Optimistic but lacking action: Green groups offer mixed reaction to Environment Bill

The bill builds on the 25 Year Plan for the Environment. Pictured: Derwentwater in the Lake District

The UK Government has finally launched its Environment Bill today (15 October), a new governance system on issues covering clean air, waste management and plastics pollution, natural capital approaches and water stewardship. 

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 caters to the Government’s overarching ambition to “to leave our environment in a better state than we inherited it”.

Covering new approaches to biodiversity, water management, producer responsibilities and post-Brexit enforcement, the Bill is a welcome long-term framework but green groups have argued that it could be poorly enforced, leaving environmental degradation a real and possible risk.

Here, edie rounds up the sense of optimism but also concerns that the Bill brings green groups.

Business in the Community’s environment director Gudrun Cartwright said:

“The Government’s commitment to enshrine environmental principles in law to protect and improve the environment for future generations puts critical issues such as air and water quality and plastic pollution at the heart of the collective efforts needed to tackle climate and ecological breakdown. 

“But the Government cannot solve this problem alone. Tackling climate and ecological breakdown needs to be at the heart of UK plc’s strategy, if we are to avoid the existential threat we face. We urge businesses to be much more ambitious by joining the dots between environmental, social and economic challenges and drive the change we need to see to create a prosperous, one planet economy. 

“Business plans must include action to eliminate waste, set net zero carbon targets, invest in supply chains, support customers and harness the power of employees to lead at every level, so that we can innovate at the speed and scale needed to repair and sustain our planet.” 

Green Party MP Caroline Lucas said:

Government [has] failed to deliver the urgent transformative action required by the environment and climate emergency.

“My amendment to the Environment Bill calls on Government to enact a Green New Deal to restructure and decarbonise the economy and restore nature, including alternative measures of economic success to GDP; public investment of 5% of GDP on well-paid jobs and new industries country-wide; energy efficiency programmes that end fuel poverty community-owned renewables; publicly-owned and affordable public transport; cycling and walking; climate-friendly food and farming; and mass building of zero-carbon council homes.

“It urges Government to establish a Committee on Sustainability to advise on restoring and protecting ecosystems; to prioritise climate justice, the reversal of social and economic inequality and the revitalisation of democracy, with legislation to end public spending on fossil fuel projects overseas; to contribute a fair share to international climate finance for mitigation and adaptation alongside loss and damage.”

ESA’s executive director Jacob Hayler said:

“If implemented correctly, a new Environmental Bill could unlock billions in new investment in the UK by the environmental services sector which, in turn, will help Government deliver on its ambitious plans to reduce waste; preserve natural resources; tackle the scourge of litter polluting our natural environment; and tackle waste crime – among wider environmental goals related to air quality, nature and water preservation and CO2 reduction.

“The bill, if designed properly, will also help to protect this new investment [in the Resources and Waste Strategy] made by our sector, by levelling the playing field and providing Government with new powers to tackle waste crime, which not only harms the environment, but costs the UK economy £600 million a year; undermines the sector; and threatens investment by legitimate operators.  

“We look forward to working with Government to ensure that the content of the bill will deliver on the shared environmental ambitions of both the Government and environmental services sector – by helping businesses in our sector plan effectively and invest with confidence.”

Wildlife and Countryside Link’s chief executive Richard Benwell said:

“Legally-binding targets for nature are a fantastic step forward and could usher in a new era of environmental improvement, but only if the targets deliver a major dose of ambition, backed by credible plans for change—across Whitehall and across our economy.

“This week, we will be watching for the critical clauses needed for nature’s recovery. The Agriculture Bill must guarantee sufficient funding for greener farming for at least a decade. The Fisheries Bill must include legal limits on catches to restore our seas. The Environment Bill must match aspirational targets with ambitious action.”

RSPB’s senior policy officer Ali Plummer said:

“The climate and environment emergencies are rightly one of the top concerns for the public and we are running out of time to tackle the worst effects.

“This Environment Bill is a critical opportunity to put in place real solutions to one of the largest challenges facing us. But to meet the scale of this challenge it must set up an ambitious and legally binding framework to support the recovery of our natural world, with a robust watchdog to ensure we meet these commitments.”

ClimateCare’s chairman Edward Hanrahan said: 

“The Queen’s speech on Monday] was a great, timely and necessary opportunity for the Government to introduce a climate change bill that delivers a mandatory, economy-wide price on carbon that both reflects the true societal cost of carbon, as well as the cost of an equivalent reduction or abatement to bring us to net-zero far more quickly than 2050. It would appear that- climate change has once again fallen down the list of priorities.

“To credibly maintain a position as a leader in emissions reduction, the UK Government will need to implement an effective strategy applied broadly directing private sector carbon finance as a mechanism to meet Government targets. A key opportunity to close existing policy gaps and support an ambitious 2030 vision exists in the land sector, as highlighted by a recent report from the Committee on Climate Change (CCC).

“Funding these Natural Climate Solutions through an incentivised domestic carbon market would provide a major contribution to closing the UK’s existing climate mitigation policy gap, at minimal cost to the taxpayer, utilising an approach which can provide additional benefit to local communities, farmers and the natural environment. Obviously, there is a great opportunity to ensure any new Environment and Agriculture Bills integrate the principles of tackling climate change and CO2.”

Country Land and Business Association’s director general Sarah Hendry said:

“There is much to welcome in the Bill, which does a good job of creating an enduring framework for positive action. Long-term plans, environmental targets and embedding environmental principles will help provide the stability and clarity needed for the Government to meet its environmental ambitions.

“Meeting the environmental and climate challenge will require both government and business to work together and the farming and land management sector has a crucial role to play in this. However, all of this needs to be matched with long-term funding for the sector in order to make the most of this new approach. This is the vital piece of the puzzle we are now missing.

“We are equally pleased to see issues such as biodiversity net-gain and conservation covenants confirmed, which will encourage wildlife management on privately owned land and could provide a new source of income. However, we are disappointed that the views of our members have been ignored on water abstraction where the government is continuing to push for removal of licences, vital for food production, without compensation. We will… continue to engage with Defra and others on this issue.”

IEMA’s chief policy advisor Martin Baxter said:

“We warmly welcome the announcement of a landmark Environment Bill in the Government’s forthcoming legislative programme. This is an important opportunity to put sustainability at the heart of the UK’s economic model.

“We urgently need a comprehensive legal framework to give the long-term certainty needed to tackle the significant environmental challenges we face and welcome the commitment to set legally binding targets to address air pollution, plastic waste, biodiversity loss and to protect our precious water resources.  We look forward to reviewing the Bill in detail, with a view to ensuring the proposals match the ambition needed to create a world-leading environmental constitution.”

SUEZ UK’s chief executive David Palmer-Jones said:

“Plans under the Environment Bill to deal with plastic waste and pollution are to be commended, but these must come hand-in-hand with radical societal reform of our consumption and resource use.

“An ad hoc, piecemeal, approach to meeting society’s collective challenge to consume fewer virgin materials, and to recycle more, simply won’t deliver the systemic changes needed to deliver on the praiseworthy ambitions of the Environment Act.

“The timetable for transitioning to a more sustainable UK economy needs now to be put back on track. As a nation we are part of a global community still far too reliant on finite global resources and we cannot afford to delay. The value chain of public, manufacturers, local authorities and recycling organisations are already investing and need to invest more to make this change happen but they need the right regulatory and investment conditions to be delivered by Government now, to be able to deliver change within the timescales envisaged for a new sustainable economy.”

Environmental Defense Fund Europe’s executive director Baroness Bryony Worthington said:

“With the first Environment Bill in over 20 years, the Government is proposing much-needed steps to clean up our toxic air.

“But we can’t squander this opportunity with unclear ambitions. We need bolder, comprehensive action that puts our health first and sets firm, legal targets for the root causes of the air pollution crisis. Strong national policies to address transport – the largest source of England’s pollution – will go a long way towards creating healthier, breathable cities.”

The Aldersgate Group’s public affairs manager Sarah Williams said:

“Businesses have backed the introduction of an ambitious and robust environmental governance framework that includes a comprehensive range of legally binding environmental improvement targets to support investment in the natural environment over the long term. The inclusion of a process to set such targets in the Environment Bill is hugely welcome.

“It is great to see the progress that has been made in many areas of the Bill; importantly, the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) has improved enforcement powers and will now be able to enforce all climate change legislation. It also includes many enabling powers that will drive delivery, such as the ability to set resource efficiency requirements for products and roll out Extended Producer Responsibility schemes. When developed, these will allow the UK to capitalise on the real opportunity to achieve greater resource efficiency in product design.”
Work is still required to strengthen parts of the Bill – for instance, the OEP must be set up in a way that ensures its independence, with at the very least a pre-appointment hearing being held for its chair. We will also need to make sure that environmental principles continue to be robustly applied across government decision-making.”

TechUK’s associate director Susanne Baker said: “techUK welcomes the publication of the Environment Bill, which will provide government with the necessary powers to implement its 25-year Environment Plan. However, we are disappointed with the arrangements set out for the Office of Environmental Protection.

“While it is positive for climate change legislation to be in its scope alongside environmental law, for businesses to radically shift their business models, it needs confidence that government will meet the targets it has set itself. That is not a given if the chair and its budget of the OEP is determined by the very department it is tasked to police.”

The Wildlife Trusts’ head of land use, planning and ecological networks Sue Young said: “We’re really pleased to see a commitment to creating local nature recovery strategies for the whole of England to support a Nature Recovery Network. It’s very positive to hear that these will identify opportunity areas which show where action needs to be taken so that nature can recover.

“However, we are disappointed that major national infrastructure projects will not be subject to [biodiversity] net-gain. While we welcome the clauses strengthening the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act – saying all public bodies must have regard to conservation and enhancement of biodiversity – we believe that this should also apply to national Government when [it] decides on the planning of national infrastructure projects such as HS2.

“Additionally, there have been few guarantees on the independence, resourcing or the strong enforcement powers of the new watchdog, the Office for Environmental Protection. This must change if the Government’s proposals are to effectively ensure the protection of the natural environment and meet the ambition needed to turn nature’s recovery from an aspiration to a reality.”

The Campaign to Protect Rural England’s deputy chief executive Tom Fyans said: 

“It’s great to see the government include powers to introduce a  deposit return scheme in the Environment Bill but as the results of our nation-wide litter-pick demonstrate, in order to be an effective deterrent to the high volumes of waste polluting our natural environment, it must cover all materials of all sizes. To boost recycling rates for all drinks containers – cans, glass and plastic bottles, cartons and pouches – the only option is for the government to introduce an ‘all-in’ system. The industries that would be required to pay for the Deposit Return Scheme continue to try to limit its scope but we urge the government to prioritise the needs of the environment and society over corporate vested interests.”

Sarah George & James Evison

Comments (1)

  1. Hugh Norris says:

    It is good that the Government is making new laws to protect the environment. It is very disappointing, however, that the new laws exempt some areas of industry concerning biodiversity. That is counter-productive and inexcusable and very short-sighted. We welcome any new legislation to protect our environment but we must not relax and keep pushing the government and industry and farmers and the public to do much more. End investment in all fossil fuels at home and abroad. Stop the insane road building visions of our governments and restore bigger fuel taxes and massively invest in clean public transport. Many other things too. I believe only the greens can save our countries from self-destruction.

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie