Environmental standards ‘can’t just be set in a small office in Whitehall’, EA chief says

Emma Howard Boyd calls on new watchdog to engage widely and not focus “just at those seen as doing ‘environment’”

Photo: Paul Heartfield

By Richard Johnstone

07 Feb 2020

The chair of the Environment Agency has said the UK’s post-Brexit environmental standards must not be set “in a small office in Whitehall” but must be clear to the public to ensure that everyone can sign up to the plan.

In a speech yesterday, Emma Howard Boyd said her agency would work closely with the Office for Environmental Protection, which the government plans to create to set rules and regulations that were previously set by the European Union.

“With the right leadership we believe it will have the powers it needs to fulfil its role,” she said. “It’s good to see climate change included within its remit. Climate and the environment are inextricably linked.”


A group of MPs have previously urged the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to ensure the OEP is able to “operate with sufficient independence from government”.

Howard Boyd said the EA welcomed “the scrutiny of the OEP and look forward to working with it”. She said the regulator would need to reach out both across government and wider society to ensure the aims and progress of the standards were well understood.

For the OEP to be truly effective, she said “it must look across the whole of government, and not just at those organisations it sees as doing ‘environment’”.

She added: “As the government regains the powers to legislate for future environmental standards, a broad and transparent framework which fosters a collaborative approach is the best way forward. Standard setting should not sit in a small office in Whitehall, being decided by a small number of people.

“The inclusion of business, government, regulators, NGOs and the public will mean we can get effective standards – to protect and enhance the environment – that everyone can sign up to and support.”

Howard Boyd’s call for the OEP to canvass a wide range of views comes after Committee on Climate Change chief executive Chris Stark called for a “truly cross-government effort” to tackle climate change, writing in CSW that “the year ahead is an acid test of the new government’s climate credibility”.

“In the last decade, the Department of Energy and Climate Change and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy led on the phasing out of coal-fired power – an extraordinary story that is nearly complete," Stark wrote.

“What lies ahead cannot be delivered by any single department. The policies to cut greenhouse gas emissions from buildings, transport, industry and agriculture must be owned across government. And cutting through these: the critical questions of better public engagement, skills provision, infrastructure and finance. It is a governance and coordination challenge like no other.”

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