Lord Sheikh Comment Piece – The House Magazine

“We need a climate impact assessment on all policy proposals going through Cabinet”

In my maiden speech, I highlighted the importance of restoring and maintaining our natural environment. Now, 13 years later, I am pleased to see that responding to the climate emergency is being taken very seriously by government, private business and the population more generally. Furthermore, through our involvement in the Paris agreement, and our leading role at the recent G7 summit in Cornwall, Britain is now at the forefront of orchestrating an international effort to reverse the consequences of climate change.

I applaud the recent strides we have made. However, the task is far from complete. If we are to meet ambitious 2050 net-zero carbon objectives, and nationally determined contributions stipulated in the Paris agreement, the architecture of government must be suited towards achieving our environmental goals. We cannot effectively tackle climate change if our legislative agenda surreptitiously undermines our efforts. Thankfully, we have multiple options to help prevent this unintended consequence.

In my question to the minister, Lord Callanan, I suggested we implement a New Zealand-style approach to regulating our carbon emissions. New Zealand scrutinises all policy proposals going through cabinet, utilising an innovative approach to assessing its own government’s impact on the environment. Such checks would help us not only to meet our targets, but to avoid negative impacts that could undermine our ambitions. Furthermore, it signifies to the rest of the world that Britain is a leader in reversing climate change, and willing to integrate this ethos into all policy areas.

We must appreciate the fact that the UK government has the capacity to both harm and protect the environment. The recent Environment Bill goes a long way in assuring our strength of purpose in the latter, setting out some effective measures relating to air quality, water, biodiversity, resource efficiency and waste reduction. It is imperative we meet these targets. Additionally, the proposed Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) will exist to provide oversight, scrutiny and enforcement through the courts where necessary, to ensure compliance across government departments.

The OEP is the first step in holding this government and successive administrations to account. However, we could go further. Combating the climate emergency means implementing safeguards across multiple aspects of the natural environment – including tackling deforestation, improving water quality, reducing air pollution and encouraging more sustainable food systems. Ensuring we meet our targets on greenhouse gases is just one element which needs countering. When we recognise the scale of the challenge facing us, it makes sense to support our own efforts in the most effective manner possible.

Introducing a climate impact policy assessment tool could transform our ability to monitor our own carbon emissions. Indeed, by giving the UK government an innovative way to effectively assess all incoming legislation, we enable cabinet to proactively protect the environment in the pursuit of our own climate goals. In turn, we can then dismiss policies which no longer meet our high environmental standards. Such an approach could be useful, as we begin the task of reversing the most harmful ramifications of climate change.