The constitution, devolution and the global commons

If a new constitutional settlement were to result in significant devolved powers to the nations, regions and cities of the UK where does responsibility for protecting the environment lie?

Wherever we live we all depend upon a stable climate, clean air and healthy ecosystems. Currently the UK Government has responsibilities for all of these.

International agreements, including legally binding at an EU level, requires it to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, managing trans-boundary pollution and address biodiversity loss.

Domestically it also has legal requirements, for example under the UK’s Climate Change Act greenhouse gas emissions must be cut by 50 per cent by 2025 from 1990 levels.

In the devolution debate so far responsibility for the environment has largely been ignored. But with devolved power must come responsibility. There is no way the UK can meet its international or domestic obligations should devolved nations, regions or cities choose not to play ball.

For example, the Government’s statutory advisor the Committee on Climate Change has said local authorities have a crucial role in meeting the Climate Change Act targets, noting that “There is currently no requirement for local authorities to take action on climate change. This coupled with limited funding means there is a significant risk that local authorities will not develop and implement sufficiently ambitious low-carbon plans.”

In any future constitution it is essential that this issue is addressed.

Significantly devolved power offers the opportunity for greater local control over local matters. But the environment doesn’t respect man-made boundaries. With greater devolved power must come greater responsibility to protect our shared environment, for example in the form of legally binding local carbon budgets, a requirement to preserve and restore biodiversity, and an obligation to meet EU air quality targets.   

Harry Blain Apr 11, 2015

We might have forgotten about this somewhat because it emerged early in the discussion. What are the key principles we want to put forward here? The idea: "With greater devolved power must come greater responsibility to protect our shared environment" is definitely important. 

We could elaborate, and argue that, with the environment, the Centre sets the overarching minimum standards/requirements (in line with international conventions and norms), while decisions with particular regional implications should be taken at the regional/local level.

Debra Storr Apr 11, 2015

As a Green, every bone wants to agree.  But we also need to build in protection/reward for those that exceed targets and encourage such as the international targets have been weak.  Go direct to IPCC recommendation and I might sound less cynical.  

Mike Childs Apr 13, 2015

Hi Debra, I think we should look to the kind of arrangement that exists in EU treaties which basically says that for environmental matters agreed under a particular article member states need to comply but can go further. Not surprisingly many of the Scandinavians have always been to exploit this potential in order to drive improved wellbeing and economic performance, best wishes, Mike Childs