The Interim Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) has published its advice on Defra’s draft environmental principles policy statement, following a request from Environment Minister Rebecca Pow.
The Government recently consulted on the draft legally binding statement covering five environmental principles that ministers have a duty to be guided by when making policy.
The Interim OEP welcomes the statement as an important step towards implementing the Environment Bill following Royal Assent.
However, we recommend the draft policy statement is strengthened in a number of areas to ensure that protecting and enhancing the environment lies at the heart of future policy across government.
Key recommendations include:
- Structure – We recommend that Defra looks again at the structure of the policy statement to ensure it avoids any unintended consequences. Policy-makers should apply the principles in all cases where doing so would be beneficial, and avoid applying them too late in policy development to be effective.
- Proportionality – We recommend that Defra revisits the proposed approach to proportionality to promote a less restrictive approach. The weight to be afforded to environmental effects in this balancing exercise needs to be fully clear.
- Integration principle – We recommend Defra revisits the approach to the integration principle to ensure it genuinely helps deliver joined-up policy-making and is consistent with the approach taken elsewhere in international and domestic law.
- Implementation – In our view the draft policy statement lacks sufficiently detailed guidance to support policy-makers across government implement it thoroughly and consistently. We recommend that Defra provides greater guidance within and alongside the policy statement. This should include better integration of the policy statement with government’s environmental goals, such as those in the 25 Year Environment Plan, and with the natural capital guidance set out in the Green Book. It should also consider the arrangements in place within government to oversee policy statement implementation across government.
Interim OEP Chair Dame Glenys Stacey and CEO Natalie Prosser will present evidence at a joint Environment Audit Committee and Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee hearing today (7 July), which will focus on the progress in establishing the OEP, and how the Interim OEP intends to exercise its functions including its function to provide advice.
Natalie Prosser said: “I would like to express our strong support for the Government’s aim to put the wellbeing of our natural environment at the heart of policy-making.
“As the Government seeks to build back better and play a leading environmental role globally ahead of COP26, there are such important benefits to be reaped should policy-making across all departments embrace and live by these principles.
“From focusing on opportunities to deliver a greener future to expanding how the precautionary principle is applied, we believe the draft statement must be strengthened in a number of key areas if it is to fully embrace these ambitions and deliver the benefits envisaged.”
The Interim OEP was established on 1 July, when the Board met near its headquarters in Worcester to consider how to deliver the ambitions of improved environmental governance, set out in the Environment Bill.
The Interim OEP aims to report on progress against the 25 Year Environment Plan by the end of the year, ahead of the OEP being formally established once the Environment Bill becomes law.