UK needs Office for Environmental Responsibility: audit

THE UK needs an Office for Environmental Responsibility to keep the government honest, says a Parliamentary committee.

Richard Collins

The Environmental Audit Committee issued a scorecard that found "none of the 10 environmental areas we have examined is satisfactory progress being made", with particular concern around biodiversity, air pollution and flooding.

Committee chair Joan Walley said: “Our inquiry provides a wide ranging examination of the state of the environment and shows that further and continued effort is required to protect it properly. A dedicated, wide-ranging environmental strategy is needed, overseen by a new Office for Environmental Responsibility to ensure the Government meets the requirements to protect human health and the natural world.”

The office would review the proposed environment strategy; advise on appropriate targets, policies, and resourcing; and monitor and publish performance.

The committee said the application of environmental policy levers has been piecemeal, without any overarching system for identifying how different approaches might best be used to protect different areas of the environment. Fiscal measures in particular have been little used.

An environment strategy would, among other things, map appropriate policies and set out a clear statement on the place of regulation, public engagement and fiscal incentives.

"Such a strategy should involve, for example, a reconsideration of the scope for greater hypothecation of environmental taxes to support expenditure on environmental protection programs."

The government should also strengthen systems focused on embedding sustainable development and extend them to explicitly address environmental and natural capital risks. Specifically, it should renew its program for auditing and improving departments' compliance with impact assessment and policy evaluation guidelines, and include in the review of departments' business plans an explicit scrutiny of potential environmental harms.

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