The Tories' 'flagship' environment framework - set to kick in next year - is flawed in a big way, according to green campaigners.
It was meant to be the government’s ‘flagship’, world-leading legislation on protecting the environment after Brexit. But campaigners say the Tories’ Environment Bill is woefully lacking.
The Environment Bill has its second reading in the House of Commons today – and timed with the debate, a petition from over 300,000 people calling for tougher government action on plastic pollution will be handed in to 10 Downing Street this afternoon.
Here’s six key gaps in the Tories’ proposed legislation, according to Friends of the Earth:
1. The government must include a commitment to not row back on any existing EU protections – embedding this principle of ‘non-regression’ in law. The current monitoring mechanisms on this aren’t strong enough, FoE say.
2. The Bill currently fails to guarantee the independence and effectiveness of the new ‘Office of Environmental Protection’. FoE argue: “For the OEP to be the world-leading watchdog the government has pledged to create, its independence and powers must be strengthened, including through greater parliamentary oversight of OEP board appointments and the budget. It must be able to grant meaningful, dissuasive and effective remedies including, where appropriate, financial penalties.” Could the regulator’s board end up packed with climate change deniers and big business figures?
3. Ministers must strengthen the proposed ‘targets framework’ on improving our environment under the new regime, to ensure all parts of government are on-board from day one.
4. Overhaul the clauses on environmental principles to ensure they apply to all public bodies, not simply central government.
5. Include a commitment to set targets to end plastic pollution and phase out unnecessary single use plastics. Plastic pollution is a key concern, not only for the environment sector but also for consumers and businesses. “This Bill must provide a clear route to delivering on these concerns by ensuring that targets are set to end the flow of plastic pollution and to stop plastic waste, by phasing out non-essential single-use plastics and ensuring these are not simply replaced by single-use products made of other throw-away materials,” FoE say.
5. The Bill fails to include a legally binding commitment to achieve World Health Organization guideline levels of particulate matter pollution by 2030 at the very latest. “This will also need to be backed by a robust target-setting framework ensuring that future air quality targets set under the bill will not be subject to a weaker framework than that afforded by existing law.” The UK has been found (and fined) in breach of EU air quality standards due to inaction of pollution, particularly in major cities.
6. Clear, binding plans to reduce waste, promote design for resource efficiency and reuse, and consider the environmental impacts of production.
Green MP Caroline Lucas has also raised concerns about the Bill. In a piece titled ‘Protections for our planet are being quietly dumped or buried after Brexit, she wrote: “Johnson has handed the bill to minister George Eustice, who has previously dismissed EU environmental protection laws as “spirit crushing” and bragged of the opportunity post-Brexit to develop a more flexible approach to environmental regulation.
Friends of the Earth’s acting chief executive Miriam Turner, handing in the petition today, says:
“The government’s flagship environment bill must be strengthened to confront the plastic pollution crisis.
“Bans on plastic straws and stirrers are certainly welcome – but these items are dwarfed by the waves of plastic pollution pouring into our environment.
“Ministers must commit to ending plastic pollution and a phase-out of all unnecessary single-use plastic – with legally-enforceable targets and timetables for achieving these.”
Lynne Stubbings, Chair of the National Federation of Women’s Institutes (NFWI) added:
“WI members are clear that we need urgent action to stem the tide of plastic waste and end this pollution crisis.
“We are proud to be working alongside Friends of the Earth to strengthen the Environment Bill and ensure that the UK has clear and binding targets to reduce our dependence on plastic. We need a robust plan to tackle all forms of plastic waste, particularly ‘hidden’ forms of pollution like the tiny plastic fibres released from clothing when it is washed, so that we can stop plastic waste choking our oceans and wildlife.
The recent floods have brought the environmental crisis to the front of people’s minds.
Luke Pollard MP, Labour’s Shadow Environment Secretary, said the new environmental regulator would lack the teeth to deal with more floods:
“By failing to give the Office of Environmental Protection any powers to tackle flooding, this bill will leave the UK woefully unprepared to tackle the type of devastating floods we have seen over the past few weeks and won’t do anything to help us reach net zero carbon emissions.
“We need bold and swift action to cut carbon, safeguard vulnerable habitats and protect declining animal, bird and insect species. This bill again shows the Tories don’t care about the concerns of ordinary people.”
Josiah Mortimer is Co-Editor of Left Foot Forward.
As you’re here, we have something to ask you. What we do here to deliver real news is more important than ever. But there’s a problem: we need readers like you to chip in to help us survive. We deliver progressive, independent media, that challenges the right’s hateful rhetoric. Together we can find the stories that get lost.
We’re not bankrolled by billionaire donors, but rely on readers chipping in whatever they can afford to protect our independence. What we do isn’t free, and we run on a shoestring. Can you help by chipping in as little as £1 a week to help us survive? Whatever you can donate, we’re so grateful - and we will ensure your money goes as far as possible to deliver hard-hitting news.