The Continuity Bill aims to fill gaps in laws as we exit the EU, but it must be strengthened to safeguard existing protections and unlock future action for nature. Isobel Mercer, Senior Policy Officer, tells us how.

New law must drive forward action to protect and restore nature

As we continue to face the uncertainty of Covid restrictions, it’s become clear that many people are finding support from nature, both physically and mentally. However, for others access to nature is limited, heightening the challenges of an already difficult situation. In addition, though we are increasingly recognising the importance of nature, we are seeing more and more reports about its destruction.

The Scottish Government has committed to deliver a Green Recovery and will be trying to carve out a space for themselves as an environmental leader in the 2021 Scottish Parliament elections and through to COP26 in Glasgow next year. However, they have a chance to act now.

At this critical juncture, the Scottish Government has an opportunity to put safeguards for nature in the Continuity Bill, currently going through the Scottish Parliament. These safeguards would preserve and protect the nature upon which we have come to rely, and empower Scotland to be a progressive policymaker on the environment in coming years.

lapwing in machair habitat

The Scottish Government have made repeated, and welcome, commitments to ‘maintain or exceed’ EU standards. However, the Continuity Bill, which aims to fill gaps in laws that would otherwise emerge as we exit the EU, is missing a clear commitment to preserve our existing environmental standards, so that we can build on these in the coming years.

Environmental standards, such as the pesticides that we use to farm, pollution controls and protections for species and habitats face an increasingly uncertain future across the UK. As the end of the EU transition period draws ever closer, environmental campaigners have raised fears that important standards will be traded away in the UK’s trade negotiations with other countries.

The Continuity Bill needs to ensure that despite these external pressures, Scotland does not take a backwards step right when we need urgent action, and continues to have high standards for protecting nature.

While the Continuity Bill creates ‘keeping pace powers’ that will allow Scotland to remain aligned with EU law after exit, they don’t go far enough. It is left up to Scottish Ministers to decide whether to use them, and there has been no clarity about what areas the Scottish Government might choose to align with.

redshank

That’s why RSPB Scotland has joined 37 other environmental charities in the Fight for Scotland’s Nature, which is calling for an overall purpose to be added to the Bill. This would clarify that the Scottish Government should use the ‘keeping pace powers’, where possible, to maintain and advance standards in areas such as environmental protection, animal health and welfare, equality, human rights and social protection. 

You can help us by writing to your MSP, asking them to vote for amendments to the Continuity Bill that will:

  • ensure Scotland maintains alignment with high EU environmental standards
  • strengthen the new watchdog’s independence from government
  • empower the new watchdog to take enforcement action on complaints about individual decisions affecting people’s environment

These amendments are vital for ensuring that we don’t take a backwards step, right when we most need to be taking action to protect and restore the nature that we rely on.

Find out more about how you can join the Fight for Scotland’s Nature here: https://www.fightforscotlandsnature.scot/action

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