Environmental Standards Scotland (ESS) launches to fill governance gap left by Brexit

Management & Regulation

A new independent body has been created to help Scotland maintain high environmental standards and achieve their ambitions for climate change after Brexit.

Environmental Standards Scotland (ESS) will serve as an independent guardian over Scotland's ecosystems by monitoring performance and ensuring that the legislative framework effectively encourages actions with positive environmental outcomes. With the UK's exit from the European Union, scrutiny of Scotland's application of environmental law ended in 2020. The ESS has been created to fill this gap and ensure that Scotland's communities have access to a healthy environment.

The ESS is a non-ministerial Office which is independent of Scottish Government and accountable to the Scottish Parliament. The organisation is directed by chair Jim Martin and a board of appointed members. The ESS set out its remit and ambitions in the Interim Strategic Plan - Environmental Standards Scotland, and is starting an outreach campaign to engage the public, regulatory bodies and the water and environment sector. Their role is to:

  • Monitor public authorities' environmental performance and investigate cases of incompliance with environmental law;
  • Evaluate the overall effectiveness of environmental legislation; and
  • Enforce environmental law and take steps to ensure compliance.

The organisation will also look beyond Scotland to identify wider patterns and issues related to the climate and ecological emergency and environmental law. The board are currently setting up systems of monitoring and receiving consultations and questions. In the coming months a programme of work covering the enquiries raised and defining key areas of concern will be produced.

"I warmly welcome the creation of Environmental Standards Scotland. Much progress has been driven by the European Directives and it is essential that we have independent oversight of how we safeguard our precious ecosystems," said CIWEM chief executive Terry Fuller. "This fits perfectly with the objectives of CIWEM and I look forward to sharing a journey with ESS to provide science and evidence based support that incentivises positive change."

Chair of CIWEM's Scotland branch and Aecom senior engineer Aisling McGilloway added:

“I’m very happy to see Scotland once again being proactive and forward thinking when it comes to appreciating our environment as an asset to be protected. The creation and launch of Environmental Standards Scotland comes at a critical window for us to manage the climate change and biodiversity emergencies we are facing.

"The ESS will provide tangible scrutiny and enforcement to protect our environment from harm and maintain its value for current and future generations.”

The current challenge for the ESS is to raise awareness of what they do and effectively engage with public agencies and the private sector. They will also work closely with the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) in England which will operate with a similar remit pending the passage of the Environment Bill, as well as with the permanent environmental governance oversight body in development in Wales.

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