Scotland’s natural environment is our greatest asset. We must continue to protect it for the future. It supports and enriches our lives and the prosperity of our nation.
I believe that EU membership has helped Scotland to achieve high environmental standards. Since the referendum on EU membership in 2016, I have been concerned that these gains may be at risk under future trade relationships. The Scottish Government has committed to maintain or exceed EU environmental standards. EU environmental law is informed by four environmental principles, and we intend to keep these at the centre of our environmental policy making.
The European institutions have also provided effective oversight of compliance with EU environmental law. The future relationship between the UK and the EU is still uncertain and the UK Government remains unable to provide much needed clarity about the future. My choice would be to remain fully within EU governance systems. However, as a responsible government, we need to prepare for whatever the future brings.
In particular, the Scottish public deserves continued assurance that environmental standards are being applied effectively. In Scotland, we have well established systems and procedures for holding public bodies to account for their performance, and to provide a challenge if duties are not met or legal powers misused. We need to ensure we have robust arrangements for a future where there is no longer oversight from Europe. In addition, we must prepare to fulfil any new obligations to demonstrate compliance with environmental standards.
I asked the Roundtable on Environment and Climate Change to undertake an initial assessment of what may be at risk following EU exit and I am very grateful for that work. Taking this as our starting point, the purpose of this consultation is to seek wider views to help us to develop a strong, proportionate and effective system to ensure the protection of Scotland’s environment.
Environmental governance is an important and complex issue, and one that we must get right. It deserves careful consideration and I hope you will find the time to give your views on the issues raised in this consultation document.