'Proposals fall far short': Green economy left disappointed at Queen's speech
With the UK's official reopening of Parliament this week, the Queen travelled to the House of Lords to outline Governmental priorities for the coming months. Many had expected more to be said about tackling climate change and nature loss.
Delivered today from 11.30am, the speech reiterated the UK’s commitment to delivering an economic recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic, outlining measures to help the NHS innovate and to support businesses affected by lockdown.
The Queen also used the occasion to reiterate many of the pledges made at the 2021 Budget session, including the creation of ‘free ports’. Other announcements to have made national headlines include a ban on conversion therapy for LGBTQ+ people and proposals for mandatory photo ID on voting days.
Green policy was also highlighted, with the Queen alluding to the Environment Bill, which is set to return this Parliamentary term after a string of delays, and the forthcoming net-zero strategy. Due out this autumn, the net-zero strategy will break down the long-term net-zero goal on a sector-by-sector basis, with advice for action and legal targets in the interim.
The Queen said: “My Government will invest in new green industries to create jobs while protecting the environment. The UK is committed to achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and will continue to lead the way internationally, by hosting the COP26 summit in Glasgow.
“Legislation will set binding environmental targets. Legislation will also be brought forward to ensure that the UK has, and promotes, the highest standards of animal welfare.”
While the speech usually lasts for the best part of an hour, the affair was over in less than 30 minutes this time around. Many key figures across the green economy had hoped for more detail on the policy packages mentioned, like the Environment Bill, and for other packages, such as the England Tree Action Plan and Peat Strategy.
Green Party MP Caroline Lucas tweeted: “[Was] that it? The first Queen’s Speech of this vital decade for climate action, and proposals fall far short. We need a plan, not more empty pledges. A lasting recovery from Covid has to be a green recovery with investment in green jobs across UK. Where is the urgently needed Green New Deal?”
Similarly, Norton Rose Fullbright’s head of environment Caroline May said the “urgency” which Ministers reference when discussing climate issues “has not yet been reflected in the passage of the Environment Bill through Parliament and the House of Lords”. One issue with this is that the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP), the UK’s post-Brexit watchdog, cannot begin operating fully until the Bill gains royal assent.
May added: “COP26 in November provides an immovable line in the sand and an urgent driver for the Government to get its plans passed into law before then.
“High-level declarations we have seen, such as the ambitious reduction in emissions targets, now need to be backed with swift action and implementation, particularly as we rebuild the economy after the pandemic. Green innovation, job creation and investment opportunities must be at the heart of the policy agenda, with appropriate legal frameworks providing certainty for investors, entrepreneurs and regulators.
“There is a something of a credibility gap between the Government’s stated ambitions to lead and not follow in this agenda. Given the EU’s long-established environmental regulatory programme, the risk of regression post-Brexit is still very real and needs to be the subject of constant vigilance.
“To put the Government’s ambitions for Britain to be a world leader in this space, our environmental regulation needs to be tested against developments not only in Europe, but also in the rest of the world, as China and the US mobilise behind this agenda. COP26 is an opportunity for the UK to stake its place as a world leader.”
IEMA's director of policy and external affairs Martin Baxter added: "Whilst IEMA welcomes the confirmation that the Environment Bill will continue its course, it is ‘third time lucky’ for this Bill and essential that it receives Royal Assent as soon as possible. The natural environment cannot wait a moment longer and we need the new environmental governance process in place to ensure we protect and enhance our natural capital and ecosystems.
"There is much work to do to establish long-term environmental targets, integrate environmental principles into whole-of-government policymaking and ensure that the new ‘green watchdog’, the Office for Environmental Protection, sets off on the right footing. IEMA is working with the Government in each of these areas and will continue to do so to tackle the significant environmental challenges we face."
There were also questions about how compatible some of the policies raised are with the net-zero transition, including the £27bn roads building plan – the largest investment in the sector in UK history – and the forthcoming Planning Bill.
The CPRE has criticised the planning bill, with the charity’s chief executive Crispin Truman saying: “Our research has shown that design standards get worse the further you get from London with rural communities getting the poorest design of all. Good design, green spaces and locally-led planning go hand in hand.
“But the government’s proposed changes to planning would effectively halve democratic input in planning under the guise of simplifying the system. By removing the right of local people to scrutinise individual developments, communities would be robbed of their right to shape the places in which they live.
“As we have seen with the very sensible rethink of the housing algorithm, there is still time for the government to change course and use the upcoming Planning Bill to secure and streamline local participation in planning. It is not too late to put communities and nature at the heart of planning.”