The Environment Bill has returned to Parliament today (26 May) for Report Stage and Third Reading in the House of Commons.
Through the Environment Bill, the government sets out to improve the country’s air quality, restore natural habitats and increase biodiversity.
The Bill will also outline how the government will set out to reduce waste, make ‘better use of resources’, and improve management of water resources in a changing climate.
Government says the Bill will also ‘crack down’ on water companies that discharge sewage into rivers and will include a world-leading legally-binding species target for 2030, aiming to halt the decline of nature and to protect beloved British animals, such as red squirrels and hedgehogs.
The Environment Bill will ensure we deliver the most ambitious environmental programme of any country on earth, which is why it is essential that we complete its passage into law as soon as possible
Welcoming the Environment Bill back to Parliament, Environment Minister Rebecca Pow said: “As we build back greener from the pandemic, it is vital that we address the twin challenges of climate change and biodiversity loss and protect and improve the environment for future generations.
“The Environment Bill will ensure we deliver the most ambitious environmental programme of any country on earth, which is why it is essential that we complete its passage into law as soon as possible.”
The Bill was first announced in 2018 under former Prime Minister Teresa May but had to be brought forward once more following the general election in 2019.
It was postponed earlier this year due to the pandemic, Government said.
The Environment Bill sets out government’s ambition to ensure the environment is protected following the UK’s departure from the EU.
It sets out to ‘enhance wildlife, tackle air pollution, transform how the UK manages its resources and waste, and improve the resilience of water supplies in a changing climate to ensure we protect and restore the natural environment’, government says.
Legally binding targets will be introduced for air quality, nature, water and resource and waste efficiency, and a new, independent Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) will be created to ‘hold government and public bodies to account’ for their environmental credentials, government says.
The Office’s enforcement powers will cover all climate change legislation and hold the government to account on its commitment to reach net zero emissions by 2050.
The Bill sets out to ‘transform the way we manage our waste’ – through powers to ensure that producers take responsibility for the waste they create, introducing a ‘consistent approach’ to recycling including food waste, tackling waste crime, introducing deposit return schemes and ‘more effective’ litter enforcement, and powers to introduce new charges that will aim to ‘minimise the use and impacts’ of single use plastics.
Government says that through the Bill it will also be able to ‘ban the export of plastic waste to developing countries’.
The Environment Bill is intended to empower the government to introduce environmental legislation following the UK’s EU exit.
To replace the role of the European Commission, the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) will be created as an ‘independent watchdog’ responsible for holding the government to account on its environmental commitments.
The Government has proposed a number of amendments to the Bill upon its return to Parliament.
An amended proposed in October last year (2020) was criticised by environmental campaigners as potentially giving government a ‘get out of jail free card’.
The proposed amendment would provide Defra’s Secretary of State with the power to issue ‘mandatory guidance’ on the new OEP’s enforcement policy – including on its investigations into public authorities’ failures to comply with environmental law.
Other amendments include aiming to halt the decline of nature by amending the Bill to require the Government to set and meet a new legally-binding target on species abundance for 2030. This builds on plans to boost biodiversity, protect peatlands and create new woodlands as set out last week by the Environment Secretary.
We want to ensure our regulatory framework is fit for purpose to drive the delivery of our new 2030 biodiversity target and reverse declines of species
The Environment Bill will also re-focus the Habitats Regulations towards an objective to conserve and enhance biodiversity, and the Government will publish a Green Paper on these reforms later this year, it says.
The Green Paper will set out how it plans to deliver its domestic ambitions, as part of its objective of protecting 30 percent of terrestrial land by 2030.
“We want to ensure our regulatory framework is fit for purpose to drive the delivery of our new 2030 biodiversity target and reverse declines of species, including iconic British species like the hedgehog, red squirrel and water vole,” the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said.
As announced in the Queen’s Speech on 11 May, we will also be bringing forward amendments later this year to reduce the harm from storm overflows to our rivers, waterways and coastlines. New duties will require the government to publish a plan to reduce sewage discharges from storm overflows by September 2022 and report to Parliament on the progress towards implementing the plan.
The Environment Bill continues through Parliament following the launch consultations on the deposit return schemes for drinks containers, extended producer responsibility for packaging and consistent recycling collections which will transform the way we deal with our waste.