Environment Bill: Sector reacts to landmark law tipped to reverse decades of ecological decline

Key figures from the environment sector have largely welcomed the long-awaited Environment Bill, due to be published later today. It will set out legally binding targets to improve the state of the natural world and will establish a new Office for Environmental Protection to hold the government to account.

Experts are cautiously welcoming the bill which is expected to enshrine environmental principles in law and include commitments on improving air and water quality, tackling plastic pollution and restoring our natural habitats.

NGOs

The Woodland Trust’s chief executive, Darren Moorcroft said the bill had the “scope to deliver” big environmental gains, providing “sufficient resources” were made available for those “delivering on the front line”.  

He added that sufficient resources must be made available for delivery by national agencies, such as Natural England, and local authorities.  

While the WWF welcomed the setting of targets, its chief executive Tanya Steele said that the bill  does not address the role that the UK is playing in driving the destruction of nature overseas.

Dave Timms, head of political affairs at Friends of the Earth however was unimpressed.

He said: “Despite some improvements from previous proposals, it’s extremely disappointing that the Environment Bill won't protect existing environmental safeguards from being watered down - something ministers have repeatedly promised.”

Business and industry 

Martin Baxter, IEMA’s chief policy advisor said the bill was an attempt to “reset” the relationship between the environment, society and the economy.

“IEMA supports the proposals to set legally binding targets to address air pollution, plastic waste, biodiversity loss and water resources as this will provide much needed certainty to allow businesses and all parts of society to plan, invest and collaborate to substantially improve the environment for the long term,” he said. 

The UK director of sustainability at engineering consultants WSP, David Symons, said the commitment to set legally-binding environmental improvement targets and government assurances of the independence of the Office for Environmental Protection were particularly welcomed. 

He said he looked forward to seeing the detail of the next steps, specifically how the bill’s environmental principles will be implemented in the trade, agriculture and fisheries bills. 

Gudrun Cartwright, the environment director at Business in the Community –  part of The Prince’s Responsible Business Network – also welcomed the bill, but warned that the government alone could not solve the environmental issue. 

She said: "We only have two or three business planning cycles before our 10 year deadline to limit climate change catastrophe. Business plans must include action to eliminate waste, set net zero carbon targets, invest in supply chains, support customers and harness the power of employees to lead at every level, so that we can innovate at the speed and scale needed to repair and sustain our planet." 

Commitments on long-term targets and resilient water supplies and drainage are particularly welcomed by Water UK, the trade body representing the water industry.

“In the face of climate change and population growth, business as usual is not an option,” a Water UK spokesperson said. 

Politicians 

The most severe criticism of the bill has come from Labour opposition MPs.

Sue Hayman, shadow environment secretary, said Boris Johnson was “threatening our environment with reckless new trade agreements that would undercut Britain’s environmental standards”.

She said: "The government must legislate to ensure that the UK won’t fall behind the EU on environmental standards and that the Office for Environmental Protection is fully independent and resourced. The government’s air quality plans have already been ruled unlawful multiple times [and] Tory cuts have stopped government agencies from protecting our environment and left councils struggling to tackle fly tipping and littering`.`  

The co-party leader of the Green Party, Caroline Lucas MP, said the Environment Bill needed major improvement including legal commitments to keep and strengthen current environmental standards with a fully independent watchdog.

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