Thank you for contacting me about the progress of the Environment Bill.
Bill progress: I am pleased that this Government remains fully committed to the Environment Bill as a key part of delivering the manifesto commitment to create the most ambitious environmental programme of any country on Earth. The Bill has now completed its journey through the House of Commons and will now be debated in the Lords, with Royal Assent expected in the Autumn. I am assured that key work on implementing the Bill’s measures continues at pace, including establishing the Office for Environmental Protection, setting long-term legally-binding targets for environmental protection and creating a new Deposit Return Scheme for drinks containers.
The Environment Bill will place environmental ambition and accountability at the heart of Government. I am pleased that legislative measures will be introduced to address the biggest environmental priorities of our age, ensuring that we can deliver on the commitment to leave the natural world in a better condition than we found it. These will include meeting net zero by 2050, as well as wider long-term legally binding targets on biodiversity, air quality, water, and resource and waste efficiency which will be established under the Bill. The Bill will also give Ministers the powers to tackle storm overflows.
Further, the Government intends to amend the Bill in the Lords to include a new, historic, legally binding target on species abundance for 2030, aiming to halt the decline of nature. This is a pioneering measure that will be the net zero equivalent for nature, spurring action on the scale required to address the biodiversity crisis. A forthcoming Green Paper will also explore how Ministers might deliver their world-leading domestic ambitions for nature, including how to improve the status of native species, such as the water vole and the red squirrel, and protect 30 per cent of our land by 2030.
[Office for Environmental Protection (OEP): From July, the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP), which is to be headquartered in Worcester, will be set up in an interim, non-statutory form, providing independent oversight of the Government's environmental progress and accelerating the foundation of the full body. The OEP will have the power to take public bodies to an upper tribunal if there are breaches of the law. I believe that it is important the OEP is independent and fully transparent in order to effectively hold the Government to account on its targets. I am therefore pleased by assurances from Ministers that the OEP will be operationally independent from Government, including from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. This means that Ministers will not be able to set its programme of activity or influence its decision-making.
Long-term Environmental targets: The Environment Bill requires that Statutory Instruments setting out environmental targets must be laid before parliament by 31 October 2022. Ministers will continue to develop targets through a robust, evidence-led process to meet this deadline. Ministers have also committed that their proposed objectives for biodiversity targets include restoring species populations and priority habitats, which will improve the state of nature. By setting targets of at least 15 years, Ministers will ensure that Governments look beyond the short term, but this does not mean we should not make progress until 2030. I am confident that the process put in place to develop targets will contribute to meeting new global goals set under the convention on biological diversity.
Nature recovery targets: As a core part of the commitment to leave the environment in a better state than we found it, and acting on the recommendations of the Dasgupta Review, Ministers will be amending the Environment Bill in the House of Lords to require a historic, new legally-binding target on species abundance for 2030 with the aim of halting the decline of nature in England. It is hoped that this world leading measure will be the net zero equivalent for nature, spurring action of the scale required to address the biodiversity crisis. Ministers will develop this target alongside the longer term legally-binding targets already being developed in the Environment Bill, and set the final target in secondary legislation following the agreement of global targets at the UN Nature Conference CBD COP15 in autumn 2021.
Ministers will develop this target alongside the longer-term legally-binding targets they are already developing in the Environment Bill and set the final target in secondary legislation following the agreement of global targets at the UN Nature Conference CBD COP15 in autumn 2021.
Deforestation: I agree that deforestation must be tackled if we are to achieve our climate and biodiversity targets. I am therefore pleased that last year the Government set out its approach to tackling deforestation linked to UK demand for products such as cocoa, rubber, soya, and palm oil. Combined, the new package of measures will ensure that greater resilience, traceability and sustainability are built into the UK’s supply chains by working in partnership with other countries and supporting farmers to transition to more sustainable food and land use systems. The measures include the introduction of a new law in the Environment Bill which will require greater due diligence from businesses and make it illegal for UK businesses to use key commodities if they have not been produced in line with local laws protecting forests and other natural ecosystems. The final, operational details of the proposal will be implemented through secondary legislation, which will be subject to further consultation. This will consider which commodities will be prescribed, the thresholds that determine which businesses will be subject to the requirements, the precise information businesses will be required to report on and the level of fines.
Enjoyment of Nature (Ramblers Campaign): I am pleased that connecting more people from all backgrounds with the natural environment for their health and wellbeing is a key part of the 25-Year Environment Plan, which is the Government's first environmental improvement plan. Under the Bill, long-term targets can be set out for any aspects of the natural environment or people’s enjoyment of it. The Bill requires the Government to set out at least one target in four priority areas: air quality, biodiversity, water waste and resource efficiency, as well as the fine particulate matter target. I understand that there is also scope to set further future targets.
Plastic: The Resources and Waste Strategy sets out Government plans to eliminate all avoidable plastic waste throughout the lifetime of the 25 Year Environment Plan, however for the most problematic plastics the Government will go faster, working towards all plastic packaging placed on the market being recyclable, reusable, or compostable by 2025. In 2019, consultations ran on a number of key policy measures set out in the strategy, including on reforming existing packaging waste regulations, exploring the introduction of a deposit return scheme for drinks containers, and increasing consistency in the recycling system. I am pleased that the Environment Bill includes powers to enable Government to deliver these measures.
Chemicals: The Environment Bill gives the Secretary of State the power to amend two pieces of legislation regulating the use of chemicals in the UK. This will allow the Secretary of State to take further steps where necessary to ensure a smooth transition to a UK chemicals regime following the UK’s exit from the EU. I am encouraged that the Bill makes it possible to keep the legislation up to date and respond to emerging needs or ambitions for the effective management of chemicals.
Neonicotinoids: The Government continues to support the restrictions on neonicotinoids to protect pollinators, and emergency authorisations for pesticides are only granted in exceptional circumstances where diseases or pests cannot be controlled by any other reasonable means. These emergency authorisations can provide short-term availability of a product if the applicant can demonstrate that this addresses a danger which cannot be contained by any other reasonable means, that the use will be limited and controlled and that the necessary protection of people and of the environment can be achieved. Under EU legislation, Member States may also grant emergency authorisations in exceptional circumstances. I can assure you that the UK’s approach to the use of emergency authorisations has not changed as a result of the UK’s exit from the EU.
REACH: The UK has left the EU and EU REACH regulations have been brought into UK law. The UK continues to seek high standards of protection for the environment and human health in the UK REACH regime. I am pleased that the Environment Bill already includes safeguards to protect the fundamental principles of REACH, and therefore the proposed amendment was not necessary.
I am pleased that in the year of COP26, the Environment Bill is at the core of delivering the Government’s manifesto commitment to deliver the most ambitious environmental programme of any country on earth and leave our environment in a better state than we found it.
Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.
Craig Whittaker MP