Environmental law is a sustainable investment

A recent report by the UK’s Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) demonstrates the value of a smart and well enforced environmental legal corpus. The report covers 428 sets of regulations overseen by DEFRA, of which 53% are derived from EU or international law, the rest being national legislation.

As stated in the report “Emerging Findings from Defra’s Regulation Assessment - First update covering 2012”, which was published in February, “[t]he assessment found that the sum of estimated direct cost to business was £6bn and that estimated direct benefits to business are £2bn p.a., giving an estimated net cost to business of £4bn p.a. The direct cost to business (£6bn) is made up of policy costs (86%) and admin burden (14%). Policy costs are the substantive costs of achieving the regulations’ results and the admin burdens are the cost to business associated with information obligations such as filling in forms and keeping records. EU and international regulations account for 79% of the estimated (£6bn) direct cost to business. Direct costs to other parties, which is mainly public expenditure, are just above £1bn p.a.”, 

In 2012, the environmental section of the UK Government’s “Red Tape Challenge” initiative, led by DEFRA, had attracted much criticism for potentially threatening the country’s environmental acquis. According to environmental groups, such as WWF UK, its declared aim to “free up business and society from the burden of excessive regulation” was welcome. However, under the pressure of the economic crisis, focus seemed to be placed on removing environmental safeguards that are deemed as “burden” on businesses. Concerns were already fuelled by the fact that the UK Government supports a deregulatory environmental agenda both at the national and the EU level.

Although the Red Tape Challenge was primarily aimed at reducing the cost of environmental regulations on businesses, DEFRA also included the benefits to society and health in its assessment: “In terms of the value of the benefits generated, where currently monetised, these are estimated at about £10bn p.a. and accrue to parties other than business. These are the benefits to society more widely, and include financial savings to government, environmental benefits and health benefits. The picture for these benefits to parties other than business more widely is partial; estimates are based on 13 of the 17 policy areas. Further, within those policy areas the benefits for only some of the regulations have been assessed.

Read more: DEFRA reportWWF’s CrisisWatch



UK "red tape challenge" questions environmental regulations

The environmental section of the UK Government’s “Red Tape Challenge” initiative, led by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), has caused much criticism for threatening the country’s environmental acquis. According to environmental groups, such as WWF UK, DEFRA’s declared aim to “free up business and society from the burden of excessive regulation” is welcome. However, under the pressure of the present economic crisis, focus seems to be placed on removing environmental safeguards that are deemed as “burden” on businesses.

Particular policy themes that have raised heated controversy between environmental groups and DEFRA include the implementation of the EU’s Habitats Directive and the REACH Regulation.

According to WWF UK’s solicitor Carol Day: "The Red Tape Challenge suggests that the Habitats Directive Regulations were a 'burden on business', but when we asked Defra we were told that the review received no submissions to substantiate that point and found no evidence of delays to decision-making or gold-plating. It is therefore puzzling, in the least, to see that reference.

It is too early to give a definitive answer on whether this shake up will leave the UK's precious habitats and species more vulnerable or not. What is still not clear however is precisely what problem this exercise was supposed to be solving. We have yet to see anything that demonstrates that these regulations were a burden to business".

On the REACH Regulation, DEFRA announced that “We are also changing the way that REACH is implemented in the UK, so that businesses will no longer need to remove asbestos from second-hand articles before selling them.  This is line with Health and Safety Executive Guidance and will prevent unnecessary risk to human health and the environment by disturbing the source of asbestos.  This is anticipated to save businesses £29 million a year.”

Read more: WWF UK on the Red Tape Challenge, DEFRA (Red Tape Challenge – Environment Theme proposals)



July-August 2014 editorial

As Europe’s response to the economic crisis is now having a clear impact on environmental and social policies across most of Europe and the EU at large, overexploiting the natural environment is seen by troubled member states as a quick-fix solution for rapid economic recovery. The oil & gas frenzy that dominates the development agenda in many Mediterranean states and threatens natural treasures of global significance, environmental deregulation, backsliding of the EU from its own forward-looking green policies, are signs of these dire times of austerity and political paralysis in facing the dismal reality of the non-ending economic crisis.

WWF knows that the EU is wasting a crisis that signals the need for good change.


UK cuts support to renewables

by Anna Chrysopoulou - Through a new support scheme, the UK Government is reducing the financial support to renewable energies, while at the same time maintaining the subsidies to conventional energy.

In July 2014, the UK announced a new subsidy scheme titled “Contracts for Difference” (CfDs), which sets a ceiling of £200 million a year on subsidies to large-scale installations of renewable energy sources. Most affected by the new scheme will be wind, solar farms and biomass. The subsidy will be divided among three sets of renewable sources, the more established technologies, such as onshore wind and solar energy, less established technologies, such as offshore wind energy, and biomass conversion. Companies will have to compete for the available money in their sector. 


Economic recession results in CO2 emissions cuts

An EU-wide 1.3% reduction in CO2 emissions between 2011 and 2012 marks the lowest recorded annual greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) since 1990: 19.2%. This brings the EU very close to the achievement of the 2020 emissions reduction target by 20%. Despite however the euphoria that this downward trend may generate, the main reductions are attributed to lower industrial activity and transport, primarily in crisis-stricken member states. Increased emissions since the previous year were recorded in the United Kingdom (3.2%), Germany (1.1%), Ireland (1.4%) and Malta (3.7%).


UK Government sacrifices green commitments on the altar of the crisis

According to Environment Secretary Owen Paterson, the UK’s famed policy of green belts that control urban sprawl will be questioned and revised, in response to the need for development. Secretary Paterson stated to the BBC’s Radio Four, in November, that: “[o]ur planning reforms are clear – that we want to see sustainable growth, but we are clear that we cannot freeze the country in aspic”.

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