Ken O’Neill, Lothians’ newest independent candidate, has called for Scotland to continue protecting the environment and realising its worth. The UK Government has suggested removing legislation that protects the environment and helps the country achieve its climate change targets. As the environment is a devolved issue, Mr O’Neill has called on Holyrood’s next session to not follow suit.
Mr O’Neill said:
David Cameron promised to make the current UK administration the “greenest government ever.” If that is the case then he should make protecting our environment a priority. He also said he would show respect to both the Scottish Parliament and Government. That means he should realise that some of the legislation his Ministers are considering scrapping, including those that protect wildlife and the countryside, are UK wide. The proposals also seem to disregard the fact that much of the legislation is linked to EU Directives. Unless Downing Street is planning on the UK leaving the European Union, they’ll have problems removing these laws.
Scotland has made great strides in protection of the environment, including the Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act and more recently the Marine Scotland Act. However, there are parts of existing UK laws that apply here, which help ensure our precious resource – the environment – is protected. If the UK Government is to start unravelling the fabric of environmental legislation to remove alleged ‘red tape’ then Holyrood would have to act to replace these laws. Scottish Government officials are currently working on a refresh of the Scottish Biodiversity Strategy and the revised biodiversity duty guidance in light of the new Wildlife and Natural Environment Act’s provisions. If the blocks our legislation is built on are removed, then the Parliament is faced with having to spend time creating and approving a re-invented version.
Governments need to realise that if environmental laws and protection are removed then there is a knock-on effect on many aspects of our lives. This does not just risk harming our environment, but also our health, our tourism industry, our food supply, our burgeoning renewables sector and our landscape. This isn’t red tape, this is essential and vital legislation.
Scottish Natural Heritage’s Valuing our Environment report shows that 11% of Scotland’s total economic output depends on sustainable use of the environment. This is worth £17.2 billion a year and supports 1 in 7 of all full-time jobs. The natural environment is fundamental to Scotland’s prosperity and is much more than a backdrop to our successful tourism industry. The environment helps attract business to base themselves here, which is doubly true of those in the renewables sector. Economic and environmental benefits go hand in hand, but if we damage the environment we will also affect our recovering economy. That’s why I’m calling on the Scottish Parliament to ensure we strengthen and not weaken our environmental protection in the coming session.
The UK Government has included 278 environmental laws in a list of “red tape” regulations that they are considering axing. The legislation is included on the Cabinet Office’s Red Tape Challenge website, a crowd-sourcing exercise to establish which regulations restrict business in the UK.
The organisation 38 Degrees has published a petition calling on the UK Government to protect our environment and not scrap the laws that protects it.
The Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act 2004 builds on an existing legislative framework, most notably the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. The Act deals with specific aspects of nature conservation: the conservation of biodiversity; an improved system for notifying and protecting Sites of Special Scientific Interest; and the protection of wildlife through enhancements to species protection measures.
The Marine (Scotland) Act 2010create a new legislative and management framework for the marine environment. This includes a new system of marine planning, a revised system of licensing marine activities, powers to establish marine protected areas, new legislation relating to seals and new powers for marine enforcement officers.
The Wildlife and Natural Environment (Scotland) Act 2011 delivers a range of measures that update legislation protecting Scottish wildlife. The Act also ensures UK legislation that regulates and manages the natural environment are fit for purpose. The Act covers a variety of areas including: modernising game law; regulating invasive non-native species; changing the licensing system for protected species; and operational changes to the management of Sites of Special Scientific Interest.
Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) is a non-departmental public body that is responsible for Scotland’s environment. SNH advises the Scottish Government and acts as a government agent in the delivery of conservation designations. Their Valuing our Environment report and Economic Impact of Scotland’s Natural Environment research report were published in November 2008.