Michael Gove has injected new life into his department’s delayed 25-year environment plan, and said the UK’s departure from the EU presented an “historic opportunity” to review policies, including that of waste.
The environment secretary delivered a wide-ranging keynote speech to the WWF in London, which included news of legislation to ban plastic microbeads in personal care products. He also announced the latest Defra figures showing a 83% fall in single-use plastic bags issued in England since the 5p charge was introduced in October 2015.
On the 25-year plan, Gove acknowledged impatience that it “had been longer in gestation than a baby elephant”, but said he wanted to make it as ambitious as possible.
“Critical to its success will be adopting as rigorous a methodology as possible to setting goals and reporting success or failure. Which is why I have written to Professor Dieter Helm, chair of the Natural Capital Committee (NCC), to ask his committee to draw up advice on what our plan should aim to achieve and how it should seek to do so.”
The NCC advises the Government on the sustainable use of natural assets including forests, rivers, land, minerals and oceans. Its remit also covers the benefits derived from food, recreation, clean water, hazard protection and clean air.
Gove went on: “It was of course the NCC which first made the case for a 25-year environment plan. I want to ensure that we use the insights of natural capital thinking and accounting to develop an approach which will help guide us in every area, from reforming support for agriculture to considering how we reform planning policy,” he said.
We have an opportunity, outside the EU, to design potentially more effective, more rigorous and more responsive institutions
He said the committee would provide its advice in September, “laying the ground for subsequent publication of our plan”, although no date was set.
The speech was titled The unfrozen moment – delivering a green Brexit , and the minister said the decision to leave the EU created new opportunities and challenges for the Government, “nowhere more so than in the area of environmental policy”.
“We now have an historic opportunity to review our policies on agriculture, on land use, on biodiversity, on woodlands, marine conservation, fisheries, pesticide licensing, chemical regulation, animal welfare, habitat management, waste, water purity, air quality and so much more.
“If we establish ourselves as the home of the highest environmental standards, the most rigorous science and the most ambitious institutions, then the world will look to us for environmental innovation and leadership.
“We already have much of the infrastructure in place …[and] thanks to the leadership of other colleagues in Government, developing expertise in new areas from ultra-low emission vehicles to waste management, supported by wise leadership from the ministerial team at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.”
On regulations, Gove said: “Inside the EU, the European Commission and the ECJ have provided enforcement mechanisms and, understandably, some are asking what could or should replace them.
”My view is that we have an opportunity, outside the EU, to design potentially more effective, more rigorous and more responsive institutions, new means of holding individuals and organisations to account for environmental outcomes.”