Learning and development on the UKELA Mentoring Scheme
Sustainability Consultant Amber Rochette shares her experience in the UK Environmental Law Association’s mentoring scheme. Read on to find out more about her background in law and sustainable development, and everything she’s learnt on her journey so far!
Last year, UKELA (The UK Environmental Law Association) gave out 5 mentoring placements to young professionals with an interest in environmental law, sustainability, and the Government. The aim was to allow those young professionals to shadow and learn from five government organisations to gain a deeper understanding environmental law in practise.
I applied and was lucky enough to be awarded one of those placements, in The Office for Environmental Protection, to be precise. Born out of the Environment Act 2021, this non-departmental body (funded by DEFRA) is relatively new. They scrutinise environmental law and policy and investigate any claims of non-compliance brought forward by the public, such as the polluting of rivers with sewage. They keep the government (and public bodies) accountable by investigating whether the law has been breached, or if the law is ineffective for its intended use and providing the appropriate course of advisory or enforcement action.
In 2020, I completed a master’s in environmental law & sustainable development at UWE, and it was one of the first of its kind at the time. The area has developed significantly. Now, UWE (and hundreds of other universities) have numerous courses dedicated entirely to environmental law and/or sustainable development. This specific area of law is really picking up pace. In fact, climate litigation has more than doubled in the last 5 years. Not-for-profits like ClientEarth, The Good Law Project, Friends of the Earth and the Greenalliance are making headlines with their review of environmental policy and political affairs, and we’re seeing a lot come to light in mainstream media. Some juicy examples below…
In July 2022, the High Court found that the Governments Net Zero strategy was unlawful – it was too vague in ensuring that the statutory targets would be met. The Government was ordered to flesh out their existing strategy with sufficient detail. Now, almost a year later, the strategy is still not up to scratch according to environmental law experts. The Climate Change Committee declared their concerns in the Government meeting its medium-term targets. Section 14 of the Climate Change Act 2008 requires sufficient information to be published to allow meaningful scrutiny of net zero policies. Lawyers at Friends of the Earth, The Good Law Project and ClientEarth are taking the Government to court again for failure to include a proper assessment of the risks associated with policies in their updated strategy.
The OEP are investigating possible failures to comply with environmental law from DEFRA, The Environment Agency and Ofwat, because of their alleged failures to monitor and enforce water companies regarding their sewage management. The investigation so far leads to the misinterpretation of the law, making it somewhat ineffective in use. Taking steps to clarify the law here and ensuring that water quality is built on a regulatory system that works as the law intends, will help set the precedent for better water quality and sewage management in the near future. We’re excited to see how this one develops!
The mentoring scheme
I’m now half way through the mentoring scheme and I’ve been shadowing meetings and seeing environmental law review reports come to life. One that sparked particular interest was the review of practical barriers to implementation of environmental assessment regimes. The report concluded that one of the main barriers was access to data, with the common feature that data was not shared efficiently. The OEP detailed several recommendations to the Government such as the creation of a map-based online portal to signpost users to data that is available and issuing updated Government guidance on environmental assessments to help streamline the implementation for assessors.
As well seeing the workings behind The Office of Environmental Protection, it has been really valuable meeting other mentees and mentors and understanding how several organisations play such an important – collective – role in environmental protection. I’ve also met with representatives from the Greenalliance, an environmental law, not-for-profit think-tank who accelerates ambitious environmental leadership and help spur government action. Next on my agenda, is seeing some past and present claims in the flesh. In the spring, we are going on a tour around The West Midlands to see what happens when the law fails in its intent to protect the environment.
The law and sustainability for businesses
The law can often feel far removed from our day to day lives. Companies – especially SMEs – are likely to feel bound by, and out of control with parliamentary powers. But, possibly the most insightful thing I have learned so far is the power that public pressure can have on legislative decisions. As part of my day-to-day role here at Sustainit, I’m often working with clients to ensure that they meet relevant legal reporting requirements. Being part of this experience, seeing how the law comes to life and how organisations measure its effectiveness in use, is incredibly useful in helping clients navigate sometimes grey areas with various corporate reporting requirements.
It’s important to engage with NGOs and other bodies that are lobbying for specific changes to the law relative to your industry. Make sure you are part of a professional membership body. This will be a good first place to keep on top of legislation changes relative to your industry. In terms of more general corporate non-financial disclosures however, we’ve got your back!