UPDATED: Winter consultations: protected species, forest risk commodities, single-use plastic bans, low-carbon heating, climate change agreements and more

ENDS’ round-up of the latest major government consultations, including a shakeup in protected species designations, measures against littering and fly-tipping, decarbonising heat, Scottish landfill tax and environmental governance, the future of climate change agreements and a climate test for oil and gas drilling.

The Eurasian otter is considered to be near-threatened in the UK. Photograph: Factumquintus / Wikimedia Commons

This article was amended on 21 December to add consultations on climate change agreements, waste incineration in Scotland, hydrogen-ready boilers and a ‘climate compatibility checkpoint’ for new oil and gas licensing.


Joint Nature Conservation Committee Quinquennial Review 7

Natural England, Natural Resources Wales and NatureScot, acting through the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, are consulting on updating the schedules to the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1984, which could see vulnerable species losing their protected status.

The controversial proposal to only grant critically endangered species protection with those currently listed as ‘vulnerable and near threatened’ losing out, were first mooted earlier this year. I led 30 environmental organisations to demand a consultation on the review.

The plans now refer to exercising the precautionary principle before any species is removed from the schedules. Though vulnerable and near-threatened species would still not be eligible, exceptions could be made if the removal of protection would harm species’ conservation status.

Responses are due by 30 January 2022.


Call for evidence on commonly littered and problematic plastic items

Consultation on proposals to ban commonly littered single-use plastic items in England

DEFRA has set out its plans to end the use of plastics in products that are often encountered as litter, in an effort to protect waterways and wildlife. Its consultation on banning single-use cutlery and plates, balloon sticks, and polystyrene cups and food containers in England is accompanied by a separate call for evidence on measures to tackle other sources of plastic pollution.

The department says it is “particularly interested in wet wipes, tobacco filters, sachets, and other single-use plastic cups”. These products could be banned from containing plastic, or required to include labelling on packaging to help consumers dispose of them correctly.

Responses to both are by 12 February.


National litter and fly-tipping consultation (Scotland)

The Scottish government is consulting on measures to reduce littering and fly-tipping. Proposed actions include developing a “sustained, evidence based, national anti-fly-tipping behaviour change campaign”, establishing a national database and a “flexible approach to waste disposal and targeted interventions”, which could mean introducing mobile recycling centres, new technology or amnesties. Penalties could also be raised, a civil penalty regime introduced, and a review of enforcement barriers conducted.

Responses are due by the end of March.


Implementing due diligence on forest risk commodities

DEFRA is consulting on plans to clamp down on the UK supply chain’s links to illegal deforestation, including due diligence requirements for cocoa, beef, soy, coffee, maize and palm oil, collectively known as ‘forest risk commodities’.

The proposals follow measures outlined in the Environment Act that will make it illegal for large companies in the UK to use such products if they have not been produced in line with local laws on forest use. Businesses will be required to ensure due diligence is carried out, or be liable for prosecution.

DEFRA is seeking views on which forest risk commodities should be brought under initial regulations and when, which businesses would be affected and how they should conduct due diligence exercises, and how the regulations would be enforced. 

Responses are due by 11 March.


Consultation on a market-based mechanism for low carbon heat

Launched alongside the Heat and Buildings Strategy, this consultation seeks views on proposals to introduce a market-based mechanism to support the development of the UK market for heat pumps. The intention is to create a market incentive to grow the numbers of heat pumps installed in existing premises each year and provide industry with a clear, long-term policy framework for investment and innovation. It closes on 12 January.


Phasing out fossil heating off gas grid

The government has proposed phasing out the installation of fossil fuel heating systems in homes off the gas grid, as committed to in the 2017 Clean Growth Strategy. The consultation seeks views on introducing targeted regulations that would end new installations from 2026, a ‘heat pump first’ approach to replacing domestic heating systems off the gas grid from that year, and requiring high performing replacement heating systems where heat pumps cannot be reasonably or practicably installed. It closes on 12 January.

The Scottish government has also opened a call for evidence on similar lines, closing on 22 February, alongside a broader one on establishing a National Public Energy Agency to coordinate the decarbonisation of heating.


Phasing out the installation of fossil fuel heating systems in businesses and public buildings off the gas grid

This consultation sets out proposals for phasing out fossil fuel heating system installations for businesses and public buildings off the gas grid over the 2020s. It seeks views on using the natural replacement cycle as the trigger for phasing out fossil fuel heating systems, introducing the policy using a phased approach with the largest buildings first, followed by smaller buildings, the cost trajectory for the installation of these low carbon technologies and the ability of businesses to pay. It closes on 12 January.


Towards a market for low emissions industrial products: call for evidence.

The Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy is seeking views on how to achieve the goals set forth in the Industrial Decarbonisation Strategy, specifically policies to support demand for low emission industrial products.

The questions cover how low emissions products can be defined, the sectoral and product scope of the policies, the reporting of emissions necessary to facilitate them and how they can best be implemented. The call for evidence comes alongside a report on international approaches to the subject, discussing product standards, labelling schemes and procurement policies.

Responses should be made by 28 February.


Guiding Principles: A Consultation on Statutory Guidance

The Scottish government has opened a consultation on statutory guidance on the guiding principles on the environment set out in Part 2 of the UK Withdrawal from the European Union (Continuity) (Scotland) Act 2021.

Once fully in force, law will introduce new duties on ministers and other public authorities to have due regard to the same principles enshrined in the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. These are that protecting the environment should be integrated into the making of policies; the precautionary principle as it relates to the environment; that preventative action should be taken to avert environmental damage; rectification of environmental damage at source and the polluter pays principle.

These sit alongside Scotland’s Environment Strategy and environmental governance arrangements.

The guidance provides a series of case studies in how the principles, and their interaction, could be applied in practice.

The consultation closes on 8 February.


Scottish Landfill Tax - further clarity and certainty: consultation

In a consultation which opened on 25 November, the Scottish government said it intends to amend the Scottish landfill tax regime to provide additional clarity. The proposed amendment to the Scottish Landfill Tax (Prescribed Landfill Site Activities) Order 2014 is not intended to alter or expand the scope of the tax, but to confirm what is taxable.

“The Scottish government's view is that the existing legislation clearly delineates the scope of the tax. There have however been long running challenges as to when a taxable disposal has occurred for the purpose of UK Landfill Tax and, more recently, for Scottish Landfill Tax,” the paper notes, undermining circular economy objectives, creating additional expense for taxpayers and resulting in an uneven playing field for the waste industry.

The revised law would provide definitions for landfill cell and impermeable layer for capping and expressly exclude taxation of drainage materials above the cell base and infrastructure associated with landfill gas or leachate extraction.

The consultation closes on 31 December 2021.


Proposals for a risk-based framework for managing interaction between sea lice from marine finfish farm developments and wild Atlantic salmon in Scotland

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) has put forward plans for a “new, spatially based risk assessment framework for regulating the interaction between sea lice from marine finfish farms and wild Atlantic salmon”.

The consultation document's two key proposals are for the creation of wild salmon protection zones, such as sea lochs and sounds, and a sea lice exposure threshold for them. All proposed zones are on the west coast. Permits for fish farms would be amended to control the numbers of juvenile sea lice emerging from them.

The consultation closes on 14 March.


Northern Ireland Environment Strategy Consultation

Northern Ireland’s Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs is consulting on a draft environmental strategy, against which the Office for Environmental Protection will monitor its green progress when the new watchdog becomes fully functional there.

The paper sets out priorities for the coming decades and includes a mix of both existing and new environmental targets. It contains six ‘strategic environmental outcomes’, such as for air, water and land; access to nature; wildlife, sustainable production and consumption; circular economy; and achieving a “fair contribution” towards the UK’s net zero goal.

The consultation will run until 18 January.


Climate Change Agreements (CCAs): proposals for a future scheme

BEIS is seeking views on potential reforms to the Climate Change Agreements (CCAs) scheme, intended to further encourage investment in energy-efficient technology.

The consultation paper suggests that the scheme could benefit from better alignment with similar measures, such as the Energy Savings Opportunity Scheme and Streamlined Energy and Carbon Reporting. Although the proposals are generally sketchy at this stage, other measures could include revising which businesses may participate, how long the revised scheme should last and reporting rules and enforced compliance with the ISO 50001 energy management system standard.

Responses are due by 11 March.


Role of incineration in the waste hierarchy - review: call for evidence

The Scottish government is seeking views on waste incineration capacity, as part of a review led by the chief executive of the Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining, Colin Church. The review is necessary, “as Scotland moves towards its waste reduction, recycling and circular economy ambitions”, it says, and aligns with a deal struck between the Scottish Greens and the Scottish National Party. The move also follows Wales’ moratorium on the construction of new large-scale incinerators.

The consultation asks what capacity is required to manage Scotland’s residual waste, what are the options for doing so and what are their trade-offs, how infrastructure siting decisions should be made and what can be done to reduce the environmental impacts of existing facilities.

Responses are due by 21 February.


Enabling or requiring hydrogen-ready industrial boiler equipment

BEIS has launched a call for evidence on requiring industrial boilers to be able to run on hydrogen once it becomes available. It asks for input on how ‘hydrogen-ready’ should be defined and measures to encourage the use of such technology.

The call for evidence “will also help us to understand how to stimulate from the outset an innovative and internationally competitive UK supply chain for hydrogen-ready industrial boilers that can support both domestic and global markets,” it states.

Responses are due by 14 March


Designing a climate compatibility checkpoint for future oil and gas licensing in the UK Continental Shelf

The government is seeking views on its plan to introduce a ‘climate compatibility checkpoint’ test for new oil and gas licensing. It would implement an aspect of the North Sea Transition Deal, intended to shepherd the industry towards a decarbonised economy, although the International Energy Agency says the approval of any new drilling is incompatible with net zero. The concept has been criticised by NGOs.

The consultation seeks views on six potential tests, ranging from one which would look at the operational greenhouse gas emissions for a project – though the emissions generated by the burning of extracted fuel would not count towards a project’s emission footprint – to another which would compare the sector’s progress in the development of energy transition technologies with the commitments set out in the North Sea Transition Deal. 

The test would not apply to developments in fields that have already been awarded licences.

The consultation closes on 28 February.