August 24, 2017

Scotland and Wales Environment Ministers Band Together on Brexit Strategy

Environment ministers from the two nations pledge to work together to protect devolved green agendas

Environment ministers from Scotland and Wales have promised to work together on Brexit amid fears the UK government's approach to withdrawal could hamper their climate agendas.

Scottish Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham met yesterday with her Welsh counterpart Lesley Griffiths in Cardiff to discuss their concerns over the EU Withdrawal Bill, which is designed to translate EU law into the UK statute book.

They claim the Bill will impose a UK-wide framework of legislation that will hold back devolved nations from moving faster on climate issues than the rest of the country.

Around 80 per cent of Scottish environmental law has been handed down from EU level, and the country's government is fearful that if this EU law is converted into UK law it will result in a removal of powers from the devolved nation.

Cunningham accused the government of staging a "power grab" that will impose UK-wide green strategies on Wales and Scotland.

"Imposing a UK-wide framework for the environment risks undermining the significant progress Scotland has made, which has seen us win international recognition for our work on climate change and the circular economy," she said in a statement.

"We are not opposed in principle to UK-wide frameworks in certain areas but this must be through agreement - not imposition.

"Protecting devolution will allow us to drive forward our ambitious work to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, enhance environmental standards and create a cleaner, greener Scotland for everyone," she concluded.

Both the Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones have voiced similar fears in recent weeks, complaining it is unclear which powers repatriated from the EU would be handed back to devolved nations.

Scotland and Wales both outperform or have more ambitious green targets in some areas compared to the wider UK. For example, in Wales the average household recycling rate is 63 per cent and rising while England's is flat-lining at 44 per cent, making the UK almost guaranteed to miss its 2020 recycling target of 50 per cent.

Meanwhile Scotland is powering ahead with renewable energy, now regularly generating enough green electricity to power more than 100 per cent of its households. Its Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009 also sets a target to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 42 per cent by 2020, compared to a UK-wide target of 34 per cent.

Wales' Griffiths warned the UK government's Withdrawal Bill risks significantly undermining this climate progress. "Our approach has not been about trading off agriculture and the environment, it's about both," she said. "You can't have one without the other. The Bill as it stands has the potential to seriously impact on this approach by locking us into an outdated framework while also removing our ability to bring forward reforms. 

"This is why, like Scotland, we want EU powers in devolved areas to come straight to Wales.  Welcoming my Scottish counterpart to Wales today will allow us to continue to work together to develop a strong future which benefits everyone," she added.

But the UK government insisted Scotland and Wales will not lose any powers as a result of Brexit, and reiterated its commitment to use the UK's withdrawal from the EU to forge new opportunities to boost the UK's environmental policies.  

"The Repeal Bill will ensure that existing EU environmental law continues to have effect in UK law after exit," a spokesman said. "We have also been clear that the Repeal Bill will not take away any decision making powers from the devolved administrations."

He continued: "We have already begun detailed discussions with the Scottish and Welsh governments and their views will play an important part in helping shape our exit from the EU. It's our expectation that the outcome of these discussions will be a significant increase in the decision making power of each devolved administration."

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