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The Environment Bill

The Environment Bill, which aims to tackle climate change and protect and restore the natural environment, was initially brought before the House of Commons in October but was delayed due to the General Election and subsequent EU withdrawal negotiations.

It returned to Parliament on 30 January, and the re-introduced version features two new commitments from the October readings, namely:

  • A ban on exporting plastic to developing countries.
  • A two-yearly review of significant developments in international legislation on the environment.

Environment Secretary Theresa Villiers has said the Bill “sets a gold standard for improving air quality, protecting nature, increasing recycling and cutting down on plastic waste.”

The frameworks detailed in the Bill replace the UK’s current obligations under EU law.

A new independent Office for Environmental Protection will be established to scrutinise environmental policy and law, investigate complaints and take enforcement action against public authorities, if necessary, to uphold environmental standards.

The Bill confirms that the OEP’s powers will cover all climate change legislation and hold the government to account on its commitment to reach net zero emissions by 2050. According to the Government, this ambition will be supported by championing nature-based solutions, helping to demonstrate a commitment to tackle climate change.

Specifically, the Bill outlines a series of other commitments that include the following:

  • Ensure the environment is at the heart of all government policy making and that this government – and future governments – are held to account if they fail to uphold their environmental duties. In addition to the 2050 net zero emission target, this also includes wider long-term legally binding targets on biodiversity, air quality, water, and resource efficiency and waste management that are established under the Bill. And the Government says it will conduct a review every two years of significant developments in international legislation on the environment to ensure it keeps abreast of developments in driving forward environmental protection legislation. Defra says Government will publish this review and ensure its findings are factored into the Environmental Improvement Plan and environmental target setting process, both of which will be enshrined in law.
  • Transform the way waste is managed – through powers that enable the requirement on producers to take more responsibility for the products and materials they place on the market, including when they become waste, introducing a consistent approach to recycling, tackling waste crime, creating powers to introduce bottle deposit return schemes and having more effective litter enforcement. A power to stop the export of polluting plastic waste to less developed countries will ensure that more waste is dealt with at home and lighten the UK’s footprint on the planet. Government will consult with industry, NGOs, and local authorities on specific restrictions or prohibitions. The Bill will also create powers to introduce new charges for single use plastic items to minimise their use and incentivising reusable alternatives to reduce their environmental impact.
  • Improve air quality – by introducing measures to reduce pollution so children and young people can live longer healthier lives. Government is committing to set an ambitious, legally binding target to reduce fine particulate matter, the pollutant of greatest harm to human health. In addition, the Bill will ensure that local authorities have a clear framework for tackling air pollution and simple to use powers to address pollution in their areas.
  • Powers to recall vehicles that do not meet legal emission standards – the government will be empowered to mandate manufacturers to recall vehicles and machinery when they do not meet the relevant environmental standards.
  • Restore and enhance nature – through ‘biodiversity net gain’ Government says it will ensure that the new houses built are delivered in a way which protects and enhances nature, helping to deliver thriving natural spaces for local communities. Government will lay the foundation for the Nature Recovery Network to deliver long lasting action for nature by establishing Local Nature Recovery Strategies, strengthening the duty on public authorities to enhance biodiversity and giving communities a greater say in the management of street trees. Government says it is also legislating for conservation covenants to improve long-term conservation management.
  • Protect precious water resources – by increasing sustainable water management through securing long-term, resilient water and wastewater services in the face of a changing climate. Powers to direct water companies to work together to meet current and future demand for water will make planning more robust.

The Bill will have to go through the House of Commons and the House of Lords before receiving Royal Assent to become law. The next stage is the Second Reading, where MPs will consider the Bill; a date for the Second Reading has not yet been announced.

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