Published on Conservative Home
British voters overwhelming support high environmental standards – 80 per cent, for example, want the UK to maintain our world-leading food safety regulations after we leave the European Union.
This is unsurprising – high environmental standards in agriculture keep our livestock healthy and our food safe to eat, and in product design they cut our energy bills by improving the efficiency of our ovens and toasters.
A sensible, long term framework of environmental rules spurs investment and innovation from business.
Many businesses of course face examples of vexatious red tape – and Brexit does provide us with the opportunity to cut some of the bureaucracy that has impeded business and made our lives more difficult. From the baffling small print on radio adverts, to compelling pharmacists to scan every medicine in front of their customers, there are plenty of nonsensical EU regulations that add unnecessary costs to businesses and should be scrapped.
Yet the desire to trim unnecessary red tape can sit comfortably alongside support for a long term, sensible framework of high environmental standards that, if properly enforced by an independent watchdog, will restore our countryside, clean up our air, and boost British business.
BuroHappold Engineering recently explored the relationship between environmental regulations and competitiveness, in particular the impact of the implementation of the London Plan in the construction sector, the Landfill Tax in the waste sector, and the passenger car emission regulations in the car industry.
In all three cases their analysis found that the upfront costs of complying with regulations were outweighed by the economic benefits they triggered through increased business investment in innovation and skills, better-quality products and infrastructure, greater business competitiveness, and job creation.
For example, there was an overwhelming consensus that despite flaws in the testing methodology, passenger car CO2 emission regulations have been a success story for the UK and EU car industry. The regulations have provided certainty, scale, and a clear framework to meet targets, without any negative impacts on competitiveness. The relatively stable and consistent regulatory framework has allowed for a long-term and broader view of managing the costs of compliance.
This commitment to a stable and consistent framework underpins the UK’s Climate Change Act – which, through its long-term approach to tackling global warming, has delivered certainty to businesses and deep reductions in CO2 emissions. Since 1990, we have cut emissions by 42 per cent, while our economy has grown by two-thirds. This means that we have reduced emissions faster than any other G7 nation, while leading the G7 in growth in national income over this period.
The same principle – that businesses benefit from a clear and consistent regulatory framework – underpins the Government’s Environment Bill. The Bill will set out clear goals and targets to reverse the damage done to the British countryside over previous decades and clean up our toxic air.
Businesses welcome the clarity provided by these targets. Anglian Water, for example, have argued that “when targets are too vague, it’s almost impossible to assess whether government is on track to hit them. In order for real progress to be made on the environment, goals within the Environment Bill must be carefully established with robust timetables.”
Businesses will then only invest if they have the confidence that these targets will be properly enforced: hence why the independence of the statutory body – the “watchdog” – is so crucial. Firms need to know that whoever is in government, their investments in things such as new technology to improve air quality will pay off.
The UK is a world leader in clean growth, with over 400,000 jobs in the low carbon economy: one in five electric vehicles sold in Europe in are made in Britain; our offshore wind sector is second to none; and the City of London is the home of green finance. This is in large part down to investment decisions that have been driven by our Climate Change Act – and the certainly provided to business by the existence of an independent Committee on Climate Change that will make sure standards are upheld.
We now have the opportunity to set the gold standard with a world-leading Environment Bill, and achieve similar results for British nature, while providing the certainty British businesses need about the direction of travel to a cleaner, more prosperous future.