Why we must have an independent environment watchdog for Scotland

12 Oct 2020

© Louise Greenhorn (rspb-images.com)

This blog post is by RSPB Scotland, and was first published on the RSPB Scotland website.

Why we must have an independent environment watchdog for Scotland

Last month, the Scottish Government declared responsibility for transformative change for nature. With 1 in 9 species at risk of extinction in Scotland and the world failing to meet its commitments for nature, we must take immediate action to enact laws that protect and enhance the nature around us before it is gone forever.

The first test of this commitment is facing the Scottish Parliament. In less than three months, Scotland, and the rest of the UK, will lose the oversight of the European Commission and the European Court of Justice. These institutions have played an invaluable role in ensuring nature is strongly protected, by giving a voice to the public on environmental matters and holding governments to account. It is vital that Scots do not lose the ability to speak up and request that action is taken to protect their environment.

The Continuity Bill, currently going through the Scottish Parliament, is designed to ensure laws in Scotland continue without any interruption as we leave the EU. As part of the Bill, the Scottish Parliament must replace functions of these EU institutions by creating an independent watchdog to oversee and enforce the implementation of environmental laws. This will ensure that the places for nature, species and habitats we love best will continue to be strongly protected in Scotland.

As part of Scottish Environment Link’s Fight for Scotland’s Nature campaign, RSPB Scotland is calling on the Scottish Government to create an environment watchdog with the independence, power, resources and expertise to:

  • Ensure that environmental protections are being implemented and enforced correctly
  • Receive public complaints about failures to apply environmental law
  • Investigate potential breaches of environment law, and refer serious cases to the courts

While the Continuity Bill does include provision for a watchdog, it doesn’t go far enough. It needs to be made more independent of government and it needs stronger teeth so that it can take action when environment laws are not being applied properly.

The ability to take action on specific complaints is a key strength of the EU system and has allowed people to challenge decisions affecting their environment, on land and at sea. But it’s missing from the proposed Scottish watchdog. The bill must be amended to include this power – and to make the watchdog truly independent of government.

Furthermore, the watchdog is not guaranteed adequate or ringfenced funding meaning that they might not be able to properly investigate potential breaches of environmental law, ensuring enforcement and applying sanctions in cases of noncompliance. It also means the watchdog is left vulnerable to future public sector cuts.

The Scottish Government has declared itself to be a global leader on the environment. In order to truly demonstrate leadership, it must not take backward steps upon leaving the EU. The Continuity Bill must be more than just a symbolic gesture; it must maintain the protections already in place and leave the door wide open to strengthening our nature laws so that we can deliver transformative change for nature, climate and people.

To help us send a message that the watchdog must be truly independent, sign the Fight for Scotland’s Nature petition. Find out more here: https://www.fightforscotlandsnature.scot/petition

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