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What leaving the EU means for Scotland’s environment.

Banner image for Developing an Environmental Strategy for Scotland

Within the Programme for Government 2018-19, the Scottish Government committed to developing an environmental strategy for Scotland that sets out their vision, ambitions and planned future activities on the environment. On 12 March, I attended a stakeholder engagement consultation to discuss this strategy, organised by the Scottish Government.

Valley with a Low Sunset

Why consult now?

80% of our domestic environmental law in Scotland is derived from EU Law and EU policy and is developed from four environmental principles enshrined in Article 191(2) of the Treaty of the Functioning of the European Union. As a result of the referendum on Europe, the current EU law will still apply but without action here in Scotland following the referendum, the EU environmental principles (like many other policies) will cease to have any legal force over the development of policy and law in Scotland.

What are the four environmental principles?

These are the four principles taken from the European Treaty. They are:

  1. The Precautionary Principle – this means the absence of full scientific certainty is not a reason to postpone measures to prevent an environmental threat.
  2. The Polluter Pays Principle – the polluter has to pay the cost of pollution control and remediation.
  3. The Prevention Principle – Mitigation means we can avoid environmental damage in advance.
  4. The Rectification at Source Principle – Action should be taken to rectify environmental damage at source.

The Scottish Government intend for any future duty in Scotland to include these four principles.

Human Rights: the right to a clean environment

Following the endorsement of a Human Rights Framework in Scotland in December of last year, the link between human rights and environmental protection has been established and acknowledged. This is a positive move and the Scottish Government intends to consider the creation of these rights with respect to the environment through a national taskforce. This is an expansion to the current duty and will facilitate a more engaging discussion across civic society in Scotland on the world in which we live on a daily basis.

Governance arrangements

Once we leave the EU, there will be no scrutiny from the European Commission on whether environmental actions and objectives are being met in the UK. In addition, the datasets and knowledge holdings that we currently access from across Europe for comparator studies on the environment will be reduced substantially.

To protect this scrutiny, the Scottish Government appear to be moving towards the establishment of a new body that would carry out the scrutiny and assessment of this data and would be independent of the Scottish Government. This body would be set up in a similar vein to the Scottish Information Commissioner. There is also a shift to expand reporting so it includes data on collective behavioural change across communities and businesses. This will have data protection implications and I imagine a new independent body would be charged with considering these implications early on. The shift towards measuring behavioural change as an output is also discussed within the current consultation on the Scottish Climate Change Adaptation Programme for 2019-2024 which is open for responses up to 9 April 2019.

In a sense, the EU exit has given the Government the opportunity to localise these activities and concentrate the debate at a local as well as a national level. However the issue of ‘how are we doing on the environment’ will remain, as well as the challenge of how we answer this question given that we will no longer have automatic access to the full data available from across Europe.

The consultation is available on the consultation hub, and is open for responses up to 11 May 2019.