Environment Bill Second Reading (Friends of the Earth briefing)
Summary: A new approach to environmental protections will be vital in tackling the climate and nature emergency. However, the Environment Bill currently fails to deliver the promised level of ambition: gold standard protections, a demonstration of global environmental leadership, and a world-leading watchdog. Friends of the Earth welcomes the government’s intent to make this bill the ‘star’ of this legislative programme – however, for this aim to be fulfilled, significant improvements are needed.
Please consider raising the following points in the debate – If the government is serious about its repeated verbal commitments to maintaining and enhancing our environment, it must:
• Include a straightforward and substantive commitment to non-regression of environmental law in this bill. In itself, the Environment Bill does not demonstrate or guarantee future nonregression. The bill currently offers a partial mechanism to encourage transparency around and scrutiny of some actions which may lead to the weakening of protections; but places no barriers to this weakening. This monitoring mechanism must therefore be bolstered to guard against such weakening, and measures taken to remove regressive elements across this bill.
• Guarantee the independence and effectiveness of the office of Environmental Protection. that the new body will be effective. For the OEP to be the world-leading watchdog the government has pledged to create, its independence and powers must be strengthened, including through greater parliamentary oversight of OEP board appointments and the budget. The Upper Tribunal must be empowered to grant meaningful, dissuasive and effective remedies including, where appropriate, financial penalties.
• Significantly strengthen the proposed targets framework to ensure they lead to effective, ongoing action. Improvements are needed to how targets are set and met, with the scope of bodies tasked with meeting these targets broadened. This would ensure they are relevant across government from day one and drive a significant improvement in the quality of our environment rather than narrow or piecemeal change.
• Overhaul the clauses on environmental principles to ensure they apply to all public bodies, not simply central government, and their implementation in existing legislation is not undermined.
• Include a commitment to set targets to end plastic pollution and phase out unnecessary single use plastics. Plastic pollution is a key concern, not only for the environment sector but also for consumers and businesses. This bill must provide a clear route to delivering on these concerns by ensuring that targets are set to end the flow of plastic pollution and to stop plastic waste, by phasing out non-essential single-use plastics and ensuring these are not simply replaced by single-use products made of other throw-away materials.
• Include a legally binding commitment to achieve World Health Organization guideline levels of particulate matter pollution by 2030 at the very latest. This will also need to be backed by a robust target setting framework ensuring that future air quality targets set under the bill will not be subject to a weaker framework than that afforded by existing law.
• Get the UK on track to end plastic pollution and waste by taking an ‘all-in’ approach to Extended Producer responsibility, Deposit Return Scheme proposals and single-use charging. This must address the need to reduce material use, promote design for resource efficiency and reuse, and consider the environmental impacts of production and use of products in addition to their end-of-life waste phase.