Bill requiring UK policymakers to consider long-term environmental sustainability introduced

Pictured: Caroline Lucas MP speaking at the Bill's informal reception last month. Image: Today for Tomorrow

Orchestrated by The Big Issue founder Lord Bird, the Future Generations Bill is modelled after Wales’ Well-being of Future Generations Act, which was enshrined in law in 2015.

The Bill is broadly founded in the UN’s sustainable development principle thatthe needs of the present are met without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.

In its current form, it would require Ministers to develop impact assessments of the likely impact on future generations of all major proposed changes in expenditure, policy or legislation.

As well as these analyses, Ministers would be required to publish a national risk assessment on future and emerging risks, including management plans; annual future trends reports highlighting the expertise of the Committee on Climate Change and IPCC; and work and wellbeing goals for the short, mid and long-term.

Compliance with these, and the Bill’s other requirements, would be overseen by a Future Generations Commissioner and by a Joint Parliamentary Committee for the Future. The Committee, like others, would scrutinise legislation and hold Ministers accountable for any decisions deemed to prioritise the short-term benefits over long-term impacts.

The Bill has received support from all major parties. Those who have vocally supported it on an informal basis since it was first launched last month include Lib Dem MP Wera Hobhouse, Conservative peer Lord Nick Bourne, crossbencher Lord Michael Hastings and Labour peer Baroness Ruth Lister. The Green Party’s Caroline Lucas is acting as the Bill’s sponsor in the House of Commons. 

Tweeting after the session in which the Bill was introduced to the House of Commons, Lucas wrote: “When we rebuild on the other side of [the coronavirus] pandemic, we can choose to do so with greater consideration than ever to the wellbeing of future generations.

“[I am] proud to introduce the Future Generations Bill today with cross-party support. Acting today for tomorrow is as important as ever.”

Policymaking in a pandemic

The UK Government announced this morning (25 March) that the House of Lords and House of Commons will be closing this evening after emergency laws to deal with the impact of the Covid-19 outbreak are passed.

This afternoon, MPs will vote on whether a managed return on 21 April should take place, in order to implement some of the legislation promised at the Budget.

Regarding environmental sustainability specifically, the Budget contained multi-million-pound packages for flood resilience, tree planting, peatland restoration, air quality, electric vehicles (EVs), carbon capture and storage (CCS) and low-carbon heat. It also pushed the introduction of a tax on plastic packaging manufacturers and importers who fail to include more than 30% recycled content in their products forward, providing a final introduction date of April 2022. But green campaigners were disappointed to see the inclusion of a multi-million-pound pot for roads, continued freezes to fuel duty and “weak” action on red diesel.

Elsewhere in the green policy space, the coronavirus outbreak is widely expected to delay progress with the Environment Bill and with the development of the UK Government’s promised Net-Zero Strategy – its response to repeated calls for short and mid-term, sector-specific supports to its 2050 target.

Fears that COP26, due to take place in Glasgow in November, could be postponed, are also rife. Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) sessions to discuss how the UK can make a success of the summit are suspended, while the UN has paused in-person climate change meetings for at least six weeks.

The main concern is not whether social distancing requirements currently preventing gatherings will have lifted by November, but that world leaders will likely be less ambitious and motivated, and that their Ministers may not have ample time to prepare new Nationally Determined Contributions to the Paris Agreement.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab last week told the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee he “couldn’t give a cast-iron guarantee” that the COP would go ahead on its planned dates – but stressed that the Government “would rather avoid delay if [it] possibly can”. edie’s content editor Matt Mace has explored the potential impacts of delaying COP26 in this feature.

Sarah George

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