On Wednesday (26 February 2020), the House of Commons considered the Environment Bill. The Bill provides a new domestic framework for environmental governance, as well as making provisions on specific environmental policy areas including waste, air quality, water, nature and biodiversity.
In the face of the climate crisis, I believe we need an Environment Bill that is, in the words of the Government, “a truly landmark piece of legislation, enshrining environmental principles in law, requiring this Government and their successors to set demanding and legally binding targets and creating a world-leading watchdog to hold them to account”. Unfortunately, the Environment Bill as it stands does not reach these heights. It is instead full of loopholes that will allow Governments to act how they choose and fails to provide a clear picture of how environmental targets will be set and met.
I have three areas of particular concern about the Bill. First, it does not provide any legal commitment that our environmental standards will not fall behind those of the EU. This could risk our environmental protections being undercut through trade deals, as I fear our food and animal welfare standards could be.
Second, the Office for Environmental Protection – the proposed new regulator – is not strong enough. As set out in the Bill, it has no legal powers to hold the Government to account in the way it needs to and is not truly independent of the Government.
Finally, I am concerned at how the Bill will translate ambition into delivery. The part of the Bill that deals with water, for example, does not go far enough to deal with water poverty, address water consumption or solve the problem of where to get water for the homes we need to build in future. The section on trees, meanwhile, does not include any new powers to plant them.
I hope that as it proceeds through Parliament, the Government will accept amendments that will make it a landmark Act and provide environmental protections that will stand the test of time.