The New Environment Bill

At the end of last month, the UK’s Environment Bill moved one step closer to becoming law.

A second reading by MPs involved a debate to move it onto committee stage and the various steps that follow to commit the bill to law. The bill’s objective is to address some of the most significant environmental challenges that exist today and includes elements such as tackling plastic pollution and improving air quality.

Binding targets

Any laws passed as a result of the bill will create legally binding targets along with an ‘Office for Environmental Protection’ who will have the power to enforce climate change legislation. As part of this, ‘the Office’ will be able to hold the government to account over its 2050 net zero emissions target which is a huge commitment and step forward for the UK on the road to improving air quality and reducing greenhouse gasses. It will also help our environment in other ways, including measures to reduce plastic pollution by introducing charges on certain single-use plastic items, similar to the successful 5p plastic bag charge.

Set in stone

Whilst Brexit discussions are still at full throttle, the progression of this bill is vitally important. Passing the bill as law will mean that whatever the outcome of Brexit, our environmental policies will be protected, even after we leave the European Union.

In relation to the bill, Environment Secretary Theresa Villiers commented:

This Government recognises the profound importance of the great environmental challenges of our time.

We are the first government to set the goal that this generation should leave the natural environment in a better state than it was bequeathed to us. And this is the first government to make a legally binding commitment to become a net zero carbon economy.

This is a truly landmark piece of legislation, enshrining environmental principles in law, requiring this government and its successors to demanding and legally binding targets and creating a world-leading environmental watchdog to hold them to account.

During the debate, many MPs expressed support for the Bill but raised points about the Office for Environmental Protection’s independence and funding, as well as how the targets system will work. Air quality, water and plastics were also discussed.

Closing the debate, Environment Minister Rebecca Pow said:

The substance of this debate is the greatest issue of our time. The Environment Bill will make a much needed step change to protect and enhance our environment.

There are big ambitions in the Bill, and rightly so. We must talk about all the issues in Committee, and I hope that everyone will join in. This is a transformative Bill that will give a whole new approach to environmental protection and enhancement.

Extensive and continued collaboration with the Scottish and Welsh Governments and the Northern Ireland Civil Service has also enabled us to bring forward measures that we expect to see adopted outside of England, for example measures which aim to increase recycling rates. We will continue to work with them as the Bill progresses through Parliament.

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