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25 years of the Environmental Audit Committee: solving the environmental challenges for today and tomorrow

4 min read

From plastics to nature restoration, greening finance to fast fashion, the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) has had a strong record of pushing for meaningful policy change.

Twenty-five years ago, the newly-created committee published its first report to the House, pointing out the areas where the new government’s pre-budget report was less green than promised. Ever since then, the committee – established to examine environment and sustainable development policies across government – has been the House’s green watchdog, holding Ministers to account for progress against their targets and ambitions.
Many of the technological innovations to address climate change were little more than pipe dreams at the time the committee was set up. In this Parliament alone we have been examining low-carbon technology solutions, from heat pumps to battery electric vehicles, solar power to tidal energy. There are enormous opportunities in all these areas, but government must give industry the confidence to invest. If done successfully, we can decarbonise faster, create supply chains supporting high skilled green jobs and open up export markets. 
This Parliament, nature and water quality have also been high on our agenda: both issues are critical for the food we eat and the air we breathe.
Our work on biodiversity pressed for legislative change to halt biodiversity loss – an issue we have been calling on the government to address since at least 2008 – and has contributed to the introduction of a Natural History GCSE. On trade deals, the government accepted our recommendation to introduce environmental impact assessments, and assessments to deliver environmental net gain. 
As a result of our work on water quality in this Parliament, Ofwat must now challenge water companies to demonstrate how they will achieve zero pollution incidents by 2030, and long-term investment in wastewater infrastructure is being prioritised. To reduce the load on strained sewerage systems, sustainable drainage systems are to be mandatory in new developments, meeting another EAC recommendation. 
All too often, plastic pollution moves with the current in our rivers and seas. EAC’s 2016 inquiry into microplastics led to a government ban on plastic microbeads in cosmetic products. Our later work on plastic bottles resulted in the government committing to a deposit return scheme that should be operational from 2025. 
Our 2019 report on fast fashion focused more scrutiny than ever before on the environmental impact, from production to disposal, of consumer hunger for the latest clothes, and as a follow-up we encouraged fast fashion brand boohoo to link its executive bonuses to environmental performance.

Twenty-five years on from our first report, we are again looking at how the flow of money and investment influences environmental choices, as we examine how the financial sector is supporting net zero decisions. EAC earlier persuaded the Bank of England to consider climate risk to financial stability and got pension providers to consider climate-related financial risk: our recommendations led to climate-related financial disclosures being made mandatory for listed companies and large asset owners. 

There will be time later this month to toast the hard work of current and former committee members, staff and advisers over our first quarter century. But as a committee we are while tempted to look back on past achievements, our focus is firmly on the future. We want to help solve the great environmental challenges of today and tomorrow. In this new dawn of soaring energy costs we are at the forefront of energy efficiency solutions.  We shall continue to nudge government along the path to environmental improvement, more sustainable development, and net zero. 
So as the government establishes a Net Zero Department, we will continue to press for policies which put the UK at the forefront of low-carbon technological development and deployment, strengthening its leadership in the global net zero race. We will also hold Ministers to their commitments to improve nature within a generation so that we leave the environment in a better state than we found it.

Engineering a Better World

The Engineering a Better World podcast series from The House magazine and the IET is back for series two! New host Jonn Elledge discusses with parliamentarians and industry experts how technology and engineering can provide policy solutions to our changing world.

NEW SERIES - Listen now

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Connecting Communities

Connecting Communities is an initiative aimed at empowering and strengthening community ties across the UK. Launched in partnership with The National Lottery, it aims to promote dialogue and support Parliamentarians working to nurture a more connected society.

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