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The best way to continue to protect our environment is, of course, to remain in the European Union in the first place. However, I am taking forward the development of new arrangements in a careful and systematic way, based on our best assessment of likely gaps. In October, I announced plans for an interim panel to provide for assurance in that area, should the United Kingdom leave with no deal in place. The report that was published by SE LINK is a valuable contribution to the development of longer-term arrangements. I am considering the recommendations in that report alongside the results of the Government’s own consultation, which was held earlier this year.
The cabinet secretary has acknowledged the concerns about the impact of Brexit on environmental protections. Given that it is a devolved matter, it should be possible, with sensible planning and forethought, to mitigate the worst aspects of Brexit in that area. The report makes it clear that, ideally, new governance structures would include an independent parliamentary commissioner and a dedicated environment court. As neither of those will be put in place quickly, will the cabinet secretary tell us whether she is planning to create those bodies and, if so, what work is under way to bring them into being?
As I indicated in my initial answer, we are looking very carefully at the long-term arrangements that would be required. For example, the establishment of an environmental court goes far beyond our immediate concerns about immediate mitigation of the impact of Brexit, which is why we have had to divert some of our resources to the business of setting up an interim arrangement, should we be out in short order. There would need to be some degree of very careful thought, as well as further consultation, before we could go as far as implementing some of the proposals in the Scottish Environment LINK report, which would require primary legislation. As such, those are things that we need to look at in the longer term. However, those matters are currently very much under discussion and consideration, and we are not, at the moment, ruling anything out. At the moment, we have an interim panel that is ready to go—literally overnight, should that be necessary.
Although the UK Government’s proposals for an office for environmental protection fell with its Environment Bill when Parliament was dissolved, the Tories have committed in their manifesto to establish such an office, the remit of which—at no notice—was expanded to include issues to do with climate change.
At the moment, the extent of the powers that the UK Government seeks to draw into that is unclear. The Scottish Government will not accept any attempt to pull devolved powers over climate change, air quality or water quality into the remit of that office. However, we need the UK Government to step up to the plate and act on the matters that it is responsible for to help Scotland to reach net zero by 2045, which the UK Committee on Climate Change was clear will be necessary if we are to achieve our targets.