Queen's Speech: Ministers urged to deliver on net-zero and plastics commitments
In her formal State Opening of Parliament this morning (19 December), the Queen urged ministers to deliver progress on the Government's net-zero goal ahead of COP26.
Speaking to re-open Parliament after last week’s general election – in which the Conservative Party achieved a landslide victory – the Queen laid out Ministers’ priorities for the next parliamentary term.
After confirming that the Government’s immediate priority is the delivery of Brexit by 31 January in a way which “makes the most of the opportunities” the UK’s exit from the UK “brings to all people”, the Queen detailed Ministers’ priorities around green policy.
“My Government will continue to take steps to meet the world-leading target of net-zero GHG emissions by 2050,” she said.
“It will continue to lead the way in tackling global climate change, hosting the COP26 summit in 2020.”
“To protect and improve the environment for future generations, a bill will enshrine in law environmental principles and legally binding targets, including for air quality,” the Queen added, alluding to the Environment Bill.
Introduced in draft format at the end of 2018, the Environment Bill sets out how the UK’s green standards and environmental protection laws will look after Brexit, and how these will take shape in future trade deals. It is also the policy framework covering the remit of the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) - the UK’s post-Brexit “watchdog” for green issues.
An updated version of the Bill, introduced to Parliament after Boris Johnson’s prorogation came to an end in October, had passed its second reading prior to the general election. However, it had faced broad criticism from MPs and green groups.
An updated version of the Environment Bill is due to be placed on the table in the coming weeks, with Ministers maintaining that the creation of the OEP will introduce a world-leading independent regulator in statue”.
As she continued her speech, the Queen re-affirmed the Conservative Party’s commitment to “ban the export of polluting plastic waste to countries outside of the Organisation for Economic Collaboration and Development”.
Since China confirmed last January that it would stop accepting 24 types of plastic waste, the UK’s Government and business community have faced pressure from consumers and campaigners to reduce their waste exports. Green groups have previously accused the UK of exporting as much as two-thirds of its plastics waste, largely to nations with inefficient infrastructure.
The Conservative Party's election win met a mixed reaction from across the UK's green economy.
Critics pointed out that the policy frameworks introduced over the past nine years have slowed onshore wind and solar installations; allowed fracking to grow; failed to deliver rapid electification in sectors such as transport and heat and, ultimately, left the UK off-track to meeting its fifth carbon budget.
However, others highlighted the fact that the UK's long-term net-zero target was implemented by Theresa May - and that the Government should, with its new majority, be able to rapidly implement supporting legislation for the short and medium-term.
Moreover, environmental sustainability is rapidly moving up the public and business agenda in regards to policy. Ahead of the general election, more than half of the UK public said they would vote with climate in mind, with a separate study having uncovered growing support for a pre-2050 net-zero target.
Speaking to the BBC after the Queen's Speech, Caroline Lucas MP maintained that Boris Johnson's Parliament could still be the "first climate Parliament", despite heavy losses for both Labour and the Liberal Democrats, which had both outlined pre-2050 net-zero targets in their manifestos.
Empty claims of world leadership on #climate won’t make us the “greenest country on Earth”, as the PM has promised— Caroline Lucas (@CarolineLucas) December 19, 2019
That requires urgent climate action - a 2050 target date just doesn’t cut it #QueensSpeech
Responding to the Queen's Speech, the Aldersgate Group's executive director Nick Molho said: "With ample cross-party consensus, two major global summits in 2020 and growing business and public calls for more action, this government has the historic opportunity to push forward the most ambitious environmental and climate policy agenda on record.
"The Environment Bill announced today will be an important step in this direction: it should set robust environmental improvement targets, set tangible interim milestones and establish a truly independent Office for Environmental Protection.”
The Environmental Services Association's executive director Jacob Hayler added: “For many in our sector, this will feel like Groundhog Day, with a Queens Speech announcing a new environmental legislation for the second time in nine weeks – including steps to meet net-zero carbon by 2050, legally binding targets on air quality, and the establishment of a ‘world-leading independent regulator’ for the environment.
"However, this time, it also included reference to a ban on the export of plastic outside of the OECD, which was included in the Conservative manifesto. On this latter point, ESA fully supports the principle of responsible export, and we look forward to working with the Government to ensure that the proposed ban goes hand-in-hand with other measures to stimulate domestic demand for recyclable materials, and the delivery of new infrastructure; and that it ensures good recyclable material is not sent for disposal.
"It would seem that we are finally entering a period of political stability, and ESA members will no doubt be pleased that the new Government is wasting no time in cracking on with a legislative agenda to deliver on its pledges for the environment, even if the timeline is ultimately being driven by the Government’s desire to exit the EU by the end of January.”