Monday, 19 January 2015

2015 ON THE HORIZON (Part I)


A general election year makes it difficult to provide a comprehensive outlook for imminent policy changes. Whichever party or parties forms the UK government after 7 May will have their own priorities for sustainability, some of which are unlikely to become clear until ministers take office.

As the actions of the new European commission have shown through its plans to withdraw new waste targets, policy trajectories set by the previous administration often fall foul of a new set of priorities. Whatever the political complexion of the next government, there are, nonetheless, a number of major legal and policy measures at both a national and EU level planned for 2015. With the support of IEMA and the EEF, the environmentalist has collated some of the most important regulatory and policy changes to look out for over the next 12 months.

Biodiversity And Natural Capital

Defra produced its biodiversity strategy for England in 2011 and in 2012 outlined a set of 24 biodiversity indicators. A working group is developing a method for assigning a level of confidence in a trend, and the assessment of that trend, for individual indicators. The methodology will be peer-reviewed in early 2015. The baselines for the priority habitat inventory will also change this year; new interim measures of individual plant species and connectivity are also due; and changes to some forestry elements of the LULUCF – land use, land use change and forestry – greenhouse-gas inventory are planned.

The Natural Capital Committee expects to publish its third state of natural capital report in late January. Its previous report, published in April 2014, warned that most of England’s natural assets would need action to restore and improve them. Details of the committee’s work on corporate natural capital accounting will be included in its third report to generate interest ahead of the publication later of more technical information.

A nature recovery plan to reverse the narrowing biodiversity in Wales is being finalised by the Welsh government to fulfil its commitments under the Convention on Biological Diversity.

The Scottish government intends to lay legislation in parliament in May 2015 on measures to manage 11 nature conservation marine protected areas (MPAs) and nine special areas of conservation (SACs) in Scotland’s territorial waters. A consultation on its proposals ends on 2 February. The MPAs and SACs covered are those identified as the most sensitive habitats. The government in Edinburgh is also planning to adopt a national marine plan by April.

A priority for the new EU environment commissioner, Karmenu Vella, is to review the Birds (2009/147/EC) and Habitats (92/42/EEC) directives.

A “fitness check” of the directives is part of the European commission’s regulatory fitness and performance programme (REFIT) to make EU law “simpler and to reduce regulatory cost”. The first step has been to set the criteria for the examination, which was completed last year under the previous commission. The next stages are: collecting and assessing evidence for the fitness check (completed by autumn 2015); public consultation (start 2015); assessment of art. 17 of the Habitats Directive, which requires a report every six years on implementation across the EU, and art. 12 of the Birds Directive, which requires updates on implementation every three years (first half of 2015); a stakeholder meeting (summer 2015); and a report on the findings by the end of 2015 or early 2016.

The commission is scheduled this year to set out how it plans to achieve action seven under the EU biodiversity strategy, which is to ensure no net loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services by 2020.

Negotiations continue on finalising sustainable development goals (SDGs) to supersede the millennium development goals, which expire this year. The UN working group devising the SDGs is due to announce them at a summit in September.

Built Environment And Planning

As the result of a consultation last year, the department for communities and local government intends to introduce secondary legislation for a “deemed discharge” on some planning conditions. Dclg confirmed that developments subject to environmental impact assessment (EIA) or likely to have a significant effect on qualifying European sites would be exempt. The department also plans to revise guidance on development consent orders, specifically the procedures that must be followed depending on whether the change is deemed to be material or non-material.

In January, Dclg published its response to the consultation on raising the EIA screening thresholds for industrial estates and urban development projects from 0.5 hectares to 5 hectares. The department confirmed that it will go ahead with its proposals (p.8).

The Scottish government is consulting until 21 January on proposed changes to guidance in the Domestic and Non-Domestic Building Standards Technical Handbooks for 2015, including section three, which is concerned with the environment, and section five and seven, on noise and sustainability, including carbon emissions, respectively. The government aims to publish a report of any proposals in the spring. New energy standards for buildings apply in Scotland from October 2015 (section six of the handbooks has already been updated to accommodate these changes). The revisions apply from October 2015.

The Welsh government launched its Planning (Wales) Bill in October 2014. Proposals include: ministers to decide on planning applications for developments of national significance to Wales; where planning issues extend beyond the boundaries of a single authority, a strategic planning panel, comprising representatives of local authorities, community, environmental and business interests, should draw up a development plan; and changes to enforcement to deliver prompt action against breaches of planning control.

In Northern Ireland, the planning system will be reformed on 1 April 2015 when most functions will transfer to 11 district councils.

Carbon And Energy

Organisations covered by the energy savings opportunity scheme (ESOS) are required to notify the Environment Agency of their compliance by

5 December 2015. Under ESOS, companies employing at least 250 full-time staff or with a balance sheet of more than €43 million and an annual turnover of over £50 million (or is part of a group in which one part exceeds these thresholds in the UK) must measure their energy use over the previous 12 months.

Climate change agreements (CCAs) are voluntary arrangements between industry and the Environment Agency to reduce energy use and carbon emissions. Operators participating in a CCA receive a discount on the Climate Change Levy (CCL). The first CCA data reports (for the period ending 31 December 2014) must be submitted to the relevant sector association by 1 May 2015. The government is planning to review the CCA targets in 2016.

The first payments under the contract for difference (CfD) scheme to support investment in low-carbon electricity generation will be made from April 2015. CfDs are a key element of the electricity market reform and licensed electricity suppliers will fund their costs. The government is to exempt electricity suppliers of eligible energy intensive industries (EIIs) from some of the costs associated with CfDs. Eligibility criteria are expected soon.

From 1 April 2015, the government will exclude from the carbon price support rates fossil fuels that are used by combined heat and power plants to generate electricity that is self-supplied or supplied under exemption from the requirement to hold a supplier licence.

Plans by the UK government to support the exploration and extraction of shale gas and oil by hydraulic fracturing (fracking) will be developed further in 2015 with the creation of a sovereign wealth fund from the industry’s tax revenues. There will also be financial support for independent research into the robustness of the existing regulatory regime for onshore activities. The Scottish government, meanwhile, says it supports enforcement of robust regulation of fracking to maintain the highest levels of environmental protection. It has strengthened Scottish planning policy in relation to onshore unconventional gas activities by introducing buffer zones and additional risk assessments. Ministers will bring forward in 2015 further guidance to empower communities that could be affected.

The Welsh government expects to publish its energy efficiency strategy in the final quarter of 2015.

Political negotiations on measures to stabilise the EU carbon market will continue in 2015. EU member states agreed in 2013 to temporarily withdraw 900 EU emissions trading system (ETS) allowances to reduce some of the surplus and bolster their price. Under the so-called “backloading” of allowances, 300 million will be withdrawn from auctioning this year – 400 million were withheld in 2014 and 200 million will be withdrawn in 2016. An additional 300 million and 600 million allowances will be included in the 2019 and 2020 auctions respectively.

The commission adopted the second carbon leakage list in October 2014. It covers the period 2015–19 and started on 1 January. Sectors and sub-sectors on the list are those exposed to a significant risk of “carbon leakage”. They will receive a higher share of free ETS allowances between 2013 and 2020.

New EU energy labels, which were introduced by the new framework Directive (2010/30/EU) on 19 June 2010, have been phased in. The new labels have applied to gas ovens since 1 January 2015 and will be introduced for water heaters from 26 September.

Climate Change

Negotiations on delivering a new global climate change treaty are due to be completed at COP 21 in Paris between 30 November and 11 December. The agreement is due to be implemented from 2020. The Lima climate conference in December 2014 agreed elements of the draft negotiating text (p.5). This is due to be completed in May 2015 ahead of the Paris meeting, while countries should put forward their intended contributions to reducing global greenhouse-gas emissions in the first quarter of 2015. EU leaders agreed in October 2014 to reduce the bloc’s GHG emissions by at least 40% against 1990 levels by 2030.

In the UK, the Committee on Climate Change begins work this year on the fifth carbon budget. Under the Climate Change Act 2008, the committee is tasked with setting five-yearly budgets to ensure the country meets its legally binding 2050 target to reduce emissions by at least 80% against 1990 levels. After a review, the government last year confirmed the fourth budget, which runs from 2023 to 2027. very wet weather in January and February. May, October and November were also wetter than average

New EU rules on controlling fluorinated gases (F-gas) came into force on 1 January 2015 and apply to member states without the need for domestic legislation (see panel, p.18). Regulation 517/2014 revoked and replaced Regulation 842/2006 on F-gas.

Environment Management

Revisions to ISO 14001, the international standard for environment management systems, are due to be completed this year. The next meeting of the group working on the revised standard takes place in Tokyo in February. The final version is due in March and the new standard is expected to be available in the summer. In December 2014, 92% of member bodies of the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) approved the draft. Meanwhile, work on a revised version of ISO 14004, which outlines general guidelines on environment management principles, systems and support techniques, is also ongoing, running roughly six months behind the revision to 14001.

The ISO technical committee for greenhouse-gas (GHG) management, TC207/SC7, is continuing to revise ISO 14064-1, which provides guidance for organisations to quantify and report their GHG emissions. The revision is focusing on establishing a more standardised reporting framework. It will also cover: 14064-2, which includes quantification, monitoring and reporting of GHG emissions at the project level, and will be expanded to cover carbon credits and innovative technology projects. In addition, 14064-3, which supports the validation and verification of GHG assertions, and 14065, the standard for verification bodies for use in accreditation, will be updated to serve new markets, such as product carbon footprint verifications.

To be continued...

Sources: Environ, The Environmentalist, IEMA.

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