The Environment Bill (2019-2021) was recently introduced to Parliament. The Bill provides a legal framework for environmental governance and sets out measures to improve the environment, including on air quality, waste and resource efficiency, water management, and nature and biodiversity.
I am concerned, however, that the Bill is nowhere near bold enough to match the scale of the environmental and climate crisis we are facing. Nor does it prevent us from falling behind the EU on environmental standards, which the Government’s approach to trade deals looks set to undercut.
I share concerns raised by Greenpeace about a serious legal loophole in the Bill that means no legal action could be taken against the Government on missed targets on water, plastic, waste or nature restoration until 2037 at the earliest. It is vital that all targets are legally binding and set to be achieved as soon as possible.
In addition, it is disappointing that the Bill does not commit the Government to reaching the World Health Organization’s goal on fine particulate matter – the most damaging pollutant on human health – given the public health emergency caused by illegal air pollution.
The Bill also fails to set a plastics target or properly lay out a plan for the circular economy. Given that countries across Asia and beyond are banning waste imports, this seems like a missed opportunity to set out how the UK is going to develop the smart waste infrastructure we are clearly going to need.
Addressing the environmental challenges that we face requires a transformational effort from Government and urgent interventions now. It is therefore vital that we protect all EU environmental rights, standards and protections as a baseline, whilst introducing more ambitious domestic environmental policy than that guaranteed at the European level and incorporating these environmental protections into every sector of governance.
This approach must also include an Agriculture Bill which enhances the responsibility for farmers to conserve, enhance and create safe habitats for birds, insects and other wild animals and a Fisheries Bill which contains a clear, stated approach towards greater sustainability.
I can assure you that I will seek to strengthen the Environment Bill as it progresses through Parliament and will continue to press the Government to ensure the UK has equal and better environmental standards after Brexit.