Over the last few weeks, we’ve seen Greta Thunberg’s record-breaking Global Climate Strike, Jane Fonda’s arrest for protesting and Scotland’s ban on the sale of plastic cotton buds. Now, in the ongoing fight against climate change, the new environment bill is being tabled in parliament…
Yesterday (14 October), the Queen’s speech was delivered at parliament’s state opening. Although she opened with the UK’s first priority – sorting out Brexit – the Queen also said that her ministers “remain committed to protecting and improving the environment for future generations”.
She continued: “For the first time environmental principles will be enshrined in law. Measures will be introduced to improve air and water quality, to tackle plastic pollution and restore habitats so plants and wildlife can thrive. Legislation will also create new legally binding environmental improvement targets.”
The Queen added: “A new world leading independent regulator will be established in statute, to scrutinise environmental policy and law, investigate complaints and take enforcement action. Proposals will also be brought forward.”
The government’s new environment bill will be tabled later today, but what exactly is it? And how will Brexit affect it?
What is the environment bill?
The “landmark” legislation will reshape environmental regulation and enforcement in post-Brexit UK. It aims to improve air and water quality, tackle plastic pollution, restore wildlife, and protect the climate.
“Our natural environment is a vital shared resource and the need to act to secure it for generations to come is clear,” said environment secretary Theresa Villiers. “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,” she added.
But specific policy details on certain proposals are still be shared, and closely scrutinised, later today.
How will Brexit affect the environment bill?
After the UK departs the European Union, a new Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) will be established to ensure the UK complies with environmental standards. Councils will be given more powers to tackle sources of air pollution. And developers will be subject to mandatory biodiversity rules in the planning system that will require them to protect existing habitats or pay for land restoration elsewhere. The bill will also include charges applied to some single-use plastic items and see a new rule requiring packaging producers to pay for the cost of clean up.
The OEP will ensure that the government is held to account, with the ability to stop projects, and hold authorities in contempt of court if they breach environmental standards. However, some ministers have criticised the new watchdog as it won’t be able to fine the government if it fails to uphold its commitments.
Does the bill go far enough in the fight against climate change?
Speaking about the proposed charge on single-use plastics, Libby Peake, from Greener UK - a coalition of pressure groups - said in an interview with the BBC: “We have got to be smarter about this. People are already turning to glass and aluminium drinks containers, which have more impact on the climate. The government needs to take wider action to curb the throwaway society.”
Tanya Steele, from the WWF, added that the bill doesn’t address the role the UK is playing in driving the destruction of nature overseas. “We must also reduce and reverse the UK’s negative impact on nature abroad and remove deforestation from the supply chains of foods we eat and things we buy,” she said.
And shadow environment secretary Sue Hayman, commented on the bill, saying: “Boris Johnson is threatening our environment with reckless new trade agreements that would undercut Britain’s environmental standards.”
We’ll have to wait and see what happens with the bill this week.