Defra must improve environmental monitoring post-Brexit, says audit office

Defra’s methods of measuring its environmental performance need to be improved if its 25-year environmental plan is to be realised, the National Audit Office (NAO) has announced.

In a report released today, the NAO said that while aspects of how the government tracks its environmental goals are positive, on the whole, it has not acted on weaknesses the NAO identified in its approach back in 2015.

With the EU undertaking most of the environmental monitoring in the UK, the UK’s environmental protections risk ‘being diluted’ after Brexit unless the government puts ‘robust’ measuring and monitoring processes in place, the parliamentary auditor commented.

While the government is planning to introduce new metrics to assess its progress, as well as a new environmental watchdog – the Office of Environmental Protection (OEP) – to fill in after Brexit, the NAO warned that Defra must do more to set accountabilities for performance and ensure the watchdog’s independence.

Amyas Morse, the head of the NAO, said: ‘Robust performance data and transparent reporting is essential for Parliament and the public to hold government to account on its ambition to improve the natural environment within a generation. Government’s new system of environmental metrics could transform its approach.’

‘But the critical tests will be whether all parts of government actually use this information to monitor progress and take action, and whether the new environmental watchdog has the ‘teeth’ to play its part effectively.’

While the NAO reported that the UK is faring well globally when it comes to reporting its climate change progress – such as its metrics on greenhouse gas emissions – it found that much of its data is not being kept up-to-date with a third of its published information at least three years old.

The body also warned that Defra has not done enough to engage other parts of government that have a significant impact on the natural environment such as transport, business and local government.

‘There is no clear, single point of ownership for performance as a whole across government on the 25-year Environment Plan and more work is needed to embed environmental metrics into government’s core planning and performance monitoring,’ the NAO added.

The chair of the House of Commons’ Environmental Audit Committee, Labour MP Mary Creagh, commented that the NAO are right to warn that there should be no watering down of environmental protections after the UK leaves the EU.

‘The 25 Year Environment Plan must work across Government departments to ensure transport, business and local government take their responsibility on the environment,’ Creagh said.

‘My committee recommended that the new OEP be funded by parliament, not government, to avoid it becoming another environmental watchdog that the government puts to sleep.’

Environment Journal has contacted Defra for comment.


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