Wales risks having weakest environmental protections in Western Europe, warns Senedd

There are “significant” and “unacceptable” environmental governance gaps in post-Brexit Wales, with the nation at risk of having the weakest protections in all of Western Europe, a Senedd committee has warned the first minister in a blistering letter.

Last week the Senedd Climate Change, Environment and Infrastructure committee wrote to Welsh first minister Mark Drakeford to express its increasing concern that four years since the government committed to legislate to address any post-Brexit environmental governance gaps in Wales, there is “no evidence that any progress has been made”. 

The letter followed the committee taking evidence from Dr Nerys Llewelyn-Jones, the interim environmental protection assessor for Wales, who told the panel she had only had informal discussions with the government on the development of new, more permanent, governance arrangements. 

“While we recognise the valuable work being undertaken by the interim assessor, the interim measures are far from satisfactory,” wrote the committee.

“There are significant and unacceptable gaps in Wales’ environmental governance arrangements that must be addressed as a matter of priority. The interim measures were supposed to provide time for the Welsh government to develop and establish new, permanent governance arrangements, specifically an Environment Commission to oversee the implementation of environmental law.” 

The committee goes on to point out that while Wales has waited for legislation to be brought forward, “ all other UK nations now have permanent environmental governance arrangements in place, with dedicated governance bodies up and running”.

“It cannot be right that Welsh citizens have less access to environmental justice than citizens of other parts of the UK. We must not see Wales’ reputation downgraded from a nation that puts the environment and sustainable development at its heart to one with the weakest environmental governance structures in Western Europe.”

The letter continued: “We recognise the challenge of developing robust, effective and enduring governance arrangements that meet Wales’ needs. But, 15 months into the interim measures, we have seen no evidence that any progress has been made.”

The committee added that it felt that “any sense of urgency” the Welsh government may have previously had regarding the need to legislate to bridge post-Brexit governance gaps has been lost. 

Last week’s letter follows another sent in June by green groups, which echoed the sentiments of the committee, and added that Wales can “ill afford” to fall behind in matters of environmental protection. According to the NGOs, one in six of the nation’s species is at risk of being lost, and more than 1,600 people in Wales die early each year due to air pollution. 

The committee is calling for the Welsh government to bring forward an environmental governance bill “as a matter of priority”.

A Welsh government spokesperson said: “Our Programme for Government puts the climate and nature emergencies central to all of our work. This includes working towards the establishment of an environmental governance body and statutory targets to protect and restore biodiversity.

“In the meantime, we have appointed an interim environmental protection assessor for wales who considers complaints regarding the functioning of environmental law in Wales.  We are continuing to identify ways to maximise the effectiveness of this role until legislation is brought forward to create a permanent body.”

This article was updated to include the Welsh government's statement