The government will today (Tuesday 15 October) introduce a landmark Bill to Parliament to tackle what it calls “the biggest environmental priorities of our time”.
The Government says the Bill signals a “historic step change” in the way the UK protects and enhances its “precious natural environment”.
The Environment Bill aims to ensure that England maintains and improves its environmental protections as the UK leaves the EU.
It aims to set out a “comprehensive and world-leading vision” to allow future generations to prosper.
Environmental principles will be enshrined in law and measures will be introduced to improve air and water quality, tackle plastic pollution and restore habitats so plants and wildlife can thrive.
Legislation will also create, legally-binding environmental improvement targets. A new independent Office for Environmental Protection will be established to scrutinise environmental policy and law, investigate complaints and take enforcement action against public authorities, if necessary, to uphold our environmental standards.
The office’s powers will cover all climate change legislation and hold the government to account on its commitment to reach net zero emissions by 2050.
The government has also confirmed that, once established, the office will be located in Bristol, as recommended by the Cabinet Office Places for Growth Programme, and employ up to 120 staff.
Held to account
The Bill will introduce charges for a number of single-use plastic items and will ensure the environment is “at the heart of all government policy making”, the Government says.
It says the Bill will ensure that this government – and future governments – are held to account if they fail to uphold their environmental duties, including meeting net-zero by 2050, and wider long-term legally binding targets on biodiversity, air quality, water, and resource and waste efficiency established under the Bill.
The Government says the Bill will “transform” the way England manages its waste – through powers to ensure that 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.
It positions the UK as a world leader on improving air quality, environmental biodiversity, a more circular economy, and managing our precious water resources in a changing climate
Powers to introduce new charges will minimise the use and impacts of single use plastics, the Government says.
While the Bill applies only to England, more than half of its measures – such as those designed to drive up recycling rates – are designed to apply across the UK, the Government says, with the consent of devolved administrations, helping the nation deal with the major environmental challenges we face together.
Environment Secretary Theresa Villiers said: “Our natural environment is a vital shared resource and the need to act to secure it for generations to come is clear.
“That’s why our landmark Environment Bill leads a green transformation that will help our country to thrive. It positions the UK as a world leader on improving air quality, environmental biodiversity, a more circular economy, and managing our precious water resources in a changing climate.
“Crucially, it also ensures that after Brexit, environmental ambition and accountability are placed more clearly than ever before at the heart of government, both now and in the future.”
Pat Jennings, CIWM’s head of policy, knowledge & external affairs, said the Bill lays the foundations for a “new and robust governance framework” to uphold environmental law and policy commitments after EU exit.
She said: “The Bill contains the enabling powers needed to deliver the ambitious policy initiatives set out in the Government’s resources and waste strategy – from Extended Producer Responsibility for packaging and other waste streams to resource efficiency standards for products and powers to deliver a step change in the provision of waste data and strengthen the regulatory regime to crack down on waste crime.
“It ensures that environmental principles – including the polluter pays principle and the precautionary principle – sit at the heart of decision making across government in the future and commits to the development of legally binding environmental targets.”
Martin Baxter, IEMA’s chief policy advisor welcomed the proposals, saying the Bill aims to “re-set the relationship” between the environment, society and the economy.
We’re facing a climate emergency – and while the new environmental watchdog will at least have power to hold government to account on climate change, its independence is still not guaranteed
He said: “IEMA supports the proposals to set legally binding targets to address air pollution, plastic waste, biodiversity loss and water resources as this will provide much needed certainty to allow businesses and all parts of society to plan, invest and collaborate to substantially improve the environment for the long term.”
Dave Timms, head of political affairs at Friends of the Earth said despite some improvements from previous proposals, it’s “extremely disappointing” that the Environment Bill won’t protect existing environmental safeguards from being watered down – “something ministers have repeatedly promised”, he said.
“We’re facing a climate emergency – and while the new environmental watchdog will at least have power to hold government to account on climate change, its independence is still not guaranteed,” he said.
“And it’s speed of progress hardly suggests the blue lights are being switched on.
“It’s encouraging to see headline commitments on issues such as plastics, air pollution and natural restoration, but it remains to be seen if the frameworks set out in this ‘flagship’ bill will have the clout to fulfil the government’s ‘world leading’ ambitions.
“The climate crisis is the biggest threat we face – the government’s commitment to tackling it will be judged on its action, not words.”