UK Government’s ‘gold standard’ Environment Bill reintroduced

The UK Government's long-awaited Environment Bill has finally been reintroduced to Parliament, outlining powers to stop the exports of plastic waste to developing countries, and revamped governance systems on clean air and biodiversity and two-yearly reviews to update the Bill if required.

UK Government’s ‘gold standard’ Environment Bill reintroduced

The Bill confirms that the OEP will cover all climate change legislation

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.

The final version of the Bill was put to Parliament by the Queen in October 2019, and was set to move onto the Committee stage in the process of becoming law but was delayed by the General Election and subsequent withdrawal negotiations with the European Union (EU).

Ahead of the UK’s departure from the EU this Friday, 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 will have to go through the House of Commons and the House of Lords before receiving Royal Assent.

Environment Secretary Theresa Villiers said: “We are facing climate change and our precious natural environment is under threat. We need to take decisive action. We have set out our pitch to be a world leader on the environment as we leave the EU and the Environment Bill is a crucial part of achieving this aim. It sets a gold standard for improving air quality, protecting nature, increasing recycling and cutting down on plastic waste.

“This will build on the UK’s strong track record as the first major economy to commit to reaching net-zero emissions by 2050 and will drive further action in this super year for the environment, culminating in the UK welcoming the world to the COP26 UN Climate Change Conference in November in Glasgow.”

A series of commitments are outlined within the Bill, including:

Local powers to tackle air pollution: Legally binding targets to reduce fine particulate matter, PM2.5, and by increasing local powers to address sources of air pollution, enabling local authorities to work with families to cut harmful pollution from domestic burning by using cleaner fuels. The government will also be empowered to mandate manufacturers to recall vehicles when they do not meet the relevant environmental standards.

Single-use plastics charges: The Bill will create powers to introduce new charges for single-use plastic items to minimise their use and incentivising reusable alternatives.

Powers to recall vehicles that do not meet legal emission standards: The government will mandate manufacturers to recall vehicles when they do not meet the relevant environmental standards.

Biodiversity net-gain: Ensure new houses are delivered in a way which protects and enhances nature, helping to “deliver thriving natural spaces for local communities”. Protection for natural habitats will be supported by a Nature Recovery Network, establishing Local Nature Recovery Strategies and giving communities a greater say in the protection of local trees.

Waste management: Powers to ensure producers take responsibility for the waste they create, introducing a consistent approach to recycling, tackling waste crime, introducing bottle deposit return schemes and more effective litter enforcement. Powers to introduce new charges to “minimise the use and impacts of single-use plastics”.

Water services: Plans to increase sustainable water management through securing long-term, resilient water and wastewater services in the face of a changing climate. Powers to direct water companies to work together to meet current and future demand for water which “will make planning more robust”.

Office for Environmental Protection

Around 80% of the UK’s environmental laws have been forged in partnership with other nations in Europe, many of which would be upheld and scrutinised by the European Commission.

MPs on the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) have warned that the implementation of the Bill without any changes from its draft form would lead to key national environmental policies becoming “severely downgraded” from those currently mandated by the EU. Similar concerns have been voiced by more than 40 environmental organisations including Greenpeace, WWF UK and ClientEarth, while Northern Ireland’s environmental department (DAERA) has asked for the remit of the Bill to be extended in geographical scope.

The Bill finally sets the policy frameworks covering the remit of the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) – the UK’s post-Brexit “watchdog” for green issues.

The independent office will scrutinise environmental policy and law, investigate complaints and enforce action against public authorities that are failing to uphold environmental standards. The Bill confirms that the OEP will cover all climate change legislation, including the commitment to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.

Matt Mace

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