The Environment Bill - what are we looking for?

15th October 2019

DEFRA will today present the finalised Environment Bill to Parliament, following on from its announcement in the Queen’s Speech yesterday. You can read the Government’s press release about it below. EAUC will be looking to see if the finalised Bill contains solutions to the concerns outlined to the Government in consultation responses and roundtables.

We have written a short summary of the Environment Bill and 25 Year Environment Plan, as well as some of our concerns. When the Bill is published we will update with our response.

Brief overview of the DRAFT Bill, 25 Year Environment Plan and EAUC's concerns - for reference:

The Environment Bill
The purpose of the Environment Bill is: ‘Make provision about environmental principles and about plans for improving the natural environment; and to make provision for the Office for Environmental Protection.’
 So in summary, the draft Environment (Principles and Governance) Bill includes provisions to:
  • Ensure the publication of a policy statement on environmental principles setting out how environmental principles specified under the Bill are to be interpreted and applied by Ministers of the Crown during the policymaking process;
  • Create a new, statutory and independent environmental body, the Office for Environmental Protection (“OEP”), to hold Government to account on environmental law and its Environmental Improvement Plan after the UK leaves the EU;
  • Define the scrutiny, complaints and enforcement functions of the OEP and their scope;
  • Define the nature of the OEP, including considerations of membership, remuneration, staffing, powers, reporting, funding, accounts and other issues;
  • Require Government to have a plan for environmental improvement;
  • Require Government to produce an annual report on the current environmental improvement plan. The 25 Year Environment Plan will be the first environmental improvement plan upon which the Government is required to report;
  • Require Government to publish a set of environmental metrics and measure progress in improving the environment.
The 25 Year Environment Plan is the plan mentioned. This offers much of the substance.

 25 Year Environment Plan
The Government published its long-awaited 25-Year Plan for the Environment on 11 January 2018. It was a notable piece of work for the civil service – they had been pushing for it for a long time, but only recently have they had enough sufficient and sustained public interest to succeed in getting it through.
 The Plan sets out a number of 25-year goals and a combination of new and existing strategies, targets, mechanisms and commitments in order to meet those goals. The Government proposes to update the Plan every 5 years and to report annually on progress to Parliament.
 The targets they have set out can be found here.
The full Plan can be found here.
 In brief, DEFRA has said in 25-years it will achieve:
  And then DEFRA has said it will ‘manage pressures on’:
   DEFRA identified 6 key areas to focus action on:
  • Using and managing land sustainably.
  • Recovering nature and enhancing the beauty of landscapes.
  • Connecting people with the environment to improve health and wellbeing.
  • Increasing resource efficiency, and reducing pollution and waste.
  • Securing clean, productive and biologically diverse seas and oceans.
  • Protecting and improving the global environment.
 We submitted our thoughts on the 25 Year Environment Plan in February 2018 to the Environment Audit Committee.
 We highlighted that post-16 education plays a crucial role in driving environmental changes – due to its privileged position in influencing the next generation, the geographical land mass that its institutions stretch across and the economic and social power that it wields. We then focused our response to the Inquiry on the need to tackle environmental issues at their source rather than temporarily stemming the symptoms. Education is paramount to ensuring long-term sustainable-growth that works for everyone.
 The Plan sets out a relatively ambitious agenda with many positives. However, it lacks any level of detail and tangibility which is what is needed to effectively ensure environmental behavioural change.

EAUC key issues:
  • Tackling Climate Change is in ‘tier 2’ of the outlined objectives, despite introduction of a Net Zero GHG target by 2050. There is no real plan to tackle climate change directly, only indirectly from the other outlined measures.
  • There is limited discussion of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – which all Government departments have committed to in their SDPs.
  • There is too much focus on recycling instead of reduction. Steps that should occur prior to recycling include limiting manufacturing of materials reliant on fossil fuels (plastics), reducing the purchasing of these materials through education (why they are so damaging) and legislation (banning products that are bad for the environment), and encouraging reuse.
  • Very little is mentioned about fracking and divestment from fossil fuels, which is disappointing.
  • While we support the attention given to primary schools and young people from diverse backgrounds, we consider this insufficient to educate the next generation about sustainability. Education for Sustainable Development should be embedded in the curriculum at all levels, from primary schools right through to universities and colleges. Further consideration should also be given to upskilling those in work to foster through-life learning when it comes to the environment and sustainability.
  • We are concerned about a lack of commitment to environmental legislation. For real change, legislation is required. When we consulted our members on the topic of carbon emission reduction targets for the public sector – they expressed a concern that Government targets were not high enough and that legislation in the form of mandatory reporting was required to force change.
  • Many suggested actions in the plan aren’t backed up by funding or resources, particularly with regard engagement, awareness and education. Again, there is a role for universities and colleges to play here.
  • Much of the plan is couched in terminology that is at best vague and at worst deliberately evasive. This therefore makes the delivery mechanism beyond reproach as the resulting metrics are so subjective. We would encourage clarity in terminology to ensure the delivery mechanisms can be evaluated objectively. For example, eliminating all ‘avoidable’ plastic is open to interpretation when it comes to what is and is not avoidable, resulting metrics might be unreasonably favourable – painting an inaccurate picture.
  • The plan outlines an independent statutory body, and there has recently been more information on this in the draft Environment Bill. It will be called The Office for Environmental Protection (OEP). It will monitor the implementation of environmental law and investigate public authorities that fail to comply with environmental law. The Draft Bill has confirmed that the OEP will have the power to take businesses, public bodies and the Government to court over any breaches of environmental law. But it will not be able to issue fines or call senior representatives to attend Government hearings or place non-compliant organisations into ‘special measures’ – a power currently held by Ofsted for educational facilities and the Care Quality Commission (CQC) for healthcare bodies. We remain sceptical on how powerful this body will be in terms of enforcement.
  • We believe that net gain and being net positive is the right approach to improving sustainability and environmental issues – but are wary that this may lead to overlooking or attempting to justify some of the more negative ‘footprint’ statistics. For this plan to be effective, the root cause of negative environmental statistics must be tackled, while at the same time improving the net gain. This will lead to an increase in baseline measurements and advance sustainability as a whole. Universities and colleges are rich sources of knowledge and the Government should consult with Further and Higher Education Institutions (FHEIs) for advice on environmental development, particularly within their local communities.
DEFRA Press Release (October 2019)

Government introduces landmark Bill to Parliament to tackle the biggest environmental priorities of our time

The government will today (Tuesday 15 October) introduce a landmark Bill to Parliament to tackle the biggest environmental priorities of our time, signalling a historic step change in the way we protect and enhance our precious natural environment.

The transformative Environment Bill will help ensure that we maintain and improve our environmental protections as we leave the EU. It will build on the UK’s strong track record and sets 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. By also championing nature-based solutions, the Bill demonstrates our commitment to tackle climate change.

The Bill also places the bold ambition of our flagship 25 Year Environment Plan on a statutory footing and goes beyond the key government commitments outlined earlier this year by confirming powers to enhance nature and habitats and combat the devastating effects of plastics on our natural environment. Introducing charges for a number of single use plastic items will build on the success of the government’s 5p plastic bag charge, which has cut sales from the biggest supermarkets by 90% since 2015.

The Bill, announced in the Queen’s Speech and introduced today, will:
  • Ensure the environment is at the heart of all government policy making and 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;
  • Improve air quality - by fighting pollution so children and young people can live longer healthier lives. We will do this by setting an ambitious, legally-binding target to reduce fine particulate matter, PM2.5, and by increasing local powers to address sources of air pollution, enabling local authorities to work with families to cut harmful pollution from domestic burning by using cleaner fuels. The government will also be empowered to mandate manufacturers to recall vehicles when they do not meet the relevant environmental standards;
  • Restore and enhance nature - through ‘biodiversity net gain’ ensure that the new houses we build are delivered in a way which protects and enhances nature, helping to deliver thriving natural spaces for local communities. We will improve protection for our natural habitats in supporting a Nature Recovery Network by establishing Local Nature Recovery Strategies and giving communities a greater say in the protection of local trees;
  • 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, tackling waste crime, introducing bottle deposit return schemes and more effective litter enforcement. Powers to introduce new charges will minimise the use and impacts of single use plastics;
  • Protect precious water resources – by increasing sustainable water management through securing long-term, resilient water and wastewater services in the face of a changing climate. Powers to direct water companies to work together to meet current and future demand for water will make planning more robust.
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, 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.”

The Bill builds on this government’s decisive action to protect the environment, as set out in our 25 Year Environment Plan. Legislation to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 and hosting the Climate-focussed COP26 in 2020 will keep the UK at the forefront of international work on these issues.

Public consultations have played an important part in shaping numerous measures in the Bill, including on: environmental governance, the Clean Air Strategy, biodiversity net gain, protections for urban trees, conservation covenants, packaging producer responsibility, consistency in recycling, deposit return schemes and water resources.

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.

Bold ambition
The ground-breaking Bill will bring a step-change in the way we protect and enhance all parts of our natural environment.

As well as introducing the Bill to Parliament today, the government will publish an updated policy statement which outlines the many transformative measures included in the Bill, and the government response on our consultation on tree measures.

Key areas where changes will bring wide-reaching benefits include:

Environmental governance
  • The Environment Bill will create a world-leading system for environmental governance.
  • A new public body – the Office for Environmental Protection – will be our independent watchdog with the teeth to hold government and other public bodies to account on fulfilling their obligations on the environment – including on climate change.
  • 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.
  • By setting legally-binding environmental targets, the UK will show global environmental leadership at a crucial time for our planet.
  • Environmental principles will be embedded in Government decision-making. Combined with the obligation to publish environmental improvement plans, these measures will help protect and improve our environment.
A new direction for resources and waste management
  • The Environment Bill signals a radical step change in how we deal with our waste and shows we are serious about tackling the scourge of plastics and pollution.
  • Measures will extend responsibility for waste disposal to those who produce it, reducing waste in the long term as well as creating incentives for the reuse of material, and moving towards a more circular economy.
  • We are also cracking down on litter, helping to end this blight on our communities, whilst tackling the organised gangs who profit from waste crime.
Further improving the air we breathe
  • Poor air quality is the greatest environmental risk to our health. Our air is now cleaner than at any point since the industrial revolution, but there is more work to be done if we are to protect the health of our nation.
  • The Environment Bill builds on our world-class Clean Air Strategy, and highlights our drive to go further, faster to clean up our air.
  • The Bill will set an ambitious, legally-binding target to ensure emissions of the pollutant with the most significant impact on human health, fine particulate matter, are limited. This target will be among the most ambitious in the world and improve the quality of millions of people’s lives.
  • Measures will drive change at a local level, improving cooperation between local authorities who have legal responsibility for air quality in their areas, and those who have the ability to do something about it, as well as improving the outdated Clean Air Act.
Delivering sustainable water resources
  • We all rely on a clean and plentiful water supply, so our Bill will deliver on the pledge in our 25 Year Environment Plan to ensure everyone has access to exactly that.
  • We will improve our long-term management of water, including providing for cooperation across water company boundaries, to better enable us to meet the challenges of our changing climate.
  • There are also measures to prevent environmentally damaging removal of water from the environment, protecting this precious natural asset.
Restoring and enhancing nature and green spaces
  • Nature is in decline. For too long, we haven’t been able to reverse this downward trend and now urgent action is needed to drive necessary change.
  • The Environment Bill delivers a step-change in our ambition to restore and enhance our natural environment, introducing measures to require and support lasting action for nature.
  • Biodiversity net gain will allow us to deliver the increases in housing we need, whilst also enhancing nature, and has been co-designed with MHCLG. An amended duty on public authorities around biodiversity will make sure that every level of government is playing its part.
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