Environmental Law News Update

July 2, 2020

In this latest Environmental Law News Update, Nicholas Ostrowski, Natasha Hausdorff and Mark Davies consider a new consultation on the England Tree Strategy, a progress report from the Committee on Climate Change and the launch of a new National Framework for Water Resources.

Consultation on the England Tree Strategy

The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, Forestry Commission has launched a public consultation as part of its strategy for trees, woodland and forestry in England. The March Budget saw the new ‘Nature for Climate Fund’ of £640million earmarked for projects including the England Tree Strategy, to deliver manifesto tree planting commitments, alongside peatland restoration and wider nature recovery.

Running for 12 weeks, until 11 September 2020, the initiative seeks views on how to increase tree planting and tree and woodland management, as part of the Government’s initiative to combat biodiversity and climate crises. The new strategy envisages policies to expand tree cover, support woodland management and increase public engagement with trees and woodlands. It is of course closely concerned with the Government’s tree planting commitment, which is to increase tree planting to 30,000 hectares per year across the UK by 2025.

The consultation seeks information on:

  • How to improve the management and protection of existing public and private trees and ancient woodlands;
  • How best to further connect people to nature;
  • How to accelerate tree planting to combat climate change;
  • How to further connect people to nature to enhance personal wellbeing; and
  • How to enhance the role that trees and woodlands play in supporting the economy.

Close cooperation with the devolved administrations, communities and landowners has been recognised as integral to these plans to design a strategy that increases and balances the different benefits that woodlands provide, to nature, the public and to the economy. The consultation widens the pool of desired input to include farmers, foresters and land managers, experts and environmental organisations, as well as ordinary members of the public. The opinions sought on the future creation and management of trees, woodlands and forests also have a view to the target of reaching net zero emissions by 2050.

The consultation has a focus on the increased role that trees and woodlands can play in supporting the economy, as part of the recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, building back better, more secure and resilient. Forestry Minister Lord Goldsmith, said of the consultation: “In many ways the coronavirus pandemic has shone a light on the importance of nature. Growing and protecting our nation’s forests will be an integral part of our recovery, and the England Tree Strategy will give us the tools to do this.

Committee on Climate Change: 2020 Progress Report

On 25 June the Committee on Climate Change published its report to, ‘Reducing UK emissions: Progress Report to Parliament’ under section 36 of the Climate Change Act 2008. It is 196 pages of excellent, sometimes surprisingly direct, optimistically spun grim reading.

The report is structured, for the first time, with a section immediately after the text of the Executive Summary comprising tables that break down the Committee’s recommendations into steps that each Government Department(s) (Cabinet Office and No.10, FCO, BEIS and DFID, etc.) should take and by when. This is a clever move by the Committee, and one which should be welcomed; there can now be no excuse from Government for not implementing (or at least no excuse for not explaining why it is not implementing) the Committee’s recommendations when they have been so carefully set out in a clear and easily digestible manner.

The report then moves through to consider the impact of COVID-19 on the climate challenge (chap. 1) (in summary, short term: priority, medium term: opportunity, long term: no change to the Net Zero target) before looking at progress and lessons learned since 2008 (chaps. 2-3), progress in the last 12 months (chap. 4), planning a resilient recovery (chap. 5) and finally ‘What is needed now – UK climate policy’ (chap. 6).

The final chapter, ‘What is needed now’ is broken down into three core recommendations that are then explained in more detail:

  1. Net Zero needs to be integrated into all Government policy;
  2. Adaptation needs to be integrated into all Government policy; and
  3. Departments must work together to deliver ambitious policy.

“Act courageously – it’s there for the taking,” is the suggestion to the Government by the Committee as to how they should approach its recommendations.

“For heaven’s sake, just get on with it,” would be this author’s alternative suggestion.

The National Framework for Water Resources

In the Spring, the Environment Agency launched a National Framework for Water Resources which it described as a long-term plan for meeting the challenges facing water supplies as a result of climate change and population growth.

It is an ambitious undertaking which (contrary to the direction of travel over the last decade in planning policy) is a move towards strategic regional planning. The framework brings together all the water companies in each part of the country and requires them to produce a regional plan which takes into account increasing resilience to drought, greater environmental improvement, reducing long term water usage, reducing leakage, reducing the use of drought permits and orders and increasing supplies.

The genesis for this new approach stems from a realisation that water companies’ Water Resources Management Plans, which they are required to produce every five years, has meant that water companies are not required to take a wider regional view but can concentrate solely on their own patch which has obvious limitations.

The requirement for operators to co-operate and develop new supplies across their regions is, perhaps, the most interesting and controversial part of the Framework. The summary emphasises that 700 Mega Litres per day comes from unsustainable river abstractions and that that water will need to be replaced from alternative sources along with additional supplies to take account of population growth and to withstand drought. So, where will all the additional water come from? While new reservoirs and desalination plants may seem like the obvious answer, it is often suggested that new reservoirs and desalination plants (which, although expensive, are assets which increase the value of a water company) could be reduced or avoided if water companies in water-stressed regions were willing to buy more water through bulk transfers from water companies outside their catchment or region. This is a particularly hot topic in the South East region where there are well organised groups campaigning against reservoir development who suggest that the gap in supply could be filled from bulk transfers of water to the Thames from the Severn which is less water-stressed.

The framework plainly encourages further exploration of this topic and makes clear that regional groups should ‘scope a wide range of supply options such as reservoirs, water reuse and desalination [and]…investigate the potential for increasing connectivity within and between regions through –longer distance transfers, such as those over 100km in length.’

Although at the moment the regional plans will have no statutory basis and there is no formal requirement to consult, the Framework authors note that this may change as the Environment Bill includes a proposal that the Minister may direct that water undertakers prepare and publish joint (i.e. regional) proposals.

Covid-19 Guidance Tracker: Environment

Please also have a look at the Environment section of our Covid-19 Guidance Tracker  which tracks the official guidance being published in a wide range of sectors including coverage of the environment sector.

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