There are many reasons why this cooperation and collaboration must continue. Our natural environment faces huge challenges – including pollution of our rivers, air and seas, the alarming decline of some of our most important and iconic species and the growing impacts of climate change. These challenges will not be easily overcome, but we stand a far better chance if we work together across the UK and beyond, ensuring that standards remain high, that species and habitats are effectively protected as they move between countries, and that our laws are effectively enforced.
A healthy future for our natural world requires robust, independent and well-resourced institutions to hold all our governments and public bodies to account. Currently, EU institutions play a vital role in upholding environmental standards across the four nations. For example, they allow individuals and NGOs to raise concerns about how our environmental legislation is being implemented and enforced – providing the environment with a voice on the ground. Without a suitable set of replacement institutions, our exit from the EU will create a serious ‘governance gap’ across the four nations.
Thankfully, the importance of filling this governance gap has now been recognised to a greater or lesser extent by all four nations. For example, the governments in Cardiff Bay, Holyrood, and Westminster have all committed to bringing forward proposals to fill this gap in their respective jurisdictions. It remains to be seen how these proposals will achieve the collaboration and coordination necessary to ensure effective enforcement of our environmental legislation across the UK as a whole.
We are calling on the governments of our four nations to work together for nature’s recovery. We need them to rapidly agree a process for co-designing new shared frameworks and robust and coordinated environmental governance mechanisms. This will ensure that all of us can work effectively for the benefit of nature, no matter where in the UK we are.
A letter from you could encourage your Ministers to collaborate with their counterparts in the other nations. Please follow these links to find out more and how to contact your relevant Ministers:
Chris Corrigan, RSPB England Director; Anne McCall, RSPB Scotland Director; Joanne Sherwood, RSPB Northern Ireland Director; Katie-Jo Luxton, RSPB Cymru Director.
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