• International Workplace
  • 23 October 2019

Government introduces "ground-breaking" Environment Bill

The government has introduced a landmark Bill to Parliament to tackle the biggest current environmental priorities, signalling a historic step change in the way the natural environment is protected and enhanced.

The transformative Environment Bill will help ensure that the UK’s environmental protections are maintained and improved as the country leaves the EU. It will build on the UK’s strong track record and set 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 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.

The Bill, announced in the Queen’s Speech, will have the following aims:

  • It will ensure the environment is at the heart of government policy-making and that the government is held to account if it fails to uphold its 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.
  • It will improve air quality – by fighting pollution so children and young people can live longer healthier lives.
  • Through ‘biodiversity net gain’ it will ensure that new houses being built are delivered in a way that protects and enhances nature, helping to deliver thriving natural spaces for local communities.
  • To transform the way waste is managed – 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.
  • It will 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.

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.

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 the government’s actions to protect the environment, as set out in its 25 Year Environment Plan. Legislation to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 and hosting the Climate-focused COP26 in 2020 will keep the UK at the forefront of international work on these issues.

As well as introducing the Bill to Parliament, the government has also published an updated policy statement, which outlines the many transformative measures included in the Bill.

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 an independent watchdog with the teeth to hold government and other public bodies to account on fulfilling its obligations on the environment – including on climate change.
  • By setting legally-binding environmental targets, the UK will show global environmental leadership at a crucial time for the planet.
  • Environmental principles will be embedded in government decision-making.

A new direction for resources and waste management

  • The Environment Bill signals a radical step change in how waste is dealt with.
  • 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.
  • There will also be a crackdown on litter, helping to end this blight on communities, whilst tackling the organised gangs who profit from waste crime.

Further improving air quality

  • Poor air quality is the greatest environmental risk to health. The UK’s air is now cleaner than at any point since the Industrial Revolution, but there is more work to be done.
  • The Environment Bill builds on the country’s world-class Clean Air Strategy.
  • 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 that have legal responsibility for air quality in their areas, and those that have the ability to do something about it, as well as improving the outdated Clean Air Act.

Delivering sustainable water resources

  • The Bill will deliver on the pledge in the 25 Year Environment Plan to ensure access to a clean water supply.
  • The long-term management of water will be improved, including providing for cooperation across water company boundaries.
  • There are also measures to prevent environmentally damaging removal of water from the environment.

Restoring and enhancing nature and green spaces

  • The Environment Bill delivers a step-change in the ambition to restore and enhance the UK’s natural environment, introducing measures to require and support lasting action for nature.
  • Biodiversity net gain will allow the need for increased housing to be met, whilst also enhancing nature, and has been co-designed with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. An amended duty on public authorities around biodiversity will make sure that every level of government is playing its part.