The Queen introduced new legislation yesterday. Photograph: WPA Pool/Getty Images The Queen introduced new legislation yesterday. Photograph: WPA Pool/Getty Images

The green impacts of the Queen’s Speech: 8 things you need to know

1 The government will add amendments to the Environment Bill on sewage pollution

The Queen, introducing the delayed bill for the third time, said the nascent law would “set binding environmental targets”. The government’s accompanying statement said that three new measures on storm overflows, announced earlier this year, would be added by a government amendment to the bill. 

The three duties are: a duty on government to publish a plan by September 2022 to reduce sewage discharges from storm overflows; a duty on government to report to parliament on progress in implementing the plan; and a duty on water companies to publish data on storm overflow operations on an annual basis. 

At the time, green groups met the announcement with scepticism, labelling it a “meaningless smokescreen”, with DEFRA accused of “refusing to confront” the core of the problem.

2 It’s feared a new Planning Bill could undermine environmental protections 

“The Planning Bill will create a simpler, faster and more modern planning system, ensuring homes and infrastructure can be delivered more quickly across England,” said the Queen. It will “simplify and enhance the EU derived framework of environmental assessments for developments”, adds the government’s notes to the speech, published yesterday. 

The government has been keen to reform the environmental impact assessment (EIA) regime for a long time, considering it to be a burden on development. In 2018, prime minister Boris Johnson said Brexit would allow the UK to take a different approach, saying: “We might decide that it was indeed absolutely necessary for every environmental impact assessment to monitor two life cycles of the snail or to build special swimming pools for newts – not all of which they use in my experience – but it would at least be our decision to do that.” 

In 2020, he restated his desire to remove “newt-counting delays” and environment secretary George Eustice too has been explicit about his intention to overhaul the regime, describing it as “clunky and cumbersome”. 

The moves have alarmed green groups, such as the CPRE, who fear the bill could give developers a free rein to trash the environment. 

IEMA’s director of policy and external affairs Martin Baxter said it was critical that the new Planning Bill, which “will be introduced to speed up development consent must be consistent with delivering the long-term environmental targets and improvements set through the Environment Bill.  

“High-quality impact assessment that integrates social and environmental considerations is critical to ensuring development Is sustainable,” he added.

3 And that it might lead to increased emissions

The drive to build more new houses quickly and remove regulatory barriers to allow housebuilders to do so could be problematic, according to Dr Matthew Lockwood, senior lecturer in energy policy in the Science Policy Research Unit at the University of Sussex Business School. He said a “spike in housing construction could potentially push up emissions in the short term, especially when including embodied carbon in concrete and steel.

"It is a disappointment that earlier ambitious new build policies were abandoned in the early 2010s, and the Future Homes Standard will not be fully introduced until 2024, with interim regulations next year only about as half as stringent."

4 There was no new legislation to help drive action to meet net zero emissions

Last month, the government  accepted the Climate Change Committee’s recommendation to set a new climate target to reduce emissions by 78% by 2035, but observers pointed out that there was nothing in the Queen’s Speech to drive the transition. 

NGO coalition Green Alliance was disappointed at the absence of any new laws to help the country meet net zero emissions. “While the speech mentioned the impact of net zero, there was no promise of new legislation to address the current policy gap on reaching our legal climate targets,” said the group. 

The Treasury’s net zero review is due soon and is expected to introduce a ‘net zero test’ requiring spending plans to be measured against environmental commitments.

5 The government pledged to turn the UK in to a ‘global science superpower’

“We will turn Britain into a science superpower, building on the extraordinary work of our life sciences sector during the pandemic, which has led the world in everything from vaccine development to genomic sequencing”, according to the government’s statement. “We will invest record sums in Research and Development and create an Advanced Research and Invention Agency to help ensure that the breakthroughs of the future happen in the UK.” It also plans to develop the life sciences sector so that it “attracts the best people and businesses from across the world”. 

Business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said the speech “reinforced the UK’s commitments to becoming a global science superpower, taking advantage of the UK’s departure from the European Union, and strengthening our energy security as we transition to a net zero future”.

6 But action on resource use was absent

Green Alliance pointed out that the government had “failed to bring forward legislation to reduce our resource use, a central plank of climate and environment action, or implement the findings of the Dasgupta Review on the economics of biodiversity”, it said. “For a successful transition to a resource efficient, circular economy that protects the environment, ecodesign principles and green standards for products will be vital,” it added. 

7 Plans to spark a skills revolution should support a low carbon work force, said observers

The Queen said new legislation would “support a lifetime skills guarantee to enable flexible access to high quality education and training throughout people’s lives”. 

A new Skills and Post-16 Education Bill will “transform access to skills across the country to ensure that people can train and retrain at any stage in their lives, supporting them to move into higher quality, higher skilled jobs and equipping the workforce with the skills employers need,” added the government’s notes.

These “plans to spark a skills ‘revolution’... must prioritise delivery of a low carbon workforce that can drive the net zero transition,” said Nick Molho, executive director at the Aldersgate Group. “Government should carefully consider the upcoming recommendations from the Green Jobs Taskforce to prevent the supply chain issues that hindered the rollout of the Green Homes Grant,” he added. 

8 A new animal welfare bill will be introduced

“Legislation will also be brought forward to ensure the United Kingdom has, and promotes, the highest standards of animal welfare,” said the Queen. The government’s accompanying notes state that it would take “the opportunities presented by having left the EU” and “demonstrate our world-leading commitment to the highest standards of animal welfare by delivering important animal welfare and conservation improvements, while promoting our values to our trading partners”. The bill will include plans to improve standards and eradicate cruel practices through an Action Plan for Animal Welfare as well as legislation.

 

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