Welcoming the new Environment Bill

The case for tackling biodiversity loss, climate change and environmental risks to public health is clear. The accelerating impact of climate change in this country and around the world is of profound public concern, as is the damage to nature with species loss, habitat erosion and the disappearance of cherished wildlife.

The Government has already taken action to address climate change by setting a target to reach net zero emissions, leading the way amongst major economies as the first to do so. This week the Government brought forward the Environment Bill. This is part of the government response to the clear and scientific case, and growing public demand, for a step-change in environmental protection and recovery.

The Environment Bill helps to manage the impact of human activity on the environment, creating a more sustainable and resilient economy, and enhancing well-being and quality of life.  It will engage and empower citizens, local government and businesses to deliver environmental outcomes and create a positive legacy for future generations. The Environment Bill has been prepared through consultations with the public on numerous measures in the Bill, including: environmental governance; the clean air strategy; biodiversity net gain; trees; conservation covenants; extended producer responsibility for packaging; recycling; deposit return schemes and water.

These joined up measures will help us manage the environmental challenges we are facing together. It will transform our environmental governance by creating a new system which is built on international best practice and tailored specifically to a UK context.  The new system will be clear and accessible, providing certainty to businesses and citizens.  The Bill legally obliges policy-makers to have due regard to the environmental principles policy statement when choosing policy options, for example, by considering the policies which cause the least environmental harm. A new statutory cycle of target setting, monitoring, planning and reporting will help deliver significant, long term environmental improvement and ensure government can be held to account for its actions.

Statutory Environmental Improvement Plans (EIPs; the first being the 25 Year Environment Plan) and a new framework for setting long term legally binding targets will be integral to this cycle. We will set new legally binding targets in four priority areas of the natural environment: air quality; waste and resource efficiency; water and nature. The EIPs and legally binding targets will be reviewed on a five-yearly basis and together they will drive action to improve significantly the natural environment and provide much-needed certainty for businesses and stakeholders. In order to strengthen environmental accountability, the Environment Bill will establish a new public body – the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) – as our own independent, domestic watchdog. Through its scrutiny and advice functions, the OEP will monitor progress in improving the natural environment in accordance with the government’s domestic environmental improvement plans and targets. It will be able to provide government with written advice on any proposed changes to environmental law.

First published in the West Briton 16/10/19