Defra has published plans to set up a new body by December 2020 to oversee environmental law, which will monitor the UK’s compliance with its legal commitments on waste management.
Environment secretary Michael Gove announced his intention to set up the body in November last year, in order to replace EU reporting obligations which will vanish following Brexit.
Defra has confirmed that the body will not replace the Environment Agency.
The proposals are laid out in a consultation which runs until 2 August. This states that the UK will retain environmental commitments under the 1992 Rio Declaration and other multilateral agreements.
EU environmental laws currently required periodic implementation reports to be submitted to the EU Commission, including on waste.
The Government instead wants ministers to produce a “statutory and comprehensive policy statement” on how environmental law will be enacted and monitored.
The watchdog will provide “independent scrutiny and advice on existing and future government environmental law and policy”. It will also respond to complaints over the Government’s delivery of environmental law.
Gove said the Government would only achieve its environmental aims by setting up a “strong and objective voice that champions and enforces environmental standards”.
He added: “That’s why our Environmental Principles and Governance Bill will also create an independent and statutory watchdog. This will hold governments to account for delivering their commitments to the natural world.”
The Bill will be put before Parliament next year, with the new body being set up in December 2020. Before then, when the UK leaves the EU in 2019, EU environmental governance structures will continue to be applied.
Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee, Mary Creagh, criticised the Government for not taking action sooner.
She said: “Over a year ago, my Committee called for a new Environmental Protection Act to be in place before we leave the EU to avoid the risk of environmental harm from zombie legislation, no longer monitored, enforced or updated.
“The Government’s delays and failure to act sadly mean a strong new environmental protection agency will not be ready by March 2019.
“This is deeply disappointing and my committee will be pressing for this watchdog to have the teeth it needs to ensure the prime minister keeps her promises on the environment and sustainable development.”