Scottish Environment LINK, a coalition of Scotland’s leading environmental charities, has today welcomed initial improvements to the Scottish Government’s EU Continuity Bill, which delivers crucial post-Brexit environmental protections, including an environment watchdog.
From 1 January 2021, the EU’s world-renowned environmental protections will no longer apply to Scotland. The Scottish Government’s EU Continuity Bill seeks to establish a new environment watchdog to protect Scotland’s nature going forward, but campaigners have warned that major omissions mean the Bill must urgently be strengthened.
MSPs voted for several key amendments to the Bill this week (Tuesday 24 November and Wednesday 25 November) to increase the independence of Scotland’s new environment watchdog, Environmental Standards Scotland (ESS). The legislation now requires members of the watchdog’s board to have environmental expertise and Ministers have also agreed to discuss further changes that ensure that ESS has sufficient funding, and that this sufficiency is subject to parliamentary scrutiny ahead of the final vote on legislation in December. These changes will increase the watchdog’s independence from Scottish Ministers, heeding the concerns raised by thousands of supporters of the Fight for Scotland’s Nature campaign.
MSPs also secured commitments from the Scottish Government to discuss and seek to agree new measures in December to ensure Scotland’s process of maintaining alignment with the EU (the so-called ‘keeping pace’ power) secures high environmental standards. The Fight for Scotland’s Nature campaign has said that these new measures will be vital for ensuring that Scotland can be a progressive leader on the environment in the future and that there will be no backsliding in protections for nature.
However, Scottish Environment LINK has expressed concern that vital amendments to empower the watchdog to take enforcement action on individual complaints about environmental damage raised by citizens have not received government support. Without these changes to the draft legislation, people in Scotland are at risk of losing access to environmental justice once the UK leaves the EU at the end of 2020.
Vhairi Tollan, Advocacy Manager at Scottish Environment LINK, said:
As part of our EU membership, Scottish citizens have enjoyed rights to raise complaints about cases of environmental damage and have the EU watchdog investigate and take steps to enforce changes. However, similar powers are not included in the Scottish Government’s proposal for a new Scottish watchdog. Environmental Standards Scotland would be unable to take enforcement action on individual complaints, raising concern that we will lose this crucial means of accessing environmental justice at the end of 2020. At a time when 1 in 9 Scottish species is at risk of extinction in Scotland, key changes to the Continuity Bill must be made ahead of MSPs’ final vote in December to ensure Scotland’s new watchdog is a credible and robust enforcer of environmental protections.