On Tuesday 15th October, the Government introduced a landmark Bill to Parliament to help tackle the environmental issues we currently face. This Bill was re-introduced on 30th January 2020 following a general election. This signifies a huge step in the right direction of both maintaining and enhancing our natural environment and marks a historic moment in the midst of climate change.
What does the Bill entail?
The Environment Bill is set to prove very beneficial on all aspects of our natural surroundings.
The aim of this Bill is to ensure that, by 2050 we are at ‘net-zero’ with emissions.
The well-being of our population is at the heart of this Bill, with vows to plant more trees to improve the air we breathe as well as the quality of our water.
Their main concern is also wildlife, as year-on-year we see declines in natural habitats and risks of certain species becoming extinct.
Another big concern is climate change; this Bill will focus on ways in which we can be more sustainable with our resources and our energy sources, reducing the risk of extreme weather which is becoming increasingly threatening to most countries each year.
This 25 year plan encompasses global changes in which need to be made in order to take care of increasing populations across the world. It will mean we all live more sustainably and reduce our carbon footprint without causing damage to the environment and our health.
What are the major changes?
In order to strengthen environmental accountability, the Environment Bill will establish a new public body – the Office for Environmental Protection – as our own independent, domestic watchdog. Through its scrutiny and advice functions, the new body will monitor progress in improving the natural environment in accordance with the government’s domestic environmental improvement plans and targets. It will be able to provide the government with written advice on any proposed changes to environmental law.
To ensure the UK continues to drive forward ambitious action to deal with climate change as we leave the EU, they are bringing all climate change legislation (including carbon budgets) within the enforcement remit of the Office for Environmental Protection. This will ensure there is no governance gap in relation to climate change legislation.
Its aims are to significantly reduce the carbon footprint created by people that are home-owners, car-drivers and meat-lovers. By tackling this issue, it will ensure net-zero is met by the deadline of 2050, meaning we will see less extreme weather such as droughts during the Summer, floods during the Winter and bush fires in hotter countries such as Australia. This will have a knock-on effect to places such as Antarctica where there are threats of polar ice caps melting.
As a country, we are consumers of a large quantity. Single use plastic is something of a major concern for the Government, due to landfills and a large amount of plastic ending up in our oceans, woodland areas and streets.
The Government has been successful in reducing the amount of plastic used day-to-day by introducing a 5p plastic carrier bag charge in super markets which has seen plastic bag sales reduce by around 90%. They also introduced a ban on micro-beads in personal care products, plastic straws, drinks stirrers and plastic-stemmed cotton buds.
The Environment Bill helps consumers to make purchasing decisions that support the market for more sustainable products. It contains powers to introduce clear product labelling, which will enable consumers to identify products that are more durable, reparable and recyclable and will inform them on how to dispose of used products.
To continue reducing plastic pollution across the country, 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 the use of more reusable items. They are also taking powers to establish deposit return schemes that further incentivise consumers to reduce litter and recycle more.
To support citizens’ efforts to recycle more, the Environment Bill proposes a variety of different materials that must be collected from people’s homes and businesses, including food waste. This will help to ensure recycling and food waste is consistent throughout the country.
The Environment Bill will deliver public health benefits by addressing air pollution, which is the greatest environmental risk to our health. Poor air quality contributes to serious chronic illnesses, shortening lifespans and damaging quality of life for many people. Pollution also has major impacts both on the natural world and the state of the economy.
The UK has been committed to improve air quality for a long time now, and been successful in reducing nitrogen dioxide, leading to emissions falling by almost 29% between 2010 and 2017, wit it now being at its lowest since records began.
Fine particulate matter is the most significant pollutant when it comes to impacting human’s health. The Environment Bill has made a clear commitment to set a legally binding target for this pollutant which will deliver significant benefits to public health and technological advancements.
The Bill has also introduced a new power which enforces vehicle manufacturers to recall vehicles for environmental non-conformity or failure if they haven’t voluntarily recalled it already.
The Environment Bill also addresses cleaner and more sustainable water resources, working to improve the quality of drinking water. The Government has been investing £2.6 billion from 2015 to 2021 in flood and coastal defence projects, from which already 147,000 out of a total of 300,000 homes are better protected.
Restoring and enhancing green spaces
The Environment Bill introduces a mandatory requirement for biodiversity net gain in the planning system, to ensure that new developments enhance biodiversity and create new green spaces for local communities to enjoy. This will increase the public benefits of ecosystems, such as improvements in air quality, water flow control, outdoor recreation and physical activity.
The Bill also introduces Forestry Enforcement Measures which strengthens the Forestry Commission’s power to clamp down on illegal tree felling across England, ensuring the Commission has the powers to continue to protect and maintain our forests.
Trees are greatly important to the environment by contributing to mental health, providing clean oxygen, cooling the air and preventing floods. As part of the Urban Tree Challenge, £10m will be used over the next two years across England’s towns and cities to reach the government’s target of planting one million urban trees by 2022.
Providing for Nature
Nature is not only important for our love of animals, but nature – our ecosystems and their component species – play a vital role in climate change mitigation, by removing trapping and storing carbon, as well as in pollination, flood alleviation, as well as being important for public health and well being.
The Environment Bill also introduces provisions requiring the development of Local Nature Recovery Strategies across England. These are tools that will support better spatial planning for nature recovery, by setting out priorities and opportunities for protecting and investing in nature within a local area. They will include a map of existing nature assets including protected sites and wildlife-rich habitats and will identify key opportunities for enhancement.
Local Nature Recovery Strategies will help local authorities and other public bodies identify priorities and opportunities for conserving and enhancing nature. These tools will also support strategic planning for housing and infrastructure and help direct net gain investment so that it has the greatest benefit for local wildlife and people.
Mountain landscape: Mountain photo created by welcomia – www.freepik.com
To see how you can do more to contribute to a healthy planet, read our article on Going Green for 2020.