5 things you need to know about the Environment Bill

From polluted rivers to dirty air, our environment needs urgent attention. But despite this, the government has delayed the long-awaited Environment Bill four times since 2019.
  Published:  23 Aug 2021    |      3 minute read

The new Environmental Bill gives the UK a fresh opportunity to set a new standard of legislation to protect our environment and start to reverse some of the devastation we’ve caused.

Here are 5 things you need to know about the Bill.

1. What exactly is the Environment Bill and why do we need it?

The Environment Bill is meant to be the most significant UK environmental legislation in over a decade. Its aim is to ensure our natural world is protected now that the UK has left the EU, and then go further by setting out how the government will better protect and restore the environment in the future.

The new Bill, to varying degrees, tries to confront some key environmental issues of concern. These include protecting wildlife, improving air and water quality, and reducing waste.

2. The “world-leading environmental watchdog” isn’t good enough

A key feature of the Bill is the introduction of the Office for Environmental Protections (OEP), which the government promised would be a “‘world leading environmental watchdog”. The OEP is meant to make sure the government and other public bodies are accountable for what they do or don’t do to protect the environment, as well as making sure environmental laws are followed.

While this sounds like a step in the right direction, we have concerns that the watchdog is too weak and lacks independence. We believe the bill should guarantee its independence and strength. If it isn’t strengthened, it won’t be able to stop environmental damage or properly punish those who commit it.

3. Waste prevention is on the agenda

The new Environmental Bill implements the Resources and Waste Strategy for England, part of which resolves to eliminate avoidable waste by 2050.

The Bill will also set out standards for ecodesign to make sure products such as household appliances are built to last longer, as well as producing products with re-use and recycling in mind. Other waste issues addressed in the Bill include: illegal waste activity, the way waste is collected and producers responsibility in waste creation.

This is all great – but it’s not fast enough and it doesn’t tackle the most environmentally damaging forms of waste first. We’re working hard to ensure the Bill guarantees targets to reduce all kinds of plastic pollution as major sources, such as the plastic shed from our clothes, aren’t currently included. Without these reductions, plastic fragments will continue to be swallowed by fish, seabirds and other animals, and in turn enter the human food chain.

4. Our appalling air quality is being addressed too little too late

Air pollution is directly responsible for illness and contributes to an estimated 40,000 early deaths a year. Campaigners like Rosamund, the mum of 9-year-old Ella Kissi- Debrah who died in part due to air pollution, have been fighting to make pollution a priority in the new Environment Bill.

The Bill sets to reduce air pollution by committing government to bring in legal targets to lessen harmful pollutants. There will also be an introduction of local powers to address the causes of air pollution.

This sounds promising but there is no guarantee these targets will be as strong as the World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines says they need to be, and they don't even need to be agreed for another year. The government needs to act faster to clean up our dirty air, by putting the WHO's 2030 target straight into law. If we don’t, we’ll be condemning more young lungs to suffer with unacceptably bad air, as well as putting people at more risk of strokes, heart attacks and lung cancer.

5. There’s room for improvement

There are holes in the Environment Bill that need fixing.

Friends of the Earth is a member of environmental coalition Greener UK. Our recent parliamentary briefings on the Bill make clear that the Bill in its current state will “not achieve what it has promised” and highlighted the lack of legal requirements to hold the government accountable or prevent backsliding on EU environmental regulations.

The protections and principles this Bill should be safeguarding are under threat. With the Bill due to be passed this autumn, we’re running out of time to shape a better future for our environment.

We need your help to strengthen the new Environment Bill

We need your help to strengthen the new Environment Bill