Welsh Government should set out its post-Brexit vision for protecting our environment
The Welsh Government should take a lead and set out its vision for how we will protect our environment in the future, according to the National Assembly's Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee.
For over 40 years, the European Union has played an important role in helping tackle environmental challenges, such as air pollution, decline in biodiversity and climate change.
The vast majority of the UK's environmental laws and policies are based on EU laws. This is because, as a Member State, the UK is bound to apply EU environmental laws.
These laws and policies are shaped by four core principles:
- the 'prevention principle';
- the 'precautionary principle';
- the 'polluter pays principle'; and
- the 'rectification at source principle'.
As well as developing environmental laws and policies, EU institutions act as a watchdog to ensure that Member States, including the UK, comply with these laws. Failure to do so can lead to hefty financial penalties for government.
On leaving the EU, its system of 'environmental governance' will no longer apply in the UK. As the environment is a devolved area of responsibility, it will be for the Welsh Government to decide on whether, and how, to replace this system.
The Committee's report considers the Government's proposed approach, which includes legislating to address 'gaps' in environmental principles and in governance arrangements.
"With current and future environmental challenges at the top of the global political agenda, it is more important than ever for Wales to continue to play its part in protecting and improving the environment," said Mike Hedges AM, Chair of the Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee.
"Membership of the EU has helped drive up environmental standards, and has been a catalyst for environmental improvements. The Welsh Government must ensure that Wales can successfully build on this following the UK's exit from the EU.
"To do this, a new and robust system of environmental governance will be needed, one that can rise to meet the environmental challenges we face now and in the future."
"Our report sets out in detail our thinking on a post-Brexit governance system that will ensure the Welsh Government fulfils its commitment to non-regression, and demonstrate to Wales' global partners its continuing commitment to environmental protection and improvement."
The Committee makes 26 recommendations including:
- The Welsh Government's future Bill to address the environmental principles and governance gaps post-Brexit should include an overarching objective to secure a high level of environmental protection within which the environmental principles are framed. All four core environmental principles, as well as a new 'non-regression' principle, should be listed in the Bill.
- Any new environmental governance body for Wales must be fully independent of the Welsh Government. It must be appointed by, and accountable to, the National Assembly; audited by the Auditor General for Wales; and funded through the Welsh Consolidated Fund.
- Any new governance body must be able to receive substantive complaints from citizens on breaches, or potential breaches, of environmental law.
- The Welsh Government should clarify what monitoring and reporting requirements will be in place post-Brexit to support the effective oversight and scrutiny of the implementation of environmental law post-Brexit.
- The Welsh Government should develop proposals for a fining system to support the effective enforcement of environmental law post-Brexit.
The report will now be considered by the Welsh Government.
Environmental principles and governance post-Brexit report