When the UK eventually exits the EU in just over a month, time is running out for Scotland to comply with “toothless” regulations to protect our precious climate.
A coalition of almost 40 leading environmental organizations and associations, Scottish Environment Connection (SEL), has cautioned that poor legislation means that the nation will not be able to properly answer questions about decisions affecting our environment.
SEL is worried that the new Scottish measures would be inadequate to allow effective action to protect our precious environment and landscape as the United Kingdom makes its final break with the EU.
Environmental Standards Scotland, the current Scottish regulator, will be closely associated with the Scottish Government and will not have the powers or autonomy to hold the government to account.
According to SEL, 80% of Scotland’s environmental legislation comes from EU legislation, which makes it “vital” for steps to close the “environmental governance gap” to enter into force on 31 December at the end of the EU exit transition phase.
Diver and wildlife charter boat skipper David Ainsley, who led a group initiative to file a “successful” complaint with the European Commission in 2007 about scallop dredging in the Firth of Lorn Special Area of Conservation, is among those supporting the war (SAC).
Under the current system in Scotland, SEL claimed that such action was not possible: ‘The ability to deal with individual concerns is a key strength of the EU system and has enabled citizens to question decisions affecting their environment, on land and at sea. But the proposed Scottish regulator ignores this. To include this authority, the bill needs to be revised and to make the watchdog fully independent of the government, SEL said.
The activity at the Firth of Lorn prompted the EU Director-General for the Environment to write to the Scottish ministers that they had not adequately evaluated the effect of scallop dredging on protected reefs and that dredging had to be stopped until it could be shown that it would not harm the SAC.
The SEL claimed that it was decided, after an examination by the Scottish authorities based on scientific testing, that it could not be seen that the purity of the SAC would not be compromised by scallop dredging.
The result was that legislation to protect the Firth of Lorn SAC from further dredging were passed by the Scottish Parliament in 2007.
SEL submits that the willingness of the Group to appeal to a higher authority, in this case the EU Tribunal, and to order the inquiry into the matter independently, was “crucial” to the successful outcome of the appeal.
But under current Scottish law, even this “soft” compliance method is not open to the regulator, as complaints will have to go directly to judicial review, a “costly process” in terms of both time and money.
“In 2007, after a long battle at local level to stop the harmful practice of dredging, we won our case at EU level and dredging was ruled illegal in the Firth of Lorn Special Area of Conservation (SAC),” said Mr Ainsley, who supports SEL’s Fight for Scotland’s Nature.
The difference this has made is spectacular. Wildlife is flourishing. Biodiversity in the reef has returned to pre-dredging levels, there are many more fish and, as a result, many more predators such as porpoises, which have risen by almost 300 percent. This improvement is very exciting to see. A better natural environment has also helped boost the local economy and created more jobs than when
We were able to do this because, as EU citizens, we had the right to raise questions with the European Court of Justice regarding our natural environment and to have an independent EU regulator examine the matter. When we leave the EU in just over a month and could reverse decades of progress, this would no longer be feasible. It’s a true disaster here.
The Scottish Government must ensure that the EU Continuity Bill does not water down essential EU legislation aimed at addressing the continuing destruction of our marine ecosystem. It must ensure that the welfare system is safeguarded.