Given the overwhelming public support for action the new Programme for Government falls short of expectations. A recent survey undertaken by Survation on behalf of Scottish Environment LINK, a coalition of Scotland’s leading environmental charities has found that as many as 84% of Scots want the same or higher levels of environmental standards in the event of Brexit.
The Scottish Government’s 2019-2020 Programme for Government, launched today (3 September), has a strong climate emergency theme – with the need to act centre stage. A Circular Economy Bill, a Good Food Nation Bill, a strategic, climate friendly approach to land use and the inclusion of environmental principles in the Continuity Bill are all welcome.
However, it has failed to detail concrete steps that will give Scotland’s environment adequate protection from Brexit, if and when, we leave the EU. The proposals for effective and proportional governance do not detail what is intended and if this will include an independent watchdog. It is not proposed to underpin the Environment Strategy in statute or set legally binding objectives or targets for nature recovery. We cannot fully meet the climate emergency without tackling the nature crisis too. This is a missed opportunity, which is disappointing in an otherwise very welcome Programme.
At present, as much as 80 per cent of Scotland’s environmental protections stem from EU membership. This is why environmental charities in Scotland have launched an urgent bid under the campaign Fight for Scotland’s Nature for Scotland to have its own Environment Act. This will help to ensure that Brexit does not unravel crucial environment protections at a time when 1 in 11 species in Scotland is at risk of extinction.
Together, the charities are pushing for the needs of Scotland’s world-renowned nature not to be lost in the chaos around Brexit and for the Scottish Government to commit to protecting Scotland’s environment better, now and in the future. They want to see vital EU environmental principles embedded in Scots law; it is welcome that this is now to be included in the proposed Continuity Bill. For this to be meaningful they are also calling for the creation of an independent environmental watchdog and legally binding targets for the recovery and protection of Scotland’s nature. While governance measures are mentioned, these are not detailed.
The First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has said her government intends to legislate for environmental principles for Scotland and set out new arrangements for enforcing environmental protections. However, today’s Programme for Government does not state when such measures might be introduced, or whether there will be a watchdog with the power to hold Ministers to account on environmental performance.
Charles Dundas, Chair of Scottish Environment LINK, said today:
“I am pleased to see the grand swell of public opinion that more should be done to protect Scotland’s precious environment from the major threats it is facing. The climate and nature emergencies are intrinsically linked and must be tackled together, which is something the First Minister has also recognised. As such, we’d have liked to see a strong Environment Act for Scotland and an ambitious and consistent approach to nature recovery. With Brexit potentially a matter of weeks away, it is now beyond urgent that the government sets out detailed plans. Although we’d have liked to see more detail on governance and a legally binding strategy, it is very welcome to see the emphasis placed on addressing climate change, a Circular Economy and a Good Food Nation Bill.”
EU environmental protections are among the strongest in the world and year on year Scotland’s nature has hugely benefitted from these. However, Brexit and a rapid decline in the health of our environment here and across the world mean that urgent action is now required.
He added: “We welcome the First Minister’s reiteration of the commitment to maintain standards, but this needs to be supported by strong governance. The most glaring gap is the lack of proposals for a watchdog. Unless we can create a well-resourced and genuinely independent body to monitor and scrutinise environmental laws, policies and practice, with the ability to impose penalties, these protections will have little worth.”
On the circular economy, Matthew Crighton, Convenor of LINK’s Economics Group, said:
“It’s positive that there will be a Circular Economy Bill brought to Parliament. Creating a circular economy is an essential part of reducing greenhouse gas emissions as well as one of the best ways to reduce the damage which we are doing to nature. However, to ‘embed an innovative approach to reducing, reusing and recycling materials’ it will have to do more than increase recycling rates or reduce the flow of waste to landfill – the entire system needs to be transformed, starting with designing out waste and designing in re-use and the right to repair. The Programme for Government doesn’t mention setting targets for reducing our resource footprints but we are still hoping to see ambitious targets in this Bill.
(1) Scottish Environment LINK is the forum for Scotland’s voluntary environment community, with over 35 member bodies representing a broad spectrum of environmental interests with the common goal of contributing to a more environmentally sustainable society.
LINK is a Scottish Charity (SC000296) and a Scottish Company Limited by guarantee (SC250899). LINK is core funded by Membership Subscriptions and by grants from Scottish Natural Heritage, Scottish Government and Charitable Trusts
2) People aged 16+ and living in Scotland were interviewed via online panel. Data was weighted to the profile of all Scottish people aged 16+. Data was weighted by age, sex, region and 2016 Scottish Parliamentary constituency vote.
Targets for the weighted data were derived from Office of National Statistics data and the results of the 2016 Scottish Parliamentary election.
(3) More information about the Fight For Scotland’s Nature campaign can be found at www.fightforscotlandsnature.scot