I am pleased to announce that today we will be introducing the Government’s flagship Environment Bill. There is a clear and urgent scientific case and growing public demand for acting decisively to address biodiversity loss and climate change, which this Bill responds to.
We first introduced the Environment Bill on 15 October 2019. It continues to form a central part in the Government delivering a step change in environmental protection and recovery and will help deliver the Government’s manifesto commitment to deliver the most ambitious environmental programme of any country on earth. It will also support recent legislation to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050 by minimising our waste, cleaning our air and water, and restoring habitats to allow plants and wildlife to thrive.
Taken together the measures in the Bill will help to manage the impact of human activity on the environment, create a more sustainable economy, and enhance wellbeing and quality of life. The Bill will engage and empower citizens, local government, and businesses to deliver environmental outcomes and create a positive legacy for future generations. I set out the measures in the Bill below.
Environmental governance and targets
We will establish a new system of green governance and accountability, creating an environmental watchdog in the office for environmental protection, and embedding environmental values at the heart of Government policy making. To ensure the UK continues to drive forward ambitious action to tackle climate change, we are bringing climate change legislation within the enforcement remit of the Office for Environmental Protection.
The Bill will also implement a new statutory cycle of target setting, monitoring, planning, and reporting to help deliver significant, long-term environmental improvement. This will include environmental improvement plans, the first being the 25 year environment plan, and a framework for setting legally binding targets in four priority areas: air quality, waste and resource efficiency, water, and nature. Together they will drive action by businesses and wider society to deliver environmental improvement alongside sustainable growth.
The Bill will include a UK environmental protections policy which will allow for greater transparency and give Parliament greater scrutiny over new environmental legislation. Ministers will be required to make a statement to Parliament setting out the impact of new primary environmental legislation on existing levels of environmental protection. These statements will be published and open to scrutiny by Parliament, environmental stakeholders and the broader public.
We will also review significant developments in the environmental protection legislation of other countries and prepare a report for Parliament every two years. This will ensure we keep abreast of international developments in driving forward our environmental protection legislation.
Waste and resource efficiency
The Bill will drive a major shift in maximising resource efficiency, minimising waste, and moving towards a more circular economic model. We will introduce measures based on the “polluter pays” principle, create a simplified approach to recycling, and tackle waste crime. Powers to introduce new extended producer responsibility schemes will make producers responsible for the full net costs of managing their products at end of life, encouraging them to design their products with re-use and recycling in mind. New Government powers to set resource-efficiency standards for products will drive market and consumer behaviour towards durable, repairable, and recyclable products. To tackle plastic pollution, the Environment Bill will enable the creation of new charges for other single-use plastic items, similar to the carrier bag charge, which will incentivise a shift towards reusable items. We are taking powers to establish deposit return schemes which will further incentivise consumers to reduce litter and recycle more. The Bill also sets out how Government will mandate weekly collections of food waste for every household, subject to consultation. The Environment Bill also contains powers which will enable the Government to ban the export of polluting plastic waste to non-OECD countries, consulting with industry, NGOs, and local councils on the date by which this should be achieved.
Air quality and environmental recall
We already have a strong track record of tackling air pollution—for example, direct action on nitrogen dioxide has led to emissions falling by almost 29% between 2010 and 2017 and they are now at their lowest level since records began. The Bill will further enable greater local action on air pollution, ensuring responsibility is shared across local government structures and public bodies; better enabling them to tackle emissions from burning coal and wood; and bringing forward powers for Government to mandate recalls of vehicles and machinery when they do not meet relevant legal emission standards. The Environment Bill makes a clear commitment to set a legally binding target for the pollutant with the most significant impact on human health, fine particulate matter.
The Environment Bill will help to secure long-term, resilient water and wastewater services. It will introduce additional requirements for water company planning for future water supply and wastewater and drainage networks, enabling more resilient solutions to drought and flooding. In a changing climate, these measures will ensure the water regulator has the powers it needs to respond to new priorities. The Bill enhances flood and coastal erosion risk management, allowing for the expansion of existing internal drainage boards or the creation of new ones where there is local appetite to do so. We are reforming elements of abstraction licensing to link it more tightly to our goal of restoring water bodies to as close to natural state as possible, and are creating a power to update the lists of substances and their respective standards which are potentially harmful to surface waters and groundwater.
Nature and biodiversity
The Environment Bill supports and enables action to create or restore wildlife-rich habitats to enable wildlife to recover and thrive. The Bill introduces mandatory biodiversity net gain, to ensure that new developments enhance biodiversity and help deliver thriving natural spaces for communities. This will also support certainty in the planning system and therefore the delivery of new housing, while retaining and providing habitats that can enhance biodiversity. Provisions requiring the development of local nature recovery strategies across England will support better spatial planning for nature recovery, by setting out priorities and opportunities for protecting and investing in nature within a local area. The Bill also strengthens a duty within the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006 to ensure public authorities play their part in conserving and enhancing biodiversity.
The Environment Bill gives the Secretary of State the power to amend two pieces of legislation regulating the use of chemicals in the UK (REACH 2008). This will allow the Secretary of State to take further steps where necessary to ensure a smooth transition to a UK chemicals regime following the UK’s exit from the EU. It will also make it possible to keep the legislation up to date and respond to emerging needs or ambitions for the effective management of chemicals.
The Environment Bill is the result of extensive public consultation. In July 2019 we published six Government responses to consultations on measures in the Bill. And in October 2019 we published the Government response to the consultation on protecting and enhancing England’s trees and woodland, covering measures to increase the transparency and accountability in the process of felling street trees.
Over half of all measures in the Environment Bill are to be extended beyond England and adopted across the devolved Administrations. The positive extent of the join up demonstrates our ambition in working with the devolved Administrations across the UK to better protect the environment and strengthen the Union, while respecting the devolution settlement. This co-ordination is the result of extensive engagement with the devolved Administrations over the past year by both Ministers and officials during which we have discussed all policy areas of the Bill.
This Environment Bill is a landmark commitment to protecting and improving the environment for future generations. It grasps opportunities created from leaving the European Union and I hope that it will deliver a step change in environmental protection and recovery.