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 economy as the first to do so.
This week the Government brought the Environment Bill to Parliament. 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 provides new tools to help 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.
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. It embeds environmental principles in future policy making and takes the essential steps needed to strengthen environmental oversight and improve on the way things have been done in the past. The new system will be clear and accessible, providing certainty to businesses and citizens. Environmental principles will work together to protect the environment from damage by making environmental considerations central to the policy development process across government, local and national. 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. The government 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 significantly improve 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.
I am pressing the Government to invest in easily accessible digital, independent and expert information on what action is being taking across all sectors to deliver our net zero and nature recovery targets, including a detailed road map for each year. Information is power and I want to enable everyone and every workplace to take action and to hold the Government to account. The U.K. is taking world leading action to ensure we leave our environment in better condition than we found it. Too few people know where to go to find out what is actually going on, what they can do to help and what support is available to help with transition. This needs to change as, all too often, I see misrepresentation of the facts or even lies being spread. People are missing out on vital information that would make a positive difference.
Post Brexit, we need a unifying national endeavour to bring is all together, and I believe this is it.
First published in the Falmouth Packet 30/10/19