'A much-need overhaul': Green groups react to revamped Environment Bill
Green groups have welcomed the reintroduction of the Government's 'gold standard' Environment Bill today (30 January), noting that it could be "truly transformative" if it is able to set out legal guarantees on the delivery of a raft of new policy commitments.
The Environment Bill has been reintroduced to Parliament and features two new commitments from the October readings. Firstly, according to Defra, the UK will go beyond the EU’s level of ambition to create global action by introducing powers to stop the exports of plastic waste to developing countries, whilst attempting to boost the UK’s stagnant domestic recycling rates.
The Bill also includes a new commitment to review global and national developments concerning environmental legislation, which will be considered in an Environmental Improvement Plan and environmental target setting process, both of which will be enshrined in law.
The Bill covers a multitude of environmental aspects, from the aforementioned plastics exports to revamped wastewater services and new powers for local authorities to enforce environmental legislation.
This has left the green economy with a lot to reflect on and the early indications seem to be that the Bill could be truly transformational in its scope, as long as the Government doesn’t renegade on standards over the years, which has been a common concern during the Brexit negotiations.
Here, edie rounds up the commentary on key areas of the Environment Bill.
On plastic waste exports
Jacob Hayler, executive director of the Environmental Services Association (ESA), said: “We welcome the early reintroduction of the Environment Bill to the government’s legislative agenda. We view this as cementing the radical changes promised by the Resources & Waste Strategy, particularly in regard to bolstering the ‘polluter-pays’ principle.
“The ESA also welcomes the introduction of rules concerning the export of mixed plastics to non-OECD countries. This must be accompanied by measures that will unlock investment in domestic markets and demand for recycled product. This is a complex issue that ESA members have been working on for some time, to ensure that good markets can continue to be found for UK recycled material and that all exports, regardless of destination, are conducted with robust due-diligence procedures in place.”
On Air pollution:
Polly Billington, director of UK100, said: "We know that 700 people die every week from the effects of toxic air pollution. We need to give new powers to local authorities to address this health crisis, including for clean air zones and a national vehicle scrappage scheme to clean up our transport system. The Government should strengthen its plans by setting a clear deadline and target for when it will meet the World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines on pollution."
On the Office for Environmental Protection
Kierra Box, Friends of the Earth campaigner, said: “If the government wants to show global leadership on protecting our environment it must set out legal guarantees in the Environment Bill to ensure existing eco-laws aren’t watered down in a post-Brexit world. This bill does not offer that guarantee.
“A strong environmental watchdog is crucial, but will be useless without the resources, independence, and teeth to hold businesses and government to account.”
Helen Munday, Food and Drink Federation’s chief scientific officer said: “The Bill heralds a much-needed overhaul in environmental legislation, the first of its kind for over twenty years. As the UK’s largest manufacturing sector, food and drink takes its environmental footprint seriously. FDF’s recent report shows the huge progress made since we first launched Ambition 2025.
“Our industry has a shared ambition with the government to tackle the issue of plastic in the environment and know that more must be done to drive up recycling across all materials. We specifically urge governments across the UK to work together locally and nationally to address the current disjointed approach to collections of recyclable materials.
“We are particularly encouraged by the proposal to establish a fully independent Office for Environmental Protection, and welcome the inclusion of climate change within its remit as part of government’s commitment to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. The UK must be at the forefront of international efforts to produce more, from less, and with less impact.”
On local powers
Richard Benwell, chief executive of Wildlife and Countryside Link said: "A truly transformative bill is a rare species. The Environment Bill is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to save nature, but only if it is strengthened. The Government should commit to setting comprehensive targets for nature and binding plans capable of delivering them, with local strategies that genuinely influence planning and spending decisions. Get this right, and a bill with great potential could inspire action for nature around the world. Otherwise, it might turn out to be just another common-or-garden law after all."
Nick Molho, executive director of the Aldersgate Group said: “The return of the Environment Bill sends an important signal to business, but more clarity is needed to ensure private sector investment rapidly materialises alongside ambitious government action. In particular, the Bill needs to clearly set out the expected ambition of future targets and how they will be set, provide for environmental improvements in each priority areas to be delivered in a cohesive way, and establish a more robust framework to incentivise successive governments to deliver on shorter-term interim targets as is the case under the Climate Change Act, where interim carbon budgets are legally binding.
“In addition to a clear sense of direction, businesses value the reassurance provided by an independent and effective regulatory enforcement regime. We welcome the broad enforcement powers provided to the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) and the inclusion of climate legislation within these, but believe its independence needs strengthening in the Bill. Parliament should be given a key role in scrutinising the appointment of the OEP Chair and we would welcome greater clarity in the Bill on the OEP’s multi-year budget.”
Katie White, executive director of advocacy and campaigns at WWF said: “The Environment Bill is a unique opportunity to restore our planet, improve business practices and remove deforestation from supply chains. If the UK Government wants to truly live up to being a world leader on the environment, it needs to take urgent action on our global impact. It should start by legislating to take deforestation out of supply chains so businesses are required to do this by law. If government legislates, it levels the playing field – providing business with the confidence to invest in cleaning up and driving action from those falling behind.”
Matthew Farrow, EIC Executive Director said: "It’s good to see the Bill brought back to Parliament quickly. It’s nearly there, but needs some further strengthening to be truly world-leading. For example, we need stable markets for environmental technology to unlock innovation and investment – to do this we need binding interim targets as well as long term targets. We also need targets that sit coherently together in a way that EU targets have not always managed – UK air quality policy has been distorted by NOx targets being much tougher to meet than targets for Particulates despite the latter causing more health impacts.
"There are also areas where we need more ambition. The 25 Year Environment Plan makes clear that mandatory biodiversity net gain (BNG) for new developments was a stepping stone towards requiring wider environmental net gain. The Bill contains welcome powers to implement BNG but as far as we can see nothing to move us towards wider environmental net gain. And the Bill should commit the UK to remain a member of the European Environment Agency post-Brexit. This does not involve any ‘rule-taking’ but would connect us to the European environmental scientific community – several non-EU Member States are members."